Judy Lambert

Judy was born in Benalla in country Victoria in May 1944, an older sister to two brothers. Judy grew up on a farm, which she says gave her a appreciation of the outdoors, and of natural resource management issues.

Judy was very close to her father.  He had grown up in difficult circumstances – orphaned young and forced to earn his own living at a very early age.  Being unable to gain much education himself he greatly valued and supported education for his children.

Judy describes her mother as “community minded, but in a very conforming way” – a stalwart in the CWA, School P&Cs, Church Ladies Guild, and the support services for the fire brigade.   She also saw education as a very high priority and the couple made many sacrifices to ensure that their children could get a chance at tertiary education.  The family had to borrow money to get Judy through University, and Judy spent some years working very hard at holiday pharmacy jobs to pay it back.

Neither of Judy’s parents was particularly religious – they were a Church of England family who attended church on major holidays.  Judy says that nowadays she has some religious feeling, “but at a low level”.

Judy was politicised at University through the Vietnam moratoriums.  She knew people who were drafted, and took part in the Melbourne anti-Vietnam activities.  Her mother in particular was very upset at Judy’s (and one of her brother’s) activities at this time – it was a real challenge to her traditional political perspectives.

Judy met her husband Geoff when they were both pharmacology students, and they did their PhDs at roughly the same time.  Soon after they finished they headed off to New York for 3 years to do post Doctoral fellowships.  It was after their return from New York in 1977 to take up research jobs in Sydney that they became active members of the precursor to The Wilderness Society in NSW.  The extract below describes how it happened, and what was the appeal of this emerging wilderness movement.

In 1987, after 10 years as an active volunteer in The Wilderness Society and with the encouragement of Geoff and Bob Brown, Judy took on the position of National Liaison Officer for The Wilderness Society in Canberra.  This was a senior role in the organisation, responsible for political lobbying in support of national wilderness campaigns.  Judy could see the need for the position in Canberra to be filled (it had been vacant for some months), and was finding her research position at a major Sydney hospital “unbelievably frustrated by bureaucracy”.

But it was a big move to leave her successful research career to become a full time employee of an environmental organisation – one that some of her friends, and her mother in particular found hard to understand.  Judy said “One of my former bosses was concerned that he saw the environment movement as being fairly tenuous in its existence and that it would be hard to get back into science.”

I asked Judy about her time as NLO, starting off with what she saw as the qualities she brought to the position.

During the three years that Judy was NLO she was commuting between Sydney and Canberra.  I asked how that had impacted on her relationship with Geoff and other people in her life.

Geoff is the most amazingly tolerant, resilient, supportive person you could hope to have as a partner. I could imagine that for a lot of other people it wouldn’t have worked. But Geoff is not only supportive, he has actively pushed me to take on positions (like the NLO position) that I might not have without his encouragement.

I think we both worked at making it work.  We both got on with our jobs during the week, we were a bit more possessive about weekends than we would have been otherwise, and most of the time it was ok.

For Judy, the best part of the three years as NLO was the people she worked with, and that her time in Canberra coincided with what was probably the peak of Commonwealth concern and action about the environment.

The worst part was the attacks from people in the movement, who you thought were your friends, when you hadn’t achieved what they wanted.  At times I found it unbelievably hard.  You’d work really hard to get the best you could, and the first thing you got was abusive phone calls from people that you thought were your friends in the movement.

I then felt intense disappointment that I had let them down so badly that they felt they could be abusive about it.  I know some of those people better now, and I realise that they see people differently, but I’ve always been someone who inherently trusts people and I felt like that trust hadn’t been reciprocated.

But I’m probably one of the world’s most stubborn people.  After I reflected on it I thought, no, I think we’re on the right track, and I’m not going to give in because of this.  I had support from friends in Canberra, people in the public service and my co-workers and from Geoff.

In 1990, Judy was head-hunted to work in the Office of the Minister for the Environment, Ros Kelly.  Judy says she asked herself “why me”, but now she attributes Ros Kelly’s offer to her receiving suggestions from, among others, Graham Richardson.

Judy describes her position (which was called Environmental Consultant, and was not a political appointment) as not obviously a leadership position.  However, she and Tony Fleming, the other Environmental Consultant, had more immediate access to the Environment Minister than almost anyone else, including people working in senior positions in the Department of the Environment.  Judy describes it as a position of influence, more than leadership.

I think overall I probably achieved more in the Environment Minister’s office than as NLO. I have always said that one person can never win a campaign on their own –  although they sure can blow one.  In Ros Kelly’s office there were occasions when you could turn something around fairly much on your own, although the team environment was very important.  I am always amazed when other people claim to have won a campaign on their  own – mostly males I think,  females not as much.

In 1993, for a range of reasons, including the fact the environment was moving down the political agenda, Judy moved back to Sydney full-time.

She was the Australian Greens first National Election Campaign Coordinator in 1993, which Judy describes as “another one of those cases where there was a huge gap and we’ve got to have somebody” and Judy was convinced by Bob Brown and Geoff that this was a job that she could do well.

Later that year, Judy then began working as a consultant (with me!) in her business Community Solutions, where she has been ever since.

I asked Judy whether there is any leadership role associated with being a consultant, and Judy then describes the way her leadership has turned more towards local arenas.

These more recent local leadership roles have included being a Manly Greens Councillor on Manly Council between 1999 and 2008,  President (and co-Founder) of the North Head Sanctuary Foundation, and President (and co-founder) of the Manly Friends of Oecusse (in East Timor).

I asked Judy about leadership on Local Council.

Being a Councillor has boundaries around it – things that you are obliged to conform to, whereas, for example as TWS NLO you were pretty much free agent to do the job in the best way so as to get results.   But one of the things I did differently on Manly Council was again, working with people and getting away from adversarial politics – sometimes with immense frustration in Council meetings as I struggled to restrain myself from buying into the adversarial debate.

Finally, Judy commented on the difference in leadership between women and men in the environment.

In general the attitudes to hard core adversarial politics are different.  The blokes see that as part of the game.  For most of the women, this is something you have to deal with, but you’d rather not.

With some exceptions, women in the movement have been more inclined to lead from within the group rather than in front of it.

There has been an explosive growth of small local environment groups. In general, the local groups are much more team-driven groups.  It will be interesting to see if that flows up to the national organisations.

Judy was awarded an AM in the 2006 Australia Day Honours, for services to the community through a range of policy development and co-ordination roles within the conservation and environment movement, and to local government.

You can find out more about Judy and her work on her webpage http://www.communitysolutions.com.au.  There’s much more that could be discussed, particularly about her leadership at the local level. In this profile, I was very interested in how Judy made the decision to move into the environment movement full time, and give up her career in scientific research.

Comments and responses 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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5 Responses to Judy Lambert

  1. Nicola Beynon says:

    Judy is an inspiration! So is Geoff. I remember how much I valued their support when I was a young, inexperienced office manager at The Wilderness Society in the mid 90s and they were on the Management Committee. I was always hugely grateful for their time, wisdom and skills, which they always volunteered so generously. I still bump into Judy professionally, and also personally when I am out and about in Manly, and it is always inspiring to hear of her latest projects to protect our local environment in Manly and our planet. I think she’s brilliant. Yes, she’s been a mentor to me. Thank you Judy!

  2. Joan Staples says:

    Judy’s contribution has been enormous. Her thoroughness in approaching everything she does is amazing. She has an ability to grasp the detail of any task and transfer that into efficient work programs, while at the same time ensuring that she deals with all the people involved appropriately. She is thoughtful in how she works and over the years has given consideration to the implications of all she does. In interviewing her for my own work, I as struck by the deep and perceptive political analysis she had done on events in which she was involved. So often, players in significant events can only see the surface, but Judy is able to analyse more deeply regardless of how close she might have sat. Her vigorous work ethic makes for a prodigious output but mpw I would like to see her do more for herself – she deserves it!

  3. Heather says:

    I have been in Judy’s employ part-time close to 20 years and so I think that might say something in itself about Judy’s leadership style. Obviously I don’t need to suck up at this stage of our relationship and I’m not looking for a raise! I just want to add to the incisive comments above, firstly by agreeing about Judy’s stunning energy, meticulous approach and dedication to her work, but also highlight her sensitivity, breadth of interests and the voracious curiosity for life we often see in intellectually sharp leaders in many fields. But I also treasure my talks with Judy about our opposing Aussie Rules teams and snippets of shared joy (and sometimes despair) about the the Aussie bush and it’s peoples. I do concur with the comments elsewhere about many Women leaders having a breadth of experience and worldly interests. Judy can be as tough as she needs to be to push through (with all who need to come along for the ride) to an outcome and that is because of her genuine heart and focus for people and land. In the words of my 20 year old – just awesome, no, really, awesome. I often thought as Joan says, what about some of that energy towards Judy herself. But then, I think perhaps doing so much for others and the environment is doing just that, looking after herself, from Judy’s point of view. Not sure if that is Geoff’s view!

  4. Pip Walsh says:

    The comments above ring absolutely true! I have learnt an enormous amount from Judy since the late 1990’s and greatly admire her. long may she continue to inluence us all.

  5. Judy Henderson says:

    In the first recorded clip Judy talks about seeing an advertisement for a S-E Tasmania film night to which she and Geoff went along out of interest “and both walked out with jobs to do’. This epitomises Judy’s life as I have known her and surfaces constantly through the interview. She has a prodigious capacity for hard work, often for a number of different organisations and campaigns at the same time. She has an ability to quickly analyse a situation, decide what critical tasks need to be done and then get on with them. Her collaborative and inclusive style is linked with her intense compassion for people. Judy talks of being more comfortable in an “influencer” role and her sphere of influence is extensive. Her opinions are actively sought and highly respected not only by her friends and colleagues but clearly by those in conventional leadership positions. She does need to take more time out for herself – I think Judy recognises this but there is always just one more task …..…….

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