action-story | 11th Dec, 2019

Mark Wakeham: Campaigner and former CEO

The environment movement can thank the Jabiluka campaign for Mark Wakeham. During the 18-month blockade of the Northern Territory uranium mine, he spent one “awful” night in the cells, but he went on to help coordinate 6000 protesters who streamed in from all parts of the country to join the fight.

A part-time Melbourne University student and radio operator with the Australian Army, he remembers reading Noam Chomsky and John Pilger while on operations in central Queensland in the late 1990s, but it was the pleas of the Aboriginal landowners in Kakadu that really galvanised him into action.

Wakeham went on to run the Northern Territory’s Environment Centre, where he pursued Rio Tinto until it eventually ruled out expanding Jabiluka. He then worked in the solar industry with Aboriginal communities before joining Greenpeace as a renewable energy campaigner. There, he got to know Kelly O’Shanassy, Environment Victoria’s CEO, who hired him as campaign director.

He went on to become a respected and effective CEO himself, challenging governments to form meaningful environmental policies and overseeing hallmark campaigns, including the closure of Hazelwood power station. He’s proud of the resilience and relentlessness Environment Victoria showed over that campaign, which was won and lost multiple times before the final victory. “I  remember talking to some activists after we lost one of the times and repeating the quote: ‘When you’re a campaigner you lose, you lose, you lose, you lose, you lose, you lose, you win.’ Just to have the courage to keep fronting up, to keep doing it.”

When you’re a campaigner you lose, you lose, you lose, you lose, you lose, you lose, you win.Click To Tweet

He is also proud of Environment Victoria’s pioneering work in community organising and building power. “Just putting our money where our mouth was in terms of hiring organisers, supporting volunteers, doing really hard, on-the-ground work, uncomfortable work – spending your weekends doorknocking or calling people, but doing that strategically and effectively. And then seeing it influencing two state elections and delivering really significant environmental wins and setting an example for the rest of the movement.”

Finally, he’s proud of the culture he helped develop: “Where staff, volunteers, donors, supporters are proud to be a part of Environment Victoria and feel like they’re part of a strong community – I think that’s a really important achievement, because what we’re doing is hard, the challenges we face are tremendous and can be depressing, and therefore it’s really important.”