Judy Henderson

Picture from Northern CMA webpage

Judy was born in April 1945 into an extended family, on a dairy farm in Raleigh, near Bellingen.  Her family was “traditional Presbyterian”, her father, who died when she was 8, was an Elder in the church although her mother was not religious in the traditional sense.

Judy is now an active Quaker, joining a Meeting now held at an existing church which had been built on her property by her forebears.  During the interview we talked about other environmentalists who have turned to Quakerism.   Judy’s says “with the Quakers, what’s important is the way you live your life and demonstrating your convictions by the way you live.  Quakers are urged to ‘be patterns.’  There is diversity within Quakers and you can be a non-theist and still be a Quaker.”

Judy says she never thought of herself as being brought up in a single parent household, because of all the extended family around, including her uncle, who worked the family farm with her mother.   As a child Judy loved to explore the natural environment in which she lived, but felt herself to be socially awkward and out of place, through school and then also through university.

A great friend of Judy’s from these early days was Bob Brown, who was in the same year at school until the last year and then started studying medicine at the same time.  Judy was close to the whole family, particularly Bob’s father.

Judy’s interest in Aboriginal health issues began when she volunteered at Redfern’s Aboriginal Medical Centre while at University.  After finishing Medicine, Judy went to Tasmania for a year, then to Western Australia where she trained as a paediatrician, finishing at age 29.  During her training she worked with Aboriginal children at an urban clinic, being strongly influenced by Margaret Clements, the Save the Children nurse working with her.  Judy says she learned an enormous amount from Margaret and her husband John.

…an understanding of social justice ; I hadn’t had a lot to do with Aboriginal communities … it was understanding the injustice, the inequity, and how to work with Aboriginal people.  In those days there weren’t Aboriginal doctors, and even Aboriginal nurses were few and far between.

Before taking up a job in Canada, Judy spent 3 months working in a hospital in Nepal.  Judy then worked in Canada for a year, including a stint with a Canadian Indian community, then went back to Nepal.  She stayed in Nepal for 10 years, the first four years in Kathmandu, and then in a more remote location. Judy describes her life there in the extract below:

In 1985 Judy returned to Australia and went to live in Tasmania.  She had been following the Franklin campaign from Nepal and she could see the emergence of a like-minded community there.

In 1985 Judy returned to Australia and went to live in Tasmania.  She had been following the Franklin campaign from Nepal and she could see the emergence of a like-minded community there.

Judy had left a lot of good friends in Nepal and she found western living very difficult after the 10 years in Nepal.   However, she describes herself as becoming “steeped in the environment movement” in the late 1980s – volunteering in a whole range of environmental organisations.

It was at this time that she also became involved in Community Aid Abroad  (later Oxfam) – first on the local committee, and board and later as the Chair of Community Aid Abroad and then as the Chair of Oxfam International.

In 1992 Judy was an NGO adviser on the Australian delegation to the Rio Earth Summit, representing the then Australian Council For Overseas Aid (ACFOA).  As part of this she spent six weeks in New York at the United Nations, and was fascinated by her introduction to the UN system.

A year later Judy stopped practicing medicine altogether, having decided that she couldn’t be a doctor and maintain her level of community activism.  She also stood as a Tasmanian Greens candidate for the Senate and was very nearly elected.

Judy’s first paid job in the environment movement was for a year as a Coordinator of the Australian Bush Heritage Fund (later Bush Heritage) of which Judy and Bob Brown were founding Directors.

In 1995, Judy became increasingly more worried about the health of her aging mother, and moved to Canberra to be a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for International Law looking at human rights issues.  Judy then returned to Sydney as her mother became frailer, taking on the job of Acting Executive Director of Amnesty International for a short while, and becoming Chair of Australian Ethical Investments, a position she held for seven years.

Then in 1996-97 Judy was invited to be on the board of Greenpeace International (at the same time as being Chair Oxfam International).  Her international commitments increased substantially, particularly as she then became a Commissioner on the World Commission on Dams.  Judy describes that position as fascinating.  It involving meeting with a wide range of groups with vastly different perspectives on dams, and it introduced her to the processes of multi-stakeholder negotiations.

The death of Judy’s mother in 1998 was devastating to her.  Judy describes their relationship as more that of sisters than mother and daughter, and Judy expresses guilt that she was overseas for so much of her adult life, both in Nepal, and doing international environmental work.

More international work followed in the early 2000s as Chair of the Global Reporting Initiative and being on an Asian Development Bank Inspection Panel.

In 2004 the position of Chair of Northern Catchment Management Authority (NRCMA) came up, and Judy was appointed – on the basis she says, of her extensive governance experience.  Judy commented that she has never had much of an income – her work in Nepal was voluntary for example, and she has not ever made a lot of money, so finding a paid position was important.  Judy has held that position ever since.

Judy moved back to the house that her great grandmother had died in and she says she feels the presence of her ancestors in her home.  She’s really enjoyed the change of focus and “stomping around in the paddocks” with local farmers, meeting many distant relatives, people she grew up with and communicating within what is a very conservative community

Judy has had no formal leadership training, although she has completed Graduate Diploma in Business and Professional Management.  I asked Judy what qualities she thinks she brings to the practice of leadership.

I then asked Judy what were the challenges of leadership, and which leaders she admired

Judy would have loved to have had children, but circumstances didn’t allow that to happen.  I asked Judy about why women wouldn’t become a leader in the environment movement:

I actually think you do have to make a choice in life – I don’t know how people like Gail Kelly [head of Westpac] manage to have both.  The challenge is trying to incorporate the nurturing, family oriented role that most women aspire to with the focus that you’ve got to have if you’re really trying to make a difference.  That’s the biggest challenge.  The glass ceiling is probably more a problem in business or government than in social justice sectors.

Judy has led such a fascinating life – both here and overseas.  I found myself thinking about how the ten years in Nepal might have shaped the subsequent decades of environmental leadership work, and considering the resilience that leaders need to demonstrate to stick with their causes over many years.

Comments welcome.

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About Jane Elix

I don't have enough bandwidth to deal with this www.janeelix.com
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3 Responses to Judy Henderson

  1. Judy Lambert says:

    Have known for a long time that Judy is a very thoughtful and perceptive woman, qualities that are important in her leadership. This interview reinforces that. Several of the points she makes are, in my view, absolutely crucial to good leadership:
    – the value of a braod range of experience in being able to communicate with the diversity of people who need to come together to achieve change
    – the importance of an interest in and understanding of people and where they are coming from
    – the ways in which local people doing things “on the ground” are (perhaps increasingly) important leaders in making a difference

    I can also relate strongly to the importance of dealing with one’s own impatience and needing to start where others are at and take them with you on the journey, even if that sometimes means acheiving less than might have been in the short-term. I think for some of us, that challenge becomes stronger as we get older, and just when society might expect us to be good leaders, our desire to ‘get things done’ gets in the way.

    I think there are some important qualities which Judy exhibits strongly but that don’t come up in her interview, especially a strong determination and commitment to community and public good and a huge level of self-sacrifice for the greater good.

  2. Nikki Henningham says:

    Very interesting profile, Jane! Having done a few of these interviews now, I can only reinforce the importance of the narrative of ‘the breadth of experience’ to individual responses to the question of ‘what makes a good leader?’ Some women I have interviewed have commented upon the importance of this experience to the development of self confidence. They have then gone on to explain the importance of that confident ‘core’ to their ability and willingness to take on leadership roles.

  3. Joan Staples says:

    Great profile of a great woman. One of the key qualities that I think shines through with important woman leaders like Judy is a lack of ego in promoting herself. She has confidence in her judgement and enormous intellectual ability, but as the interview shows she combines this with outstanding empathy in dealing with people whether they be colleagues or outright opponents. She has a knack of interacting with people of different persuasions and from different social situations in her work without having relationships become antagonistic. This includes being on international fora with high profile business people and politicians accustomed to wielding power, or locally with conservative farmers who have never left the district. Her consensus buiilding style has shone through in her chairing international, national and local organisations. However, as Judy Lambert says, her commitment to community service and the public good has often meant much self-sacrifice – something Judy Henderson will probably not acknowledge.

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