action-story | 17th May, 2016

Chris Murphy: Walking against plastic bags

Chris Murphy is a fit and energetic grandmother who is working for the environment, literally one step at a time. A part-time teacher, she spends her holidays walking. A few years ago, she walked to the Prime Minister’s office. This year, she’s walking the 60 kilometres from her home in Riddell’s Creek to Julia Gillard’s office in Werribee, to ask for a national ban on plastic bags.

ActionStory_Chris Murphy heroChris grew up on a dairy farm in South Gippsland. “Everything was natural and you worked with the seasons. I loved nothing better than walking off by myself along the river bank in the bush to see all the birds and wild life.”

Chris started her holiday walks to the Prime Minister’s office four years ago. She’d grown tired of talking about the environment with concerned friends, feeling like politicians weren’t listening. “I wanted to do one simple thing, one step at a time. I don’t want to leave a legacy of pollution for our kids.” Inspired by the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in front of old Parliament House, Chris decided she would walk to the then Prime Minister, John Howard, in Canberra, to ask him to install energy saving light bulbs in all Australian homes.

Starting from the outskirts of Melbourne, she walked along the Princes Highway, and then along back roads towards Canberra, pushing her trusty trolley of energy saving light bulbs. Along the way, she visited town mayors to ask them what they were doing about installing light bulbs for residents in their area. She was overwhelmed by the support she had on her journey.

Spurred on by her success with that walk, Chris has now decided to walk again. “I’m frustrated that plastic bags are still available at so many supermarket checkouts. It’s not that hard to ban them. They’ve done it in other countries.”

While plastic bags have been banned in South Australia, the ACT and the Northern Territory, there’s currently no national ban. The bags are incredibly durable, taking up to 1,000 years to decompose. They break down into tiny pieces and leach toxic chemicals into our soils, rivers and oceans. When washed out to sea, they can end up choking marine animals, including turtles, dolphins and whales.

Chris started her walk to Werribee on Monday 6 December and expected to take a week to get there. When asked what her three adult children thought of her plan, she said, “They’re right behind me. They’ve said ‘Good on you, Mum.’”

Chris’s view was simple. “I’ve got have to have a go.”

The week Chris walked from Riddells Creek to Werribee, there were flood warnings for the Greater Melbourne Catchments, including Werribee. Despite getting soaked walking in severe thunderstorms and heavy rainfall on aching knees, when we asked Chris how she felt after her walk, she said “Jubilant!”

“I loved seeing all the puddles, hearing the frogs croak and seeing all the ducks,” she added. The occasional chocolate fix helped to keep her going as well.

Chris had planned to sleep by the roadside each night but her daughter said, “Mum, you’re not doing it.” Her daughter picked her up took her home to sleep each night.

Chris was a little worried when her mobile was soaked and she lost contact with her daughter. “But I never felt threatened. Drivers passing by were really friendly, beeping to support me. And the local papers were all keen to interview me, as well as Jon Faine on 774.”

The mobile partially recovered after being dried out on the heater at home afterwards.

An old knee injury meant her knees suffered, but she managed to limp the 17km each day, with some heat gel applied each night. When asked if she would do anything differently next time, Chris said, “Maybe I’ll get a politician to walk with me!”

Chris’s advice to anyone considering taking their own walking action, “With the environment, time is so short, so just do it..”

Story by Sue Williams