Greens leader credits Bellingen

WHEN asked if spending some of his formative teenage years in Bellingen may have contributed to his passion for the environment, Senator Bob Brown doesn't hesitate:

“Absolutely,” the leader of the Australian Greens responds.

“When I lived there the island (Bellingen Island) was a tropical rainforest and you could dive into crystal clear water nearly five metres deep.”

Senator Brown is the son of a NSW policeman who was stationed in Bellingen from 1953 to 1956.

“We lived in the police station in the middle of town and I started high school while we were there.

“Bellingen High had only just opened and I went to Coffs High (now Jetty High).

“We used to catch the school bus, driven by Snowy Glyde, to Raleigh and then the two carriage steam train to Coffs Harbour.”

It was during this time Senator Brown recalls deciding medicine was the profession he wanted to pursue. He did his degree at Sydney University and upon its completion moved to Tasmania to practice in Launceston.

He says medicine really taught him how to listen, something he considers vital in his current position.

“You have to be good at listening to make good decisions.”

A rafting trip down the Franklin River in 1976 was life-changing for the senator.

After what he described in a 2003 interview (with journalist Jan Cunningham, ABC TV, George Negus Tonight) as 11 “astonishing and spellbinding” days of gorges and canyons, waterfalls and wildlife, the rafters ran smack, bang into the jackhammers and helicopters of the Tasmanian Hydroelectric Commission in the early stages of the planned Franklin Dam project.

He said the experience was shattering and made him realise that “everything we'd floated through was on death row” (reference as above).

Senator Brown left medicine and began organising and training protestors for the Franklin campaign, which culminated in a massive blockade in 1983.

The campaign was successful, resulting in the salvation of the Franklin, the birth of the new green movement in Australia and Bob Brown being catapulted into the Tasmanian Parliament.

Much water has flowed under the metaphorical bridge since then but Senator Brown's passion for the planet has not been diluted.

Describing himself as an optimist, he does not however mince words when it comes to assessing the state of the environment.

“The planet's going down the chute,” he said earlier this week.

“There are catastrophic problems - climate change, population growth, the destruction of the environment.

“Coal continues to be burnt, tollways continue to be built and logging has not slowed.

“Consumption is out of control.

“The only way to come out of this crisis is through green thinking.” And he's hopeful.

With five Green senators now in Canberra and Greens holding the balance of power in both Western Australia and the ACT, the strength of the environmental voice is growing.

Currently the Greens are pushing for the government to embrace the recently announced United Nations'“Green New Deal”.

“We want to see every Australian home retro-fitted with insulation, solar power and solar hot water,” Senator Brown said.

“It would save millions of dollars for families and create thousands of jobs.”

Senator Brown says pessimism and optimism feed on themselves -“you just have to decide which one you choose … the Greens are the stepping stone to the future”.

  • Senator Bob Brown is currently on a North Coast tour. He delivered his speech, “Coal or Cool, Australia in an Age of Catastrophic Climate Change” at a dinner in Bellingen last night.


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