When Bronya Lipski was a child in the Latrobe Valley town of Moe she believed power stations made clouds. Looking at the steam rising from the chimney stacks, she was initially unaware that the steam obscured the harmful emissions from the thinner stacks.
“Eventually I wondered about the layer of dirty brown air that seemed to hover over the entire Latrobe Valley,” recalls Bronya, now a lawyer with Environmental Justice Australia, which is arguing Environment Victoria’s Supreme Court case against the EPA’s failure to mandate best practice management of toxic emissions.
Bronya was born and raised in the Latrobe Valley, and her grandfather worked at Hazelwood Power Station. Her father was a dump-truck driver at the Yallourn Power Station until privatisation 25 years ago cut a swathe through jobs, and confidence, in the Valley. (He still drives trucks, milk tankers, these days.)
Bronya has always pondered about the possible connections between her sister’s chronic childhood asthma and the Valley’s pollution. “It didn’t seem right that doctors would say to Mum, ‘You need to take your daughter away from all this to get better’.”
Bronya’s parents taught her to wonder how the Valley looked before the power stations, before the paper mills. “Mum used to say, I’d live anywhere in the Valley where you can’t see the pollution.’
“Knowing what I know now, I do think differently about those enormous plumes from the chimney stacks, and their impacts.”
Bronya no longer lives in the Valley, but it is still very much home.
“All my family is there, and when I visit I always take a little drive: a mini-tour of the town and the power stations is strangely comforting.” After all, this is the geography of her childhood.
“It’s a complicated legacy,” she says of life in the Latrobe Valley. “We must appreciate that there are very deep and understandable fears about job losses. People’s livelihoods are at stake – food on the table, mortgages, regular work.”
At the same time, Bronya says we shouldn’t forget that the Valley is a very vibrant place, with diverse industries including health, hospitality, education, other sectors.
“The community is not a victim here. The sense of hope and motivation is not lost. Yes, there needs to be unity around big changes but there is furious agreement that people care for the Latrobe Valley and its future. Can things be done differently? Certainly.”“The community is not a victim here. The sense of hope and motivation is not lost. Yes, there needs to be unity around big changes but there is furious agreement that people care for the Latrobe Valley and its future.'Click To Tweet
“Change – transitioning, say, from coal power to renewables – can be scary. Any type of change can be confronting. But there is the infrastructure here for a shift that could still see the Valley being a powerhouse.
Bronya Lipski can see both sides of the coin at the same time, an essential skill for a lawyer championing the environment and its people, its towns.
“I’m an optimist. I have absolute faith in the power of community.”