Beth was born on the kitchen table in Roma Queensland on 30 May 1936 because her mother chose to deliver her babies at home. She comes from a long line of strong women – her mother had a high degree of honesty and morals, strong beliefs, strong commitments. She quietly made the decisions around the house. Beth says that she too “has been accused of always wanting to get my own way”.
Beth’s leadership qualities were evident at school. She was head prefect at her boarding school where prefects did a lot of the work that today would fall to the teaching or other staff. Prefects put the younger girls to bed, inspected their clothing, enforced the rules and imposed penalties when rules were broken. Beth says that the girls respected her because she kept the rules and never asked them to do something she wouldn’t do herself.
At University Beth studied Romance languages, and majored in Old French. She has 5 university degrees, including a law degree, which she got in the early eighties (1978-1981) because she thought the environment movement needed a lawyer. This didn’t work out because it was a top lawyer that was needed, Beth says, not a recent mature-age graduate.
Beth says, “I never thought of myself as a leader – you don’t put yourself out there – it just happens. You wait to be invited or there’s nobody else doing it.”
Beth sees her particular strengths as in networking, involving people, communicating between groups and individuals. “If people want advice, information, I’ll give it.” She sees her main weakness as a leader being an inability to delegate.
Others say that Beth is an environmental icon for young environmentalists, providing support, information and encouragement to new generations of activists.
One of Beth’s greatest dislikes in leadership is others taking credit for her work although, she says, she has been accused of the same fault.
Beth’s first experiences in environmental campaigning were in relation to woodchipping in the Western Australian karri forests. She was the first secretary of the Campaign to Save Native Forests, and first Co-Convenor of the South-West Forests Defence Foundation, both in 1975. Beth was also very active in setting up the WA Environmental Defender’s Office. Click here to listen to Beth talking about her early days in the WA forest campaign.
(Apologies – sound quality not great – my fault entirely as I hadn’t quite worked out the technology – should improve in subsequent blogs)
Beth’s great focus over many years was the Conservation Council of Western Australia, where she has had many roles, including President for three years. She says that being a leader is about being able to give direction, inspiration, criticism and help. Over the years she has been able to get used to being out in front, with many eyes on her, but there have also been many expectations placed on her. In recent years, her leadership position in the Conservation Council has been scaled back as she no longer has the drive or energy she used to have.
Beth says that as a leader she has had to negotiate – and that this is an area that has been difficult for her. She describes herself as being “unyielding on issues”. When she is part of a negotiating team, she allows others to take on some of the compromises that might be needed.
Beth has represented the Conservation Council in the Western Australia Forest Alliance (WAFA), an umbrella body for WA forest conservation groups that was formed in 1990. WAFA has been in her words “inspiring, successful, [involving the] most fabulous people you’d trust with your lives.” Trust is very important to Beth.
In 1990, Beth’s short career as a lawyer came to an end. The law practice she worked for had a major woodchipping company as one of its clients. In Beth’s personal life she was a very active environmentalist, actively campaigning against woodchipping. She lost her job after a Western Australian radio shock jock in her words “hijacked” her in a radio interview. He deliberately made her position in the law practice very public. The Law Society said that Beth as a vocal critic of the woodchipping company had a conflict of interest and that between the client and the employee the firm’s duty was to the client, so Beth had to resign.
Beth has never had a paid position within the conservation movement, but has spent much of her time for the past 36 years working in a voluntary capacity on environmental issues. Her husband (of nearly 50 years), Phill, has provided the income for the family and Beth says they’ve managed because they’re very frugal. Phill has been supportive of her environmental work, even though it meant that Beth was often away from home. Her three children “just had to put up with it” but they are all now environmental and social activists.
Beth’s greatest problem today is the unsorted paper archives which dominate her house; what she calls “the mess”. She says: “I’d love to tidy it up, but there’s always something more important to do. I keep hoping there is someone I can leave my library of documents to when I die.”
Beth says that she hasn’t consciously had any role models, but that she, surprisingly, finds Princess Diana an inspiration – “she became her own woman, she got what she wanted. Her campaigning against landmines– she used her position to do good”.
Please comment with your stories about Beth’s leadership.