Karen Alexander

Karen Alexander 2012 (photo by G & J Lambert)


Karen was born in Melbourne in 1948 and has a younger brother. Karen’s parents were agnostic – they struggled with being brought up with rigid religious backgrounds that they broke away from – Mennonite in the case of her mother and Baptist/Presbyterian for her father. Karen is an atheist.

Karen had a mix of public and private school education – the last five years were at the local high school. Immediately after school, Karen started at Monash Uni studying maths. In her second year Karen had, in her words, “a very good year” and ended by failing all her subjects. A year off from studying followed during which time she went to Tasmania – “I had no clear idea about who I was or what I wanted to do, but I knew that maths certainly wasn’t it”.

By this stage, Karen had begun doing long bushwalks in Tasmania. Growing up near Sherbrooke Forest and being encouraged to explore had kindled Karen’s early interest in the bush, and she found the idea of studying something to do with the outdoors very appealing. So she embarked on a degree in geology part time in Hobart.

While in Hobart studying, Karen observed the campaign to save Lake Pedder and the role of people such as Olegas and Melva Truchanas, Richard Jones and local campaigner and Tasmanian Environment Centre founder Leigh Holloway, all of whom she describes as “extraordinary people”.

She discovered that female geology students were not allowed to go out into the field (this was 1973 before antidiscrimination legislation).

In 1974, disappointed in not being able to do field work and wanting to leave Tasmania, Karen moved to Canberra without finishing her degree. She intended to do an education course, but a scholarship to study natural resource management at Canberra CAE fitted well with Karen’s interests. The more practical approach taken by lecturers such as Peter Cullen and John Harris and being encouraged to think about ecology and its application suited Karen’s needs.

Karen has been in a relationship with David for 31 years. They first met at the Monash Bushwalking Club as university students, which Karen says is a good place to size up a future partner. “When you’ve seen someone with mud on them, when they’ve woken up with puffy eyes, when they’re grumpy because they’re very tired, then you’ve seen the real person.” But it wasn’t until 1979 when Karen moved back to Melbourne that their relationship really began and they moved in together.

For some time Karen had a job that she really enjoyed in rural Victoria, caretaking in a national park, and she managed to save what seemed to be the huge sum of $10,000. This nest egg then allowed her to work on the Franklin campaign for the next 3 years, in an unpaid capacity.

A few people in Melbourne – including Margaret Blakers, Ross Scott and John Terrell – were meeting to form a branch of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society, and Karen became part of this effort.

In the extract below Karen talks about their early activities, which she describes as being “built on the anger of the loss of Lake Pedder”.

Karen worked on the Franklin campaign for 2 days per week initially, which quickly became (more than) full time. As the presence in the office, she became the public spokesperson in Melbourne, coordinator and organiser, and MC for public meetings.

I never saw myself as the leader. I just happened to be able to work on the campaign seven days a week. I had the time, and other people didn’t have the time.

When I look back on it the skills I brought to it – the skills I learned in observing my parents – were a keen eye and ear for how the group was operating, how you could help the group make a decision, how you could pick out the best of what was going on, and in people, and how you could support people. I wasn’t conscious of those particular skills at the time. I just thought that was how you did it. It was only afterwards that people said that was what I did. We worked really well together, and some of it – not all of it – was because of those skills that I learned in the teenaged years.

After the Franklin victory, Karen stayed with the new national Wilderness Society (TWS), becoming co-Director with Chris Harris in 1984-85 – a six-month leadership position Karen describes as almost impossible – “endless talks about structure, no recognition that we didn’t know about governance arrangements – also no clear role for me.”

Karen then went to Brisbane to help with the TWS campaign to protect the Daintree rainforest, but found this a very different experience than working on the Franklin campaign.

With the Franklin campaign it was very fluid. You’d grab opportunities as they came up and run with them. With the Daintree campaign you needed a more structured environment, liaison with other organisations and people, and I remember feeling I had no real idea what I was doing. The Daintree campaign needed more considered planning, and more understanding of what my role was as co-Director of this national organisation – it was a huge shift for me from going from just a campaigner, to having this title as co-Director.

After Karen left the co-Director position, she moved back to Melbourne. Working with Margaret Robertson she convinced the TWS national decision making body that the organisation should focus on wilderness across the country, rather than fighting individual campaigns. As a result of this Karen became involved in making a series of 6 wilderness films over a period of 4 years (1984-87).

In 1988 Karen went overseas for a year, and worked for the United Nations Environment Program in Paris.

I rang up David and said I’d just been offered this work and it’s six months. There was a silence, and then he said “I think that’s a fantastic opportunity”. And I knew he’d say that. He’s supportive in a quiet way.  He doesn’t block me from doing things, and doesn’t demand more time – he never says “What about me?”.

But we’ve had to work at making sure that we don’t live parallel lives – we enjoy eating and talking together, and our big overseas trips away have been really important times for us.

Karen was offered more work in Paris, but was concerned that her work there wasn’t having an impact, something which is very important to her – “I need to see things changing in some way” – and she wanted to come back to be with David. So she returned to Australia and took on the job of Environment Manager at ACF, which she held between 1990- 1993.

During the interview, Karen and I had a long talk about leadership and management – and how she approached these issues in her ACF position. When she began the job, Karen was concerned at her lack of management experience – she had never done any leadership or management training. In the extract below Karen talks about defining leadership, and about her approach of focusing on “enabling staff to do their job well”. Karen also talks about the impact of the 1991 recession on ACF and on her leadership role.

In the 10 years after leaving ACF, Karen worked as a consultant, mainly doing facilitation and strategic planning. She did a Masters of Applied Science at the University of Western Sydney in 2002 and was President of Australian Bush Heritage between 2000-2004 – a period when the organisation underwent considerable growth.

There were also some personal challenges – her mother became ill and died, and Karen was getting to know the daughter with whom she had recently reunited after 19 years.

Karen also became involved in the early days of the Victorian Greens – being on their first Greens Council. As part of the Victorian Greens, Karen continued to work at bringing people together – helping run the first Greens candidate in La Trobe and working on the Australian Greens national communications strategy in the 1996 Federal election campaign, which included organising focus groups and helped with media training for all the Senate candidates. She was, in her own words, “seeing opportunities and making them work.”

At the same time, Karen was working at her local level in the Southern end of the Dandenong Ranges. She was a member of the Environment Management Committee for Cardinia Council and over a period of 3 years helped Council to develop environmental sustainability indicators.

In 2005, Karen took on a contract with the Victorian National Parks Association to develop a long term, cross-sectoral campaign to raise awareness of biodiversity and increase its value in the community. She brought together a range of organisations into the Victoria Naturally Alliance and by 2007 had raised sufficient money to support the Alliance. She’s currently team leader of the initiative.

I asked Karen whether she had ever been mentored by anyone:

It would have been really good, but no. When I started to work for ACF, Deni Greene [environmental consultant] offered me the opportunity, but I didn’t formalise it. I didn’t have an idea of how valuable it would be. But also, I think I’m wary of asking for help for me – I’m very good at asking for help for others, or for the campaign, but not for me.

Karen has been inspired by many people including Bob Brown, Judy Henderson and Judy Lambert and she really admires people with a capacity to focus on one thing and get it done.   She admires Gwynneth Taylor, the first female president of the Victorian NPA, “for her capacity to ask a particular question, which may not have an obvious immediate answer, but it would get you thinking”.

Karen also says she admired the way that Philip Toyne was not excessively concerned when things didn’t go according to plan. “I tend to have an overly developed sense of responsibility.  I think many women do – when you don’t do something well, women agonise over it.”

As I’ve got older, I understand more about what I do well. As I understand this, I can then use my skills more effectively. I do have the capacity to see the underlying need, and the capacity to see how you might act on that need. As I’ve become older I’ve become more confident, and I’ve been able to argue for the solutions that I think are right.

The last extract below is of Karen talking about the differences between women and men in leadership.

I asked Karen about the rewards and difficulties of leadership:

Seeing some change, seeing something operating well – that’s the reward of leadership. The difficulties arise when you have to make hard decisions – perhaps when you haven’t had time to consult properly, and you might get bad reactions. I sometimes find it difficult to take the full responsibility of leadership, as it can be very stressful. The impact can be high on your sense of well being, and that has put me off leadership at times – I don’t want to feel that extra sense of stress.

I also asked about whether Karen thought she’d missed out on a higher level of income by working in the non-government sector. She said that the lack of pay or low pay is part of working in the environment movement, but that

the sort of work I do – relationship building – is not valued anywhere in society, so whether it would have been recognised in a corporate world I doubt it.  It might have been more recognised in government…

I’m glad there’s a pension. I won’t have enough superannuation. But I have found that so long as you’re not paying out a lot of money for a huge mortgage, you can live quite well, by living fairly simply.

Finally we talked about why women might not want to become involved as leaders in the environment movement.

There’s not an active program of support for women to become leaders in the environment movement. Such a program might include discussions about what leadership is, what you might bring to leadership, how you might be trained in leadership roles. It may also include a recognition of the current leadership roles, a mentoring system. I think that the leadership styles that are the role models need to be expanded … while it’s still considered to be narrow, political head bashing stuff – I think it’s a bit of a barrier for women.

It would be fantastic if the notion of leadership could be expanded – so a leader is not just a prime minister or CEO. This would then enhance everyone’s capacity to see where they can play a leadership role. Nearly everyone would find themselves in some leadership role. This would then provide value to that person – it’s an empowering notion. It’s disempowering when it is implied that one person is the leader and the others don’t have the skills. Any good CEO knows that they rely on the leadership skills of staff, although not many acknowledge it. I have found, in general, that women are better able to acknowledge the roles that others play, and thank them. For the blokes it’s not so easy– because that’s giving away power.

Interview by Jane Elix.  Extra material and editing by Judy Lambert

Comments very welcome below.

Posted in Alexander, Karen, Women leaders in the environment movement | 4 Comments

Kelly O’Shanassy

Kelly was born in 1970 in Geelong, Victoria, the middle child of 3.  Her family was  Catholic – her parents attended church regularly, and her grandmother was particularly religious.    Kelly attended Catholic school all the way through her education but says she rebelled against Catholicism when she was about 12 (she’s an atheist now).

Kelly describes her parents as being generous in an understated way and that this helped determine her values (rather than anything from the Church).  Her father was a policeman and her mother was a teacher, and they were committed to giving back to society.  “Even on their days off, everyone would come around and ask my dad for help”.

When Kelly was about 12, her family moved to the country, and the impacts of drought on the natural and human environment made a big impression on her.  Her mother’s side of the family are all farmers, and the young Kelly wanted to be a vet, or an advocate in the environment sector – “but only in a way that would let me help negotiate an outcome – I never wanted to be the person tying themselves to a tree’.

Kelly was the first in her family to go to University, completing a BSc Hons, focusing on river environmental processes.  Her career started out in the State Water Laboratories, which was privatised shortly after she began work and became Water Ecoscience which was essentially a consultancy business.  Kelly talks in the extract below about her early positions and about how she has always worked for the environment

In 1998, Kelly joined the EPA in Victoria, where she quickly became a Manager in a policy development area, and also became more involved in overall organisational management.

At EPA, Kelly was invited to be part of a 6 month leadership and management training course (run by Fabian Dattner) – which she describes as a huge turning point in her life.

I was working in an organisation of scientists and engineers who were skilled at making highly structured decisions.  But I would get to the same answers to problems much more intuitively .  [Through the training] I came to realise that the way that I make decisions isn’t highly structured.  ButI also learned that my style is no better or worse than other people’s styles.  I also realised that people wanted me in their teams because I was different.

The course gave me information about how I and others like to work, and helps me to manage other people.  These days, [the information from the course] allows me to notice when I’m falling back into behaviours that aren’t positive.

Kelly is now talking to her current staff about whether similar training might be useful for them.  “They’re highly passionate – which is wonderful – but they need to know how to manage that as well.”

In 2004 Kelly was seconded over to the Department of Sustainability and the Environment, working on Victoria’s Environmental Sustainability framework.  This work lasted for 18 months, and Kelly found it a difficult period.  During this time she sought advice from a coach at times to get through some of the management problems she was facing.  The coach gave her some good skills in understanding how other team members were feeling, and tools for managing the problems.

Kelly went on to manage a joint venture for the water industry in Melbourne, developing and running a 50 year water management strategy.  In this position, Kelly was working with 4 different Managing Directors and 4 different Boards, each of which was very different.  She really enjoyed the experience – although saying that a short term panic over a period of drought led to many of the initiatives she had worked on being overshadowed in favour of new pipelines and a desalination plant.

In 2007, Kelly became CEO of Environment Victoria (EV)– the leading environment group in Victoria.  There are currently 20 staff working in the organisation.  In the interview, Kelly described the changes that she helped bring about, including ensuring that EV’s funding became more independent of government, developing more long term programs and strategies for staff, and building team work, and re-focusing campaigns to become more solution based.

Kelly found it quite a challenge when she first came into the environment movement – at times she felt quite judged by others in the movement (not in EV), for coming from government, and for some of the solutions she was supporting in the water area.  Kelly also felt surprised by some of the environment movement’s beliefs about people working in the corporate sector being inherently destructive. Kelly says thay she has worked hard within EV to encourage a culture where people are seen to be positioned somewhere along an environmental awareness continuum, and encouraged to take the next step rather than criticised for where they are, and who they work for.

In the extract below Kelly talks about some of the differences between women and men leaders in the environment movement.  Kelly is currently the only female CEO of a state conservation council.

I asked Kelly why women might not want to become leaders in the environment movement

I think a lot of what we do as an environment movement is political – we have to influence politicians, and there’s still an old style of working – tactics haven’t come as far as they could – a lot of the time it is the bravado that gets you there.

Maybe more women aren’t doing so much leadership because the toll is high – you’re always thinking about the impact you’re having on other people.

Kelly also thinks women get held back in leadership when they have children.  She has been in a long term relationship for 8 years and is not planning to have children.  She says she’s never had an overwhelming desire to have children and she doesn’t want to bring children into a world which she sees as having a potentially devastating environmental future.  “I do think that having kids is giving back to the world –but we’ll have to give back in another way” she says.

Kelly has informed her Board that she will leaving her position at Environment Victoria next year.   I asked her what sort of jobs she could see in her future. Kelly says she likes the CEO role in large part because of the rewards of seeing a change in attitude or behaviour that she has helped bring about.  She says “I can’t see myself as doing something in the future that doesn’t involve advocacy.”

When I started this job, I didn’t want to foist my opinion on other people, because I respect other people’s views, and I was apprehensive of advocacy. I didn’t like upsetting people.   What I’ve realised is that you can’t make everyone happy.  The environment movement’s policies and positions are correct, most people in the community are in agreement with them, and we have evidence to back everything up.  I now have no problem being an advocate for an environmental position.

I don’t want to be adversarial though – the big leadership challenge is having solutions, and putting the information forward in a way that people who don’t already agree with us can understand.  I see myself as “mainstream-ish”, but I like it when people call me an advocate now.

Kelly’s profile shows her commitment to working for the environment in a range of different settings – moving between consultancy, government and the NGO sectors.  I also found Kelly’s willingness to look for help when she needs it, and her ability to see the way her own attitudes have changed over time, to be refreshing in a world where we seem more frequently to expect people remain unchanging in the face of new information or new experiences.

Posted in O'Shanassy, Kelly, Women leaders in the environment movement | 1 Comment

Sally Crossing

Sally Crossing

Sally Crossing was born in Melbourne at the beginning of 1946 – an early baby-boomer.  Her mother was a librarian, and her father, an engineer by training, was managing director of a large management consulting business.   The family spent some time in England, and moved to Sydney when Sally was 8 years old.  She describes her childhood as happy.  Although she had a brother, six years younger, Sally remembers feeling pretty very much an only child.  She was bookish and liked to read and explore – ‘I was off on my own imagining adventures’.

Education was in ‘lots of different schools’ which Sally says ‘didn’t do her any harm’.  Her secondary school years were at North Sydney Girls High School and then at Abbotsleigh for the last two years.   After leaving school, Sally went to Sydney University where she lived at Women’s College – which she found a rich and exciting place, which later lead her to serving on its Council for several years.   She had decided to study economics after meeting the eminent economist, Herman D Black, at one of her parent’s dinner parties, and he convinced her that this was the degree she should do.   She says that it was a good choice, and that it would open doors.

Because there were few women economists at that time, Sally found that she had more job opportunities than if she had taken an Arts degree.   At university she had developed a love of economic history, and her first job was at the Bank of New South Wales, where she helped the economist Reginald Holder to write the history of Australia’s first bank.  In 1966 Sally moved to London where she lived for four years and was employed as an industrial market researcher.  She also spent a year working for the Conservative Party’s Shadow Minister for Minerals and Energy.

Sally returned to Australia in 1970 and got a job on the UK Desk in the Reserve Bank.  A year later she married Peter, and they moved to Griffith in NSW, which she says was ‘a change of pace’.  Peter was working as a farm management consultant and Sally got a job as an English teacher in the local high school.

Peter then accepted a job in Iran, working for the government of the then Shah.  Sally’s experience in marketing enabled her to work as a marketing expert with the same company.  They lived in Tehran for a year, and frequently travelled to their project area in the north east of the country.  She found that living and working in Iran was not difficult for a woman at that time – there were a lot of well educated, middle class women and the capital itself was very westernised.

After Tehran, Sally and Peter moved to Rome where they stayed for 8 years and where their children were born.  Sally was a full time mother and student of things Italian (which she thoroughly enjoyed), until the last 2 years of their stay when she worked for the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

The family returned to Australia in 1980 when the children were 6 and 4 years old.  Sally was surprised at how hard it was to get the 4 year old into preschool, due to prevailing Australian philosophies – in Italy she had attended preschool since she was 2 years old.

In 1984 Sally got a part time job in the NSW Parliament – working for some of the Liberal Party’s Shadow Ministers. She says this was ‘a very exciting, lovely way to go back to work’.  After the Greiner government was elected in 1988 she joined the staff of one of the ministers, which she says was ‘a strange world’.  However, it taught her a lot about politics and how governments work.  After 9 months she joined the NSW Department of Minerals and Energy where she worked on implementing the policies she had helped to develop while working for the Liberals when in Opposition.   Her subsequent career within the NSW Public Service included being a Senior Policy Officer within the NSW Cabinet Office and Acting Director of Policy within the Department of Mineral Resources.

In 1995, when Sally was 49, she was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer.   This was a psychological shock which she ‘thought was the end of the world (it was not!’).  She had surgery and radiotherapy, and carried on working for another 18 months.  She had given a lot of thought to her experience of breast cancer, and wrote an article which was published by the newly formed National Breast Cancer Centre (NBCC) in their newsletter for clinicians.  The NBCC had been formed in 1995 in response to a Senate Inquiry which found that breast cancer treatment in Australia was less than optimal and needed to improve.

The NBCC then invited Sally to participate in their 3 day course on consumer advocacy and science which was held in Melbourne.  While there, she met Lyn Swinburne and Sue Lockwood, consumer advocates who had already established a breast cancer consumer advocacy organisation in Victoria.  Lyn and Sue knew that a similar organisation was needed in NSW – so they asked Sally to take on the task.

It was a challenging decision for Sally.  Her life was already full – she had a full time job, a husband and two children, a dog and two houses.   She thought about it for a while and realised that it was an important thing to do.   ‘I realised this was the sort of thing I could do, it needed to be done, I had the skills and understanding and I had the urge to do it.’

Sally was now in her early 50s, and, if she took this challenge on, it would mean a complete change in her working life.  She would have to give up her paid job. Husband Peter was very supportive of the idea. He had a good salary and their lifestyle would not need to change.  So, Sally resigned – a step she describes as ‘not hugely brave’.  She ‘started off in a new direction of giving back and creating something that needed to be created.’ In retrospect she says that giving up her job was a ‘great relief’.  It was giving her less satisfaction and she was interested in being able to use her skills, experience and ability for a better end.

Establishing a new organisation was a huge task – one which Sally had never had to do before. At times she would sit in her office and wonder what she had got herself into.  The operational side was a totally new area of work for her, but other women were very supportive.   The result of Sally’s work and the support of other women was that the Breast Cancer Action Group NSW was established in 1997, with Marie Bashir, Governor of NSW as its patron and major encourager.

Sally remembers their efforts at publicising the new organisation, and the need for good breast cancer care.  She managed to get an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, accompanied by a photograph of 3 women in the NSW Art Gallery standing in front of a picture with nude breasts!  As a result of that article about 100 people responded and a meeting to form the new organisation was held in Sally’s house with Lyn Swinburne and Sue Lockwood on hand to advise.

The organisation surveyed consumers, and heard many stories about the isolation that women felt, and the difficulty of finding the services and the information that they needed.  People diagnosed with the disease did not know which way to turn, and their GPs were often equally uninformed.   Although breast cancer is quite common, individual GPs do not see many patients with the disease – so they may not have the knowledge or experience to direct consumers to good quality services.

BCAG NSW decided to research and compile a directory of services to meet this unmet need, the NSW Breast Cancer Institute at Westmead Hospital joined them as a partner, with NSW Health providing initial funding.   The AMA were firmly opposed and threatened to sue – but the women proceeded anyway.

It was a huge task, but the directory was received with enormous enthusiasm, and marked a milestone in the provision of consumer information.  Sally describes it as a ‘sort of breakthrough’ at the time – they were able to obtain information about how many cases of breast cancer a doctor had treated in a year (an indicator of good quality as high turnover usually meant good outcomes). Sally now makes the point that privacy legislation is hindering attempts to update the directory, because the Health Insurance Commission which administers Medicare is no longer able to provide the de-identified information that the original directory relied upon, which, she says ‘is not a good consequence of privacy legislation’.

In 2005 Sally had a recurrence of breast cancer and reluctantly decided to have a mastectomy.  During the preparatory work leading up to the surgery, she discovered that she also had 3 tumours in her liver.  This was hard to digest, and she thought the advice given by a medical oncologist ‘that we will just give you a bit of chemo – and we’ll leave the tumours there to see how they respond’ to be not very convincing, so she turned her mind to investigating other options.  She used the internet, and discovered that the liver is the only organ that can actually regrow, and that people can survive with only 20% of their liver.   She and her husband then interviewed 3 liver surgeons, and found one who met the criteria she had developed when compiling the breast cancer directory.  So, in late 2005  Sally had a mastectomy, followed two weeks later by surgery to remove the tumours in her liver.  She says she did it ‘over the summer holidays so that it wouldn’t take up too much time from the year’.

Through her work on breast cancer, Sally had begun to realise that a lot of the issues confronting people with the disease were shared by all people with cancer.  She says that ‘we had made such a lot of headway that it seemed to be useful to use what we had learned and apply it to other cancers’.  She became involved in the establishment of another organisation to advocate on behalf of all people with cancer.  Cancer Voices NSW, which Sally now chairs, was established in 2000.  To mark its first ten years, Sally edited and published “A Decade of Success:  Cancer Voices NSW 2000-2010”.The organisation runs advocacy and research training and supports consumer representatives on a range of committees.  It has been influential in improving cancer diagnosis, treatment, care, information, support and the direction of cancer research in NSW and beyond.

Sally has also played a leading role in the broader health consumer movement.  In 2008 she became the Vice Chair of the peak health consumer organisation, the Consumers’ Health Forum of Australia.  She was also centrally involved in the establishment of a peak health consumer advocacy organisation in NSW.

Health Consumers NSW was established in 2010, with funding from NSW Health and with Sally as a Co-Chair, becoming elected Chair in 2011.  Sally says the consumer organisations such as this are an important part of democracy.  They are also an important element in a health market place.  Every other business which has customers must take notice of what its customers need and want.  ‘Health, until recently has not done that because of its medical model nature’. Consumers, she says ‘are not just using the services – they are actually paying for them.  It doesn’t come from Nicola Roxon or someone else – it’s our money paying for it’.  She goes on to say that ‘on the philosophical side, it’s also important that not only are individuals empowered to make good health decisions about themselves, but it’s also a democratic thing that we should be able to facilitate people to get together in a meaningful and productive way to take their rightful role in deciding what society is going to do about providing health services in both the public and private sectors.’

Sally has now been working in voluntary leadership positions for 14 years.   She has used her own experience of illness and has learned from many others to inform her work.  She says that she has lots of energy and is motivated by ‘the challenge of seeing that something could be done and then seeing it done – it is extremely rewarding’.  The skills she developed during her professional life have been useful ‘particularly the knowledge about how things work’.   Her work and her home life occasionally get out of balance but her family is supportive and she is passionate and loves the work she does.

Reflecting on her work, Sally says that she has always been more comfortable leading rather than being led and suggests that ‘maybe it’s because I’m the oldest child’.   She likes to be able ‘to make things happen’ and her ‘urge to lead comes from an ability to make things happen’ and being ‘a bit of a driver’.  She emphasises the importance of being prepared to learn from people who have done something similar.

Working collaboratively is something that Sally values.  She describes herself as a collaborative leader – one who works with and learns from others. ‘Leaders’, she says, ‘should never have total confidence that they are right.  Others may know a lot more than the leader.  She also emphasises the importance of respecting the interests and skills of others, and ensuring that their talents are fully utilised.  ‘The way we work is to spark off and learn from each other.  It’s very rewarding and exciting to do it that way, and you can have confidence that you are doing the right thing – it’s not something you’ve plucked out of the air because you have a particular bee in your bonnet.  That’s a big danger.’ 

Although Sally is not motivated by a need for accolades she was very pleased when, in 2005, she was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for services to the community through health consumer advocacy.  She sees it as ‘a great acknowledgement that you have done something quite well’.  She also sees the award as being useful and is strategic about its use.  She says that ‘people being aware that you have the award can be very helpful.  It’s an acknowledgement by your country that you have done something useful – so I make sure that it’s on the business card, put it on the bottom of letters to Ministers, and I wear it when I’m going to meetings.’

Sally’s advice to other women is that they need to find something that really ‘turns you on – for which you can develop a passion.  Without a passionate commitment it’s not really going to go anywhere.’

Posted in Crossing, Sally, Women leaders in the consumer movement | 2 Comments

Jenni Mack

Jenni Mack - pic from Financial Ombudsman Service web page

Jenni Mack was born in 1960 grew up in a happy, easy going, stable family environment in Sydney.  Her mother was a stay at home parent who was very involved in community work.  Her father, Ted Mack, was a government architect.  After some questionable planning decisions by the North Sydney Council he successfully ran for local government and became Mayor of North Sydney.  He then became a high profile, independent member of the NSW Legislative Assembly in the 1980s, followed by a period as the Member for North Sydney in the Commonwealth Parliament in 1990.

It was an era of political and social change, and public interest issues were ‘the flavour of the day’ in the Mack household.  Discussion about politics and current affairs were a normal part of life.  Jenni remembers her parents giving a party for the 1972 elections, when she would have been 12.  She remembers the children at that party lined up in the backyard heartily singing the Labor Party campaign theme song ‘It’s Time’.   She also recalls her childhood being influenced by the newly emerging feminist movement, and challenging her father for allowing her mother to do all the housework and bringing him breakfast in bed.

Jenni was educated at the local schools – Neutral Bay Primary School, and the Cremorne Girls High School.   She describes herself at high school as being in a slightly rebellious but high achieving group of girls who were an intellectual challenge for the teachers because ‘we were questioning things then’.

After leaving school at 17, Jenni spent a year travelling around Australia.  She fell in love with North Queensland, but came back to Sydney to start a journalism degree.   But she went back to North Queensland for a visit and ended up staying there for the next 10 years.   During this time she met and lived with a man who was a chiropractor and naturopath with an established business.  She helped manage the business, and also trained as a midwife with a group of homebirth midwives.  She delivered her first child after only 12 months of training, when the registered midwife was unable to get there on time.

Jenni finished her journalism degree at the University of Queensland after travelling overseas for a couple of years.   While studying she worked for a radio station and then a small newspaper in Brisbane.  After completing her degree she worked on the Mackay Mercury where she had a column covering environmental and state and local government issues.  By this time she was forming an ambition to work in advocacy and politics.

She moved to Brisbane where she had worked for the Mayor of Logan City, the second largest local government area, which even in 1990 had a population of 850,000.   It was there that Jenni met Chery Kernot, a Democrat Senator who encouraged her to apply for a media position with the Democrats.  Jenni’s application was successful and she moved to Canberra.

The new job was interesting and challenging. Jenni was very involved in the cut and thrust of the media side of working for the Democrats.  She enjoyed the issues that she dealt with, but was less enthusiastic about the chaotic nature of the political process and the inter-party politics.  However, she says ‘it was an incredibly privileged position to be in.  I loved the extraordinary opportunity to see politics close up, and the Democrats in those days had the balance of power, so it was a very exciting time to be working in Parliament House.’

While there were some things she didn’t like, Jenni was comfortable in the political milieu. She says that her childhood and her father’s work had given her ‘a level of engagement with political issues’, so that in a sense life in politics was ‘like coming home – it was very normal, natural.’ She realises that ‘when you grow up in a political household you just absorb things from that background.’

And of course she says it was nice at personal level coming back because she hadn’t seen her parents that much in the past 10 years.   Her time in Parliament House coincided with the time when her father was a Member of Parliament.  She would have dinner with him regularly and talk to him about issues.

After nearly 3 years with the Democrats Jenni decided that it was time to move on.  She considered three potential jobs, one of which was as CEO of the Australian Federation of Consumer Organisations (AFCO).   She discussed these choices with her father. He advised her to take the AFCO position, even though it was the lowest paid, because it would be the most interesting.  She agreed, and went to work for ACFO.  It was the right choice.

Jenni absolutely loved that job, and it was the start of her career in many ways.  She loved the issues and she loved the people and the groups that she engaged with.   She found that people in the community sector are very passionate and motivated and had values and ethics that she shared – they are she says ‘on the side of the angels’.

Although she dealt with a wide range of issues, there was an overarching theme to the work.  It was basically about working with the policy and regulatory system and Jenni found that there are a suite of options that can be applied in different sectors – such as complaints mechanisms and codes of practice.  Jenni stresses that a great strength of the consumer movement is its broad view and experiences which can be applied across a range of consumer products and services.

Jenni is now married and has two daughters, aged 14 and 11.  She left full time work when she had her first child.  She had grown up with a full time mother and loved being able to come home from school and talk to her.  She wanted to do the same for her own children.

When her first child was 9 months old, Jenni was offered – and accepted – a Board position.  She soon realised that it was an opportunity to do really interesting work, engage her mind, make a difference and still be there for her children.  Over the years, she had taken on more board and advisory committee positions, and now has a full time load.  Her daughters are in high school, and she thinks it is a positive thing for them to see that she is out there, doing things.  While she may be away overnight, or sometimes for 2-3 days, at other times she is at home for them.

Jenni now works on a range of governing boards and advisory committees including those of Food Standards Australia, the Financial Ombudsman Service and the Travel Compensation Service. She feels very lucky that she has been able to put together an interesting portfolio of work and still have time for her family.

However, such a busy life is not without its challenges when she and her husband both have to be away from home at the same time.  But, she does have a good network of support. Her mother and another family member live nearby and Jenni has also worked hard to build a network of mutually supportive women in her neighbourhood who she can call upon if necessary – and who,  of course, can seek her help from her.

Jenni sees it as important that women are seen to be in leadership positions as they provide role models for younger women.  However, she points out that so far ‘there have not been many of us, and that is a problem.’

Jenni’s advice to other women considering taking on leadership roles is to not be afraid to ask for help in juggling roles as mother, part of a family and community leader.  She says that women as a group are a bit shy about asking for help – but they need to push a bit harder over what help and support they need.  She says than in her experience men are not shy of asking for things like additional income, but ‘you don’t see women do that too often.’  She says there is an unconscious bias towards women, and ‘we should take that head on.  Young women should not feel shy about negotiating hard for themselves because the blokes do it all the time’. 

She acknowledges that a leadership role is not easy, and it may not be achievable for everyone.  However, ‘if you look after the foundations and make sure that there is a strong community behind you can start doing a little bit more and not be afraid to have a go.’

Jenni’s leadership style is very much a consensus builder.  She likes to ‘ensure that she has the rest of the team with her’.  Leadership, she says ’involves having a clear vision of where you want to go, a plan to get there and accepting that it it may take time but is about nudging things forward all the time’.  While she gets great satisfaction from achieving change, she also enjoys the journey of identifying the problem, the possible solution, and the challenge of getting that solution accepted and implemented.

One of the Jenni’s most prominent positions is as the Chair of Choice, Australia’s premier consumer advocacy organisation.  It is a completely independent, self -funded social enterprise.  She sees the big challenge facing the organisation as being to ensure that it is around for the next 50 years and that it is as relevant to consumers in the market place of tomorrow as it is today.  To do that, the Board has driven through a suite of reforms and the organisation is now taking a higher public advocacy profile.

Under Jenni’s leadership Choice is building on its  focus of providing consumers with information towards campaigns that more actively harness the power of Australian consumers.  It is encouraging and helping consumers to use their market power through targeted campaigns.  In doing so, the organisation is directly challenging the practices of some of the biggest businesses in Australia.  The organisation is, she says ‘pushing boundaries, being a bit disruptive, being innovative’.   For example, Choice urged consumers to voice their dissatisfaction about penalty fees charged by banks.  As a result the banks experienced significant consumer demand, and changed their practices.  The Choice Big Bank Switch campaign is encouraging people who want to get a better mortgage deal to switch banks, and the Choice Big Bag Switch is trying to bring transparency to grocery pricing.

Jenni says that the reactions from the powerful vested interests are stronger today than when she first started her advocacy role and describes current the responses to Choice’s tactics as ‘particularly vociferous’ and believes that it reflects in part the current political climate.  In her 25 years’ experience of advocacy ‘we are now in the most polarised, bitter space of public discourse, and I think where we are as a country now is a very polarised and angry space…..  .  Powerful, vested interests feel they have more permission at the moment to push their weight and their might up against community voices’. 

The push back from powerful interests can be intimidating, but Jenni is clearly motivated to keep going by her passion for social justice.   She says there is ‘a satisfaction when you can speak out for those who don’t have power in their own right’.   There are also some real achievements to look back on. She cites the financial services complaints scheme as one.  Now, people who have a dispute with a financial service provider over amounts up to $500,000 can use a free, industry based complaints scheme and get a fair hearing without the use of lawyers.   Another achievement is the banning, from July 2012, of commission based remuneration in financial services. Jenni met many ordinary people who were suffering after losing large amounts of money through commission based service scheme.  She has a great sense of progress and achievement in seeing the end of that practice.

However, Jenni stresses that change can take time and it is important to be patient, keep moving forward and keep the end of in mind.  For example, the campaign to ban commission based financial services dates back to 1992, and will have taken 20 years to achieve its aim.  ‘I’ve learned that it takes time – some things require 10, 15 or 20 years, and you just have to keep plugging away, keep those little punches going and every so often you have to lob in something a bit bigger to kick it along’.

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Vicki-Jo Russell

I interviewed Vicki-Jo, in what she describes as “her natural habitat” – her emerging permaculture garden in the suburbs of Adelaide – and you’ll be able to hear wonderful bird noises in the background in the audio extracts.

Vicki-Jo is Adelaide born (1970) and bred and grew up in an atheist family.  Her father, himself raised in a harsh Catholic home, was unwilling to allow his children to grow up with religion and she and her younger sister were not allowed to attend church until they were 15, and able to make informed decisions for themselves.   Vicki-Jo then “explored a few religions and denominations”, but is not now part of a religious community.  She describes herself as a Pantheist – worshipping God through nature and natural rituals, and showing her love for God and the universe by trying to protect it, and “putting back” into it – “a two way relationship with earth in a spiritual sense”.

Both of Vicki-Jo’s parents were originally teachers, but her father became a financial planner and developer in midlife.  Her mother worked through her childhood.  Neither of her parents were involved in politics or social change but were community-minded.

Vicki-Jo had a range of schooling as a young child, including a couple of years of home schooling as her family traveled the world.  Vicki-Jo’s mother says she’s been interested in the environment, and especially animals, from a young age.  She set up the first Environment Club at her High School. – which is still going 15 years later (Vicki-Jo was recently invited back to talk to the Club).

My mother reminds me that at first I was moved by the plight of species and the injustice of society’s decision making in relation to them and to traditional cultures but soon enough I realised that their plight was linked to our own. I was always interested in the well-being of both people and the environment, it soon occurred to me that the best way to achieve both was to become a conservationist – and the evidence continues to roll in validating that decision.

Vicki-Jo has a bachelors degree in psychology and biology.  She almost embarked on a career in neuro-physiology, but not being sure that it was the right fit for her, she undertook a second degree in natural resource management – one of the first to do this more specialised course.

After Uni, Vicki-Jo traveled around Australia with her partner David, doing volunteer work in national parks and other places, and had some fantastic experiences for a year.  They married when Vicki-Jo was 23.

In the extract below, Vicki-Jo describes her first year-long job at the Conservation Council of SA and her subsequent position as SA Threatened Species Network Coordinator, a position she held (with a change of title after a few years to South East Australia Regional Coordinator, Threatened Species Network) from 1995 to 2009.

The Threatened Species Network (TSN) was a partnership between the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Australian government to support and develop networks of community groups and other conservation partners to help stop the declining numbers of our native plants and animals, particularly those listed by Australia’s state and federal governments as threatened.

Because her TSN position was part time, Vicki-Jo also had a number of other part time jobs during those years.  Among these, she was Dragon Search Coordinator and Manager for WWF in South Australia. In 2003 and 2007 she took unpaid maternity after the birth of her two children. The family had no income for those two years, but they had managed their finances to allow them to do this.

Vicki-Jo was 32 when she had her first child, with her partner David.  The couple met at University and have now been together for 19 years.  Vicki-Jo’s husband has been based from home for all of their relationship, but, says Vicki-Jo, “husbands are not like wives.”

Dave’s responsible for the family logistics between 9 and 5 and he is skilled at many aspects of house maintenance – plumbing, car fixing, etc.  But I’m responsible for family coordination and for the social aspects of our lives – the extra-curricula activities.

One of their children has learning difficulties and requires a range of intensive therapies.  Vicki-Jo says that “pushing” is an absolutely critical part of parenting such a child– pushing for a diagnosis, pushing for school support, pushing to find the right therapies –  and that this is primarily her job.  Both Vicki-Jo and her husband share the day to day work of implementing the necessary therapy for her son.

Vicki-Jo thought she might have been intellectually bored during her two years at home, but instead she found herself engaged and interested – “exploring” her children, and developing community networks with other mothers.

In 2009, when the Commonwealth Government withdrew funding of TSN, Vicki-Jo needed to find another job.   In the extract below she explains why she stayed in Adelaide, and how she managed to pull together some paid organisational positions – particularly a Program Manager at the Conservation Council and some significant Board positions into a close to full time income. She has bolstered this with her own part-time consultancy since 2010.

After leaving the Conservation Council, the Adelaide Zoo approached her to take up her current position.  The Adelaide Zoo, run by the Royal Zoological Society of SA, is the only non-government owned and operated zoo in an Australian capital city.  The Zoo is interested in developing its conservation activities and Vicki-Jo’s job is to provide advice to the CEO on matters of national and international conservation policy and conservation partnership development.  She is also responsible for Special Projects, including drafting and consulting on a Strategic Plan for the Zoo.

I asked Vicki-Jo how her role as a leader has changed over the years.  In the extract below she explains that her advice is now being actively sought – whereas at the beginning of her career she had to work very hard to get a seat at the table.  She also outlines some of the skills that she is valued for – including her ability to do integrated conceptual thinking – and her sense of humour.

Vicki-Jo also points out in the extract that it’s quite hard for her to list out her skills so boldly (a level of modesty that I have found is consistent in most of the women I’ve interviewed).

After the interview, Vicki-Jo sent me some additional thoughts including the following:

When you asked me ‘why do you think people want you at the table?’ it really took me by surprise as I have obviously given it too little thought. So over the last week I asked a couple of colleagues and they said the following

* you can say the hardest things in the nicest ways – in a way that people are prepared to listen to (government colleague)

* you are less about tactics and more about solutions and you are always genuine; empathy is one of your greatest strengths (Board colleague)

* you are just brilliant, half the time people sit there in awe of what you have just said and wonder where on earth it came from (ngo colleague)

I asked Vicki-Jo about her mentors

I have never had one mentor per se nor one person to specifically emulate. Instead I have admired and learned little bits from lots of amazing people, but in doing so it was most important to apply that in a way that is true to my own style.

Some of those people who have granted me both time and encouragement are: Dennis Mutton a leader in SA NRM, Helen Fulcher former CEO of SA EPA, Michelle Grady former CEO of CCSA, Dr Jamie Pittock former Program Manager WWF-Australia and Lyn Goldsworthy Director Campaign Essentials.

Vicki-Jo has generally sought out her own leadership training and says that the environment movement invests too little in this area. She was part of a Queens Trust Young Leaders forum for 100 people under 35 (1998),  and the Australian Future Directions forum for leaders under the age of 40 (2006). She also applied for and received a Queens Trust for Young Australia scholarship – allowing her to travel overseas and find out how environmentalists in the US and Canada operate.

I asked Vicki-Jo how she would describe the process whereby she became a leader

I really feel I had little choice about it if I am entirely honest with myself.  I have spent most of my adult life working through strategies to cope and express who I am and my ideas rather than ever deciding who I want to be, I feel very proud to be so innately driven to lead because there are so many inspiring people to support through leadership.

I also need to say that I don’t make decisions about my career per se. I have never been a goal setter – instead I make decisions based on priorities, ethics and intuition at the time.   I have confidence this will lead me in the right direction, often well beyond what I could imagined.

Vicki-Jo says her family are very supportive of her, although they don’t always understand exactly what she’s doing.  In particular, they sometimes see that she could have enjoyed more financial security if she worked in another field.

If I applied my skills to an industry or government job, and worked as hard as I do,  I am confident that I’d be making more – but I’ve chosen to stay in the non-government environmental sector.  But I do think about retirement and how we’ll manage it.

I asked why women would not take on leadership roles in the environment movement

I see a lot of female leaders operating like me – being relationship brokers, who try to think differently – they’ll pull out a circuit breaker so everyone can move forward.  There are women of course who do not work like this, but generally I find female decision makers more gracious than their male counterparts. And they are definitely more inclusive in process in my experience.

But it’s a lot of responsibility.  Not everybody wants to take that on. It is very demanding, and because you have so few resources at your disposal, it’s demanding intellectually.  You have to be very strategic, to do more with less.  And it’s very demanding on your personal life and your physical health.

It’s also intimidating at times – I’m put in intimidating situations on a weekly basis, and I’ve seen very good colleagues get depressed, because they have to fight so hard and there’s so few wins.  … You’ve got to keep going even when you experience a lot of loss.  You’ve somehow got to be able to keep doing what you do, and give to others who look to you to be hopeful, strong, focused and constructive.

You have to think about leadership.  What does it mean, how to do it well, there aren’t many opportunities to do that.  People don’t want to talk about being a leader – it’s not a natural conversation for women in my experience.  Helping women to see themselves as leaders, to explore, to continue to develop, to have the mental and emotional space to develop it, there’s a pretty big shortage of that.

Vicki-Jo received the Young Australian of the Year award for the environment in 1998 and in 2003, she was a Recipient – Member of the General Division of the Order of Australia (AM).  She has a number of other significant recognitions of her achievements.

The following extract from Vicki-Jo’s CV describes her well I think.

I aspire to be a leader and a significant contributor to achieving greater ecological resilience in Australia. Community commitment, resilience principles, justice and empathy, sound science and robust policy and processes will need to be at the heart of what I do if my contribution will stand the test of time.

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Carolyn Bond

Carolyn Bond (pic from Consumer Action Law Centre web page)

Carolyn has been Chair of the Consumers’ Federation of Australia and has represented consumers on a number of bodies, including the Banking and Financial Services Ombudsman Board, the Legal Services Board and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Consumer Advisory Panel. On Australia Day 2013, Carolyn was awarded an AO for “distinguished services to the community through the protection of consumers”

Carolyn was born in Melbourne in 1956, the eldest of three children.  Carolyn’s  father was brought up Catholic, but rejected it vehemently as an adult.  Carolyn now describes herself as an atheist.

Carolyn went to public schools in Burwood, Melbourne.  After leaving school she enrolled in business studies, but dropped out after a few weeks, and after a stint on the checkout at Safeway, got a job doing clerical work.  This first real job was supporting the operation of a main-frame computer, in a business that provided outsourced accounting and other services.  She went on to another clerical job in the computer centre at Swinburne Tech, and then to the Commercial Bank of Australia as a trainee computer operator.

At that time, I had a strong feeling about social justice (as you’d call it now).  It was a bit of a dream that I would get involved in something like that, and I made a few attempts at doing some volunteer work.  But  things really happened when I was sharing a flat, and we moved out and the landlord kept our bond.  Through the process of fighting that, I became aware of the Tenants Union and I began volunteering there about once a week.

Her volunteering at the Tenants Union continued for 3 -4 years  while Carolyn continued to do her day job as a computer operator.  She says that the volunteer work was “her dream come true – it was really exciting.”    The Tenants Union was the only legal service at the time that was taking proactive legal action, rather than just defending clients.   In the extract below she describes the sort of work she was doing – as she moved rapidly from just answering phone calls to providing advice to consumers.

In 1981, Carolyn came across a short term financial counselling position at Footscray Town Hall – “I don’t know why I thought I could do it, but I applied and I got the job.”

There was no training at all, but the lawyers I rang for help didn’t have any experience either in this area.  You were struggling through with these clients and learned on the job.

Carolyn met her partner of 30 years, lawyer Denis Nelthorpe, during their time as volunteers together at the Tenants Union.  By  this time they were living together, and Carolyn discussed her consumer credit problems with Denis at home.  Denis was doing criminal cases at the time and knew very little about consumer and debt law – but he helped where he could.  She and Denis began to realise that there was a need for a credit legal service  – and after discussing it other friends and colleagues (including Dick Gross, Alison Maynard, Michael Pearce, Bev Kliger and Paul Bingham – all of whom have gone on to successful careers in the consumer and legal areas) the group applied for Legal Aid funding to set up a  Consumer Credit Legal Service.

For some years, the volunteer teams of financial counsellor and lawyer worked successfully together – in much the same way as Carolyn and Denis did at home.

Denis and I met over social justice issues.  It is probably still one of the key things in our lives that we relate over (apart from the kids), and for both of us – our professional lives would have been different if it wasn’t for the other.

Carolyn continued to work as a financial counsellor for about 5 years.  I asked her whether she had ever thought about doing law herself.

I’ve thought about it occasionally but I don’t regret not having done it. There would have been some advantages but I may have missed some opportunities.  For instance, I’m currently on the Legal Services Board, appointed for my consumer experience and expertise, and I couldn’t be on that Board if I was a lawyer.

In 1987, she authored a practice manual for financial counsellors, for the Financial Counsellors Association, and then ran training about the manual.  And then she got pregnant.

Even at that time, I don’t think I ever saw myself as having a career, or being a leader.  I think I just got passionate about the ideas of consumer and social justice.  I got pregnant and left the Financial Counsellors’ Association, and in my mind, I hadn’t really thought about what I was going to do after having children.  It’s funny to think about that now – it’s only a little over 20 years ago but the idea that a woman might just take a short break and return to work was probably still quite a radical thought!

But in a way that worked out quite well for me because after about 9 months, I got lots of bits of different work.

Carolyn was on an appeals board for building disputes, she did some teaching at TAFE in community development, helped TAFE develop the Financial Counselling diploma and undertook a few short term education projects, as well as writing consumer articles for The Age.  During this time she also completed a post graduate diploma in education and training, thinking that she might focus more on this area.

This varied part time work life continued for about 7 years, with Carolyn using part-time and  occasional childcare as necessary as she didn’t have family nearby. Carolyn sees it as a really valuable time for her, and although she found juggling part time work and childcare arrangements somewhat stressful, she was pleased not to be working full time.

In 1997, when her younger child was about 3, she took a part time policy officer job at the Consumer Credit Legal Service (CCLS).  Denis had finished his time as Coordinator there about 3 years earlier and was running the new Consumer Law Centre of Victoria.

I remember saying to someone that I never want to run one of these places – the stress of it!  But there was quite an upheaval at the CCLS about 2 years after I started, I was asked whether I would step in as acting Coordinator.  Even at the time, I said I wasn’t working 5 days a week.

Carolyn’s temporary appointment as Coordinator was somewhat controversial, particularly among some staff, in part because Carolyn wasn’t a lawyer.  Carolyn turned that perception around, and she went on to be appointed permanently, a position she held until 2006.

In that year, the Consumer Credit Legal Service and the Consumer Law Centre of Victoria merged to form the Consumer Action Law Centre, an organisation of over 20 staff members.  Carolyn strongly supported the merger proposal but felt  apprehensive about the commitment required to run this bigger Centre.  She told the Board that while she supported the merger, she would not apply for a role at the new Centre.

However, she eventually applied for the new CEO job as a job-share arrangement with Catriona Lowe.   In the extract below, Carolyn explains how the job-sharing has worked for her  – “It is very like a marriage”.

Part time work is very important for Carolyn, and is an important component in ensuring the job-share arrangement with Catriona is sustainable.

We both want it to work.  I don’t want to work full time.  The fact that I’m part time means that I can do other thing personally and work-wise.  With my other work commitments, I’m probably working 4 days per week.  But I can get what I want out of work without working 5 days, and I have personal interests and hobbies that I like to do, and with one child still at school, it is sometimes nice to be able to have a little time to spend on family things.

Carolyn makes jewellery and is very passionate about her creative work.  She sees her part time work as allowing her to have a more balanced life.

I asked Carolyn about the differences between women and men leaders in the consumer movement.

It’s hard to generalise of course – but I do think that there can be subtle differences.  In a way for Catriona and me, our position has the ego, rather than us.  We committed to giving priority to the internal functioning of the centre and to the employees – on the basis that external engagement won’t have a long-lasting impact unless the Centre itself robust.  While there is some tension between external and internal demands, I think we’ve been successful in building an experienced and skilled team – where we are not the only ones who have a high external profile.  For example, a number of other employees regularly front the media.

Carolyn has not had any leadership training for the considerable leadership work she is now doing.

You almost have 2 separate jobs.  As I mention above, you are very involved in the policy and advocacy and media – that general promotion of your campaigns and services.  But you’re also managing an organisation and staff.  In bigger organisations, you have a CEO and an Operations Manager.  Not in community organisations, where your role is just so vast.  You have to keep your eye on all the human relations responsibilities, and on all the political and advocacy work.

Carolyn and Catriona both do both jobs– depending on the day of the week that any particular event occurs.  She says “The tricky thing is that small things happen with staff that are important- we both keep a word document open all the time where we jot down everything that’s happening.”

Carolyn admires Joan Kirner and Christine Nixon – “I don’t think I’d have the strength that they had to take quite a lot of criticism, and they both ended up in positions where it was very hard to win.”  Joan Kirner’s co-authored book The women’s power hand book was her first purchase after she was appointed to her first leadership position at CCLS.  Carolyn says that Joan Kirner certainly felt that women brought special skills to leadership, but was aware they faced particular challenges.

I tend to see myself as an accidental leader – it has been my strong interest and passion in the area and the organisations that has led me to leadership positions.   Without strong leadership – from Board and management – I have seen some community advocacy organisations lose their way.   While I may not have planned to be a leader, I  think I have been successful in working with others to build and (where necessary) change the direction of organisations.

I asked Carolyn what she could see for herself in the future.

At the moment my role at Consumer Action continues to be exciting.  After that?  There have been a number of times during my life, where I’ve been privileged enough to be able to wait and see what happens next – rather than actively searching out what I’ll do.  I’m quite committed to the consumer movement as well as access to justice.  However,  I might go on to do something totally different – I’ve always thought it might be good to do something with women prisoners, but I’m willing to just let it happen.

The story of Carolyn’s progression within the consumer credit and legal service organisations over the past 30 years mirrors the growth of the consumer credit movement itself.  From very small beginnings, the movement has become an established voice for consumer protection, and Carolyn has taken on leadership roles which meet her own needs and the needs of the organisations she leads.

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Andrea Durbach

Andrea Durbach (pic from UNSW web page)

Note from Jane:

The evening before I interviewed Andrea I attended a screening of award winning documentary  A Common Purpose.  From the film’s blurb:

Andrea Durbach, a Sydney resident since 1989 and currently director of the Australian Human Rights Centre, returns to South Africa to meet her clients from the landmark Upington trial. In 1985, when Apartheid was at its most violent, a black policeman was burnt to death and 25 people were convicted of his murder; 14 were sentenced to hang. The dramatic battle for justice – as told by Durbach, Independent journalist John Carlin and the accused – and the subsequent Truth and Reconciliation hearings are both revelatory and inspirational.

It’s really worth seeing this film if you can, or reading Andrea’s book about the case Upington http://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/non-fiction/andrea-durbach/upington/#review

This profile cannot got into depth about the details of the case and Andrea’s role, but I have tried to pull out her leadership experiences, and discussed them in the context of her later leadership roles in the consumer, public interest, and human right movements in Australia.

Andrea was born in 1957 in Cape Town, South Africa, where she lived until well into her adulthood.  She has an older brother, who left South Africa after refusing to be conscripted, and came to Australia.   Andrea’s parents also eventually emigrated to Australia.

Both sides of Andrea’s family were Jewish, although many of her mother’s relatives converted to Catholicism during and after World War 2.  Andrea’s father – a businessman – was quite religious, and her mother not at all.  Andrea says she was influenced by her father’s values – “without even knowing, I absorbed the idea that you are in this world to make a difference, to give to humanity. And not just in a material sense, in an intellectual sense, to be curious, to have compassion”.

Andrea’s mother was a journalist who was active in progressive politics in South Africa, often writing about black musicians and artists.  Andrea was also influenced by a cousin of her mother’s who as a professor in medicine took action on behalf of the National Union of Students and against the government and was placed under house arrest.  “Bill shaped me – I saw a form of injustice (against a man of deep courage and conviction) that made me very unsettled, angry, upset.”

While conscious of being Jewish, it did not have a direct impact – not at school, where she attended a progressive all white girls’ school – but Andrea reacted to exclusion or inequality, such as racism or anti-Semitism  and this had an impact on her later life in human rights advocacy.

Immediately after finishing high school in 1976 Andrea was an exchange student in the USA, where she attended school and college and worked for a Democratic congressman in the summer holidays.  This was the first time she experienced the freedom of  being able to read whatever she wanted, meet with whoever she wanted, and where she crystallised her intention to become a lawyer.

I was keen to argue for rights – I loved the argument – I liked to test and to challenge, and I was certainly raised in a home that required that of all of us, and I think in South Africa, you either were complicit or you fought it (the system).

Andrea did a BA and LLB at Cape Town University, studied law and development at Warwick University and then went to work for a local law firm which had a strong involvement in legal work of a political nature (one of the partners was Nelson Mandela’s lawyer).   Andrea quickly got involved and most of her work for the next 7 years was on behalf of black and anti-apartheid activists.

In 1988 she became the solicitor for the Upington 25 (see above) Her barrister, Anton Lubowski,  was assassinated in the early stages of preparing the appeal.   Andrea’s experience of leadership was an extraordinary trial by fire, which is described in detail in her book Upington.

After the case was concluded, Andrea, clearly experiencing a form of post traumatic stress, visited a Jungian counsellor who suggested to her that she was too defended “becoming too armored, breaking a part of yourself away from yourself”.  Although initially unwilling to acknowledge the impact that the case had on her, 3 months later Andrea found herself on a plane to Sydney where her brother was living.

In Sydney she got a job at a major law firm as a legal consultant, and did night school to qualify as a lawyer in Australia.  The Upington 25 appeal was postponed for a year, and during that time, Andrea worked on the case from Australia at night, doing the necessary legal work as well as arranging for the presence of  international observers and diplomats and media.   “Giving the visibility to the case was so essential.”

Andrea returned for the Appeal, and soon after her return, was offered a position with. the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), which undertook a considerable amount of consumer protection and human rights work.  She worked at PIAC from 1991 until 2004, rising from Assistant Director, to Head of the Legal Practice, then to PIAC Director, and Director of its off-shoot organisation the Public Interest Law Clearing House, an organisation providing the community with access to pro bono legal representation.

At PIAC I felt like I’d come home – people that I’d never met before who were doing work that resonated with me.  It was a big challenge and an invitation to discover a part of Australia I didn’t know before.

I asked Andrea what were some of the highlights of her leadership work with PIAC.

Andrea says the key elements of her leadership at PIAC were “having a perspective that saw the possibility of change and pushed boundaries.  I think I was quite an innovator in terms of the content of the work we did.  I hated getting stale and stagnating.  I recognised that projects and litigation have end points and we need to move on, and allow creativity to flourish and build momentum.”

I’m a collaborator – I need to work with people, shape ideas with people, and know that the ideas are being challenged, and reworked.  We grew the team at PIAC.  I brought together a lot of fine people.

Also, I like to ride the wave of best opportunity, and I think I understand the cycles of an organisation – you will go through tough times and you can get through.  My experiences in South Africa demonstrated the need to appreciate the cycles of an organisation, and not be too worried about it. I can see the opportunity to pull back, to consolidate, to be resilient.

Andrea found the people management side of leadership sometimes difficult – particularly given the passionate and committed people that were employed at PIAC.

Managing people’s expectations and validating people – the organisation wasn’t able to value them by remuneration so we had to value them in other ways.  Governance was also hard – because there were so many requirements from funders and from our Boards.  Also the loss of key staff and Board members was difficult, and keeping things moving in the interim periods was important.

Andrea’s decision to move on from PIAC in 2004 was prompted by a need “not to become too identified with an organization or it with you” and that perhaps she needed to test what came next and  “should leap into the absolute unknown”. She was offered the opportunity to run the Australian Human Rights Centre at the University of New South Wales as an Associate Professor.

The Australian Human Rights Centre has been in existence for more than 25 years, and Andrea has focused on bringing together academics and others  to work on multi-disciplinary human rights projects.   Andrea finds great freedom in academia, there’s less focus on managing people (and the continual need to find resources to pay salaries), and more ability to generate and promulgate ideas.

In June 2011, Andrea was also appointed as the Deputy Sex Discrimination Commissioner.  This is a part-time, temporary appointment and Andrea manages both her Human Rights Centre position and this new position.   Her work as a Deputy Commissioner involves leading a small team of staff on existing and new areas of work, and Andrea has already taken the opportunity to bring together the academic and Commission worlds in a new project on domestic violence and sexual assault of female students.

I asked Andrea what differences she could see between women and men leaders in the consumer and human rights movements.  Her answers resonated with many of the answers of other interviewees – but Andrea also talks about the need for male and female “energies” within leaders.

For Andrea, no one leader exemplifies all the leadership characteristics she admires – it’s more the attributes she sees in a range of individuals. “The ability to be warm and funny and to connect with people, managing the balance between being a people person and standing aside, being understated in a leadership style, having resolve and intellectual rigour and humour.”

Humour plays a huge part in being an interesting and good leader.  I love good humour, and I love people who don’t take things terribly seriously all the time.  I think there’s a place for lightness and I think good leadership is able to gauge when those opportunities arise, when one can be light and warm and open instead of feeling this need to lead in ways that are sharp and aggressive, and I think humour is a marvellous weapon in leadership.

Andrea also talked about the intersection between leadership and art.  She is bringing Eve Ensler (an American playwright, performer, feminist and activist, best known for her play The Vagina Monologues) out to Australia to speak about the role of theatre in human rights work.  Andrea sees Eve as an extraordinary leader, “a rights innovator through her writing and performances” – even though she thinks that Eve would probably see herself primarily as an artist.   Andrea also believes many writers to be leaders – “and I almost revere those leaders more than the more obvious ones”.

Andrea has a varied life outside of work.  Her strong need to be creative emerges in writing and singing..  She has a strong interest in jazz and is a regular yoga and meditation practitioner.   Getting the right word and emphasis is important for Andrea in all her communication, and reading poetry is often an enormous help to her in crafting her public presentations.

Andrea was a partner in her law firm in Cape Town, and she could have considered a move into a senior government job here in Australia, but for her the concept of a “career path” is very foreign, even distasteful.

There are other features of work that are more important to me [ than financial recompense ] …  I get so rewarded by the work I do, that it’s almost immeasurable.  The people I meet, the flexibility I have, the content of the work I do, the exposure to experiences, the travel, they all add up to make a damn good package actually.  I do work that I never imagined work could be.

Comments welcomed on Andrea’s fascinating life so far, and the various ways she has undertaken leadership roles. 

Posted in Durbach, Andrea, Women leaders in the consumer movement | 1 Comment

Louise Crossley

Louise Crossley - Pic from Hobart Mercury

Louise was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1942. Prior to her birth, her parents and older sister were living in Malaya (as it was then).  Her father was a colonial civil servant, working for the Forestry Department (which controlled almost the whole of Malaya, as it was mostly forest at that time).  When the Japanese invaded in 1941, her father was taken prisoner and spent the rest of the war in the Changi prison camp.   Louise’s mother, very pregnant with Louise, escaped with Louise’s sister on the last boat out of Singapore, and ended up in South Africa.  After the war was over, the family was reunited, her parents went back to Malaysia, and Louise went to boarding school at the age of 4.   Louise says that this was not uncommon at the time – families living in “the colonies” and children spending all year in boarding school in England.

As a consequence, Louise describes her boarding schools as being very influential on her in much the same way that other people’s families are.  She says they were extremely encouraging of women having significant careers.  “Just getting married and having children wasn’t even perceived to be an option.”

The boarding schools were Anglican, and Louise attended church regularly while at school, but lost her religious beliefs shortly after her confirmation. Her parents were notionally Anglican, her older sister married a parson, but Louise now says she has no religion.

Louise graduated from Cambridge University with a science degree in 1963, and describes herself as having the sense of “the world being her oyster”.  She married at 21 and remained married for 30 years to Clive.   The couple did a lot of travelling, exploring and sailing and neither of them had a particular drive to have children.  Louise says “I have always felt that I didn’t know what a family was, because I didn’t have one myself. It’s not that I didn’t have a childhood, but it wasn’t enfolded in a family context.”

Clive’s academic career took them to the US, and then to Canberra.  Louise did research assistant work in a range of areas as they travelled.   The work was not completely satisfying and it wasn’t until they moved to Sydney that Louise eventually resumed her own studies, gaining her PhD in 1980 from the University of NSW in the history and philosophy of science.  During her study, she was tutoring and lecturing at UNSW and the University of Wollongong

Louise says that it was during her time at Wollongong University that she first feels she became involved in leadership.  In the early 1970s, a group of women lecturers set up a Women’s Studies course – which was the first interdisciplinary course of its kind. The women involved saw themselves as a pioneering academic group and Louise describes it as an empowering experience.

As soon as her PhD was completed, Clive and Louise sailed away on a boat they had built themselves, and stayed away for a year.  On her return Louise worked at the ABC being involved in the production of science shows, and then in 1981 became the project manager at the new Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.   In this position Louise was the leader of the decision making process about the first exhibitions to go on show.  She edited all the publications, worked with others on the captions for the exhibits (“giving them a bit of a zing”) and found the work really stimulating, and exciting.

In 1985, Louise was approached to become the deputy Director of the  Commission for the Future, a Barry Jones initiative.  The Director was Rhonda Galbally, (who Louise describes as “quite a remarkable woman, very incisive”) and there were some big personalities on its Board.

After a few years, Louise began to find working for the Commission increasingly  difficult.  There was a small budget, and some very ambitious ideas; it was high pressured and she needed to do lots of public lectures etc to keep the profile up.

But more importantly than that, Louise was questioning the usefulness of her work. It was the “unformulated” nature of the work she was doing, and its apparent irrelevance to real people that was troubling her.

At the time, her sister also died, which was deeply distressing for Louise.  Nancy and her husband had been working within their local communities, making real contributions on the ground, and they died within days of each other.  Louise felt that this was a wake up call for her – “fundamentally what I was doing was out of kilter.  I just knew that nothing was working”.

At the same time, her marriage was falling apart, and so she took off to India, China and Pakistan for 6 months.   Louise describes it as her “midlife crisis.”

On her return, she moved to Tasmania to take up a position as the Director of a new International Antarctic Centre which was to be established in Hobart, a “genuine meaty leadership job”.  A good group of staff were hired and the ideas were coming together, but the government changed in 1989, the project was cancelled, and Louise lost her job.

However, almost immediately, Louise saw an advertisement for Station Leader in Mawson Station in Antarctica.  She applied and in 1991 become the 2nd woman in Australia to lead an Antarctic station. Louise tackled this new opportunity with enthusiasm.  In the extract below she describes some of her approaches to leadership during this first stint as Station Leader

The issue of building trust in herself as leader was crucial for Louise – particularly as a woman leading a group of men – in conditions where safety is absolutely critical.

It wasn’t a question of being a bloke, but it was a question of valuing people and demonstrating that you trust them. … You could build up a relationship where people could see that you valued them, and therefore they valued you.

 I’ve always argued that the form of leadership that you need in Antarctica is the sort of leadership that women tend to be quite good at.  It’s cooperative, collegial and it’s not leadership by command.  Somebody has to be the leader, somebody has to say what’s going to happen but you have to be able to have people agree with you – not so much follow you – but just recognise that what you’re saying needs to happen.

When Louise returned to Tasmania, she wanted to continue her environmental work and she became the first Convenor of the Tasmanian Greens. She ran for office several times.  In 1998, she was the Senate candidate and nearly got in.  She did a lot of public speaking on behalf of the Greens and put most of her energies into Greens’ leadership for a number of years.

I asked Louise about the differences between leadership at Mawson Station and in The Greens.

In Antarctica it’s about maintaining agreement about things.  In the Greens it’s much more about taking a position and holding it against opposition.  There was a lot of negotiation, and developing policy, philosophy and ideas, putting them forward, arguing for them – sometimes winning and sometimes not.

Louise found the media work somewhat difficult at first, but then “learned the knack” of getting her points across as clearly as possible.  In many ways, the work was quite exhilarating for her, and she enjoyed working with Bob Brown and Christine Milne particularly.

In 2000 and 2003, Louise did 2 more stints in Antarctica.  There were more women on these trips – and consequently, Louise says, there were more opportunities for fun, more creativity, and it was easier in a lot of ways.   Louise also worked closely with Margaret Blakers and Christine Milne to coordinate the development of the Global Greens Charter in 2001, ( a process described in Margaret’s interview in this blog).

For several years Louise worked on an international study abroad project, where she was leading education activities, and guiding 18-20 year old American students around the world,  being a mentor and sometimes helping them to sort out their personal problems.

These days Louise continues to lead commercial tourist operations to Antartica on a regular basis and is very involved in forest campaigning – doing economic analysis to support the work of Christine Milne, and the forest peace (statement of principles) process.

Louise lives part time on Bruny Island, Tasmania, and as a representative of her local environment group, is on the Management Committee of Environment Tasmania.  But she says, she is shying away from leadership roles.

I’m more and more thinking other younger women should move into the space.  I’m still inspired by all these environment issues, and everything I get into, I give my all, but I’m not hungry for it like I was before, when it was the focus of my life,    I’m more just enjoying “being” in the environment on Bruny Island.

On her experiences of leadership through such a diversity of situations, Louise says:

I enjoy working with other people to make things happen.  Increasingly the concept of leadership of being out front and having everyone else follow is not the way it works.  Usually 2 or 3 brains are better than one, and it’s that kind of collaborative leadership that works best, and the sum becomes greater than the parts, and that’s the excitement of it.  You develop that way, and you learn.  I really think leadership is about learning.

Louise’s unusual early life has obviously contributed to her scientific and environmental leadership work all over the globe.  With Louise, I always feel in the presence of someone who is fascinated by everything around her, looking always to learn more and dig deeper, and her thoughtful and considered approach to leadership demonstrates this so well. 

Posted in Crossley, Louise, Women leaders in the environment movement | 8 Comments

Margaret Brown

Margaret Brown - rural health consumer advocate

Margaret Brown lives on a farm in rural South Australia, and is self-employed in farm properties management.  She is a passionate advocate for improving the health of consumers in rural and remote Australia and was a founding member of Health Consumers of Rural and Remote Australia.

Margaret was born and raised in Adelaide.  She was an only child. Her mother was a city person whose own mother took in boarders during the war years.  Margaret’s mother, a shorthand typist, married one of those boarders.  He was from Saddleworth, in the mid north of SA, who became a design engineer and built up a substantial business in Adelaide.   Margaret attended St Peters Collegiate Girls School until she was 16.  She then worked in the Bank of Adelaide dealing face to face with clients, until she married.

Religion plays a large part in Margaret’s life.   She was originally involved in the Church of England, and met her husband, Rod, a Baptist, on a church exchange.  His family were pioneers from the west coast of South Australia, but Rob was born in Adelaide and moved to Melbourne at a young age.   Margaret and Rob are now involved in the Uniting Church, where Rob is a lay preacher.

As a young couple, Margaret and Rod lived in Melbourne where Rod finished his second university degree.  They then went into a dairy farm partnership, near Port Campbell in the western district of Victoria. Rob was teaching at a country school in addition to working on the farm.  By this time they had two young sons but they realised that their younger son, Andrew, was having some developmental problems.  He was initially diagnosed with an enzyme deficiency which was affecting his digestion but after consulting a paediatric specialist Margaret and Rob learned that he also had some brain damage.   This was hard, and as Andrew grew up the family needed lots of help – which they received through the church and the country community.

When the farm partnership broke up, Rod and Margaret moved back to the Adelaide Hills in SA but soon found another property near Strathalbyn in Adelaide’s outer hills.  Rob continued to teach and farm. When Andrew was old enough for school he was helped by a teacher who Margaret describes as ‘a special person who was placed in her life’. Margaret helped out with reading and craft at the school for several afternoons each week.  She believes that this was preparing her for what was ahead of her.

They moved to a property 30 kilometres out of Lameroo, in the SA Mallee, and it was decided that Andrew’s education should continue through special school correspondence, and that Margaret would teach him.  Her experience in the class room had helped her, but she was also greatly assisted by that ‘special person’ who prepared materials and sent them to her.   In her teaching, she drew on a system of rewards which she had learnt from a period when Andrew was in a mental health service in Adelaide.   Nevertheless, educating Andrew was quite a challenge for Margaret.  Margaret, Rob and Andrew still live on the property near Lameroo while their other son and his family live nearby.   Andrew still needs support, but is now also able to provide support, such as driving Margaret to and from Adelaide airport for her frequent interstate trips.

Her experiences with raising Andrew motivated Margaret to champion the needs of rural and remote communities. However, her interests are not confined to those affected by mental or physical disabilities, or any single issue – she takes a broad view of health.   Margaret joined the Lameroo Hospital Ladies Auxiliary and later the Lameroo Hospital Board which allowed her to develop associations with country health services and government, and which allowed her horizons to develop.   It also taught her the importance of country hospitals to rural communities.

In 1988 Margaret was asked to chair the Murray Mallee Health and Social Welfare Council.  She was also involved with the National Women’s Health Program, which she loved.   This led to her attendance at the first Rural Health Conference in Toowoomba, where she was invited to do the opening presentation.   She says that she was ‘really green at that stage’ and that it ‘was extremely scary’.   She acknowledges that without the support and help of her husband she would not have coped. The national conferences became  bi-annual events, and they led to the formation of an organisation to represent rural consumers.   That fledgling organisation was one of the founding members of the National Rural Health Alliance, now a major force in advocating on health issues for rural and remote communities.

Establishing the Health Consumers of Rural and Remote Australia was hard work.   It was a small organisation which Margaret needed to drive.   She stresses that she ‘did it because it needed to be done’, and not for any personal status or gain, and she received help from a small group of very committed people.

Through this organisation, Margaret became a respected and effective advocate for consumers in rural and remote Australia.  She now represents consumers on a range of Commonwealth and State government and professional bodies.  They include committees advising on a range of e-health initiatives, including the patient controlled electronic health record.   E-health has the potential to bring enormous benefits to people living in rural and remote areas, and Margaret is hopeful that this potential will be realised in the next few years.

Margaret has learned a lot over the past 15 years.  She describes her strategies as being ‘partly trial and error’.    She stresses the need to research, to listen to others and not just rely on her own view.   She has to keep saying the same old things to decision makers again and again ‘because they don’t listen – or they don’t want to listen’.   However, she concedes that the current government appears to be listening more to the views of organisations representing people in rural and remote areas, and momentum is gathering – rural issues are receiving more attention.

One of the key problems facing Margaret is that policy makers rarely go beyond the suburbs and so their understanding of rural issues is limited – ‘they don’t really know what is happening’.

A key issue for consumers in rural and remote Australia is the Isolated Patients Transport Assistance Scheme.   While this scheme of subsidising the transport costs of people in rural and remote areas has been in existence for a number of years, it is greatly under-resourced.    Margaret is determined that more resources be dedicated to this scheme because people are deterred from seeking necessary treatment because of the huge costs of transport and being away from home.   She cites as an example a cancer patient from the Northern Territory who had to travel to Adelaide for treatment – but only limited support was available to meet the associated travel costs for her and close family members.    Margaret says that she knows of many people on rural properties who are not going to the cities for treatment, because they can’t afford it.   She says it is not just the money – but the fact that people have to go so far away from home.    Some services, such as dialysis are being brought to centres closer to where people live – it’s about bringing services to where people live.

Margaret reluctantly acknowledges that she in a leadership role, and is, in a sense, bridging two worlds.   She often finds herself being the one to follow up when suggestions she makes are accepted.   For example, she suggested to the Flinders University Rural Clinical School that they organise people in communities to support students when they go out on rural placements – and found that not only was her suggestion quickly taken up, but that she was being contracted to get the scheme going herself.

Other women, particularly in the women’s health area, have influenced and inspired Margaret’s work.  She also speaks with admiration of the strong women she has met from non-English speaking backgrounds, whose role in holding those communities together is essential.   She stresses that while they appear to be just organising meetings and putting on morning teas – ‘that is still leadership’.

Margaret marvels at the way that Indigenous women have fought the system for years.   She empathises with their frustration at the slow pace of progress – sitting around meeting tables for years while achieving very little, and understands those who return to help their communities through working at the grass roots level.

While advocating for better health services in rural and remote Australia, Margaret has stepped outside of the traditional role of rural women.  This has not been easy for her, as she has taken a high profile through the rural media, and challenges the traditional homemaking role ascribed to women in those areas.

Margaret’s husband, Rob is very supportive. He helps by editing and commenting on her work, and she readily acknowledges that his support is invaluable.   She also has a network of women friends who support and encourage her – and she, in return provides friendship and support to others.

Her advice to other women taking on a leadership role is to ‘make sure that you have people around you.   It’s not easy.  Very often in small towns you are the one who is game enough to do it and other people don’t like it.   So you have to find support people –and sometimes it just happens.’ 

Margaret’s advocacy has been recognised and honoured.   The Flinders University Rural Clinical School awards an annual Margaret Brown Prize for contribution to a rural community.

In 2006 Margaret was made a member of the Order of Australia for ‘service to the community through advocacy roles representing the interests of health care consumers in rural and remote areas and for contributions to policy development’.   This came as a surprise to her, and she describes it as ‘quite overwhelming and very humbling’.

Profile by Kate Moore

Comments welcome below. 

Posted in Brown, Margaret, Women leaders in the consumer movement | 1 Comment

Jill Redwood

Jill Redwood

Jill was born in Melbourne in 1954, a sibling for her brother, who was two years older.  Her father was an industrial chemist and her mother was an office worker who looked after the family at home until the children were teenagers.   Her family was not political and were not involved in any form of community activism – Jill describes them as “very insular” and she says that she certainly didn’t get her commitment to social activism from her family.  Her parents had no religion, and did not attend church.  Jill attended co-ed public schools throughout her education.

It was injustice and cruelty to animals that prompted Jill’s first interest in the environment.  When she was 9 or 10 she started raising funds for the RSPCA at school and through stalls in shopping strips.  In high school she became involved in wildlife groups.

In high school Jill also become an active participant in the anti-Vietnam marches in Melbourne with friends from school.  After she left school she joined and was active in Friends of the Earth.

When she left school Jill first worked in laboratories, initially with the CSIRO animal health laboratories (looking after the animals), and then with ICI working on agricultural pesticides.

After these jobs, Jill wanted to travel, and she bought a van and went around Australia.

Then in her early twenties Jill says she “tried to become a hermit” – firstly in Lilydale, then for a much longer time at Coopers Creek, a ghost town east of the hills of Melbourne.  Jill lived there with her dogs for three years, where she built up her skills in self-sufficiency.  This self-reliant approach to life has been a feature of Jill’s life (listen to the extract below)– she has never had a life partner or children, and she clearly relishes her time by herself, even though she is actively involved in environmental activities.

Jill then moved out further from Melbourne – a year at Wombat Flat, and then to Buldah north of  Cann River.  There she built a shack in which she lived in for 3 years in the early 1980s, through the disastrous fires of 1983, and a visit from the then infamous prison activist/escapee Joey Hamilton and his partner folk singer Shirley Jacobs.  During this three years Jill became aware of the logging activities occurring around her.

After she was burned out in the fires, Jill worked on a construction and maintenance crew(s) in the Snowy National Park (becoming leading hand despite her bosses’ opposition to her being a woman) – and she lived through winter in a tipi which she describes (with amazing restraint I thought) as “incredibly cold and icy”.

In this way she saved up money to buy her 22 acre river flat property in Goongerah in East Gippsland, where she has built her own house, and lived for the last 30 years.

In Goongerah, Jill became involved in both the local environment group, then called Concerned Residents of East Gippsland, which was organising forest camps; and in the local Owner Builder Association which was formed to support people building their own homes around East Gippsland and being, as Jill describes it, “harassed by Council” – as she herself was.

It was now that Jill became an active environmentalist. In the extract below Jill describes how she became involved with environmental activism, and then responsible for much of the forest campaigning in East Gippsland, through the renamed Environment East Gippsland.

As Jill outlines in the extract, she was able to get local media for her campaigning fairly easily.  Jill says however,  that local media in a conservative electorate is often pointless, nowhere near as effective as “exposing the destruction of logging and the collusion between the industry and government” and it is on this that she has focused a lot of her efforts.   Most recently in 2010, in a landmark case for public interest litigation, EEG succeeded in its bid to stop the State Government owned enterprise VicForests, from logging old growth forests of Brown Mountain Creek.  See EEG website for details of the Brown Mountain case.

Over the 30 years Jill’s role has remained fairly much the same, although Environment East Gippsland now has grown to 350 members and 700 supporters.  I asked Jill how things had changed for her personally over the years.

I suppose I’m more battle-scarred and cynical.  I was never one for the limelight – I was always a bit shy and I’ve had to take on this sort of lead role and argue the toss with the biggest logging reps in the state and country, and speak at public meetings. There is an Environment East Gippsland working group to support me, but it hasn’t always been very active. I get a lot of moral support from our members …

Jill also reports threats and actions against her – “there have been endless attempts to silence and frighten me over the years; horse shot, business sign destroyed/stolen, letter box smashed more times than I can recall, beer bottles smashed on my gate post and drive entrance to the property, profanities shouted out as they speed past, death threat, fast abusive phone calls …” 

One of the greatest challenges Jill has faced has been the media attacks on her integrity and credibility.  Jill says in the extract below that women are generally seen to be “fair game” to the local conservative media and easier to denigrate by both media and local politicians.

Jill relies on her like-minded friends to be her wider “family” and support base.  She also says “I’ve learned to grow a skin as thick as a bulldozer blade” in order to survive.

After some full time work in the past, Jill is now mainly self employed, with freelance writing and cartooning work, and a small honorarium from EEG.  She has also built a tourist eco-accommodation cottage on her property which brings in a small income.

Jill has never had any training in leadership – and these days she is more likely to provide training than receive it.  I asked Jill about her views on the differences between women and men as leaders in the environment movement.

I’ve come across a lot of men with big egos, which isn’t a bad thing if they also have proportionate passion about the issue. Women in the environment movement often tend to be the driving force, even though they’re not always the up front public face.   They do a lot of work behind the scenes, and they keep at it.  Unfortunately women aren’t taken as seriously unless they have a persona which is very confident, authoritative, especially when speaking against such a ‘blokey’ industry.  Sometimes men can spout total shit, and because they present as the absolute authority they are believed and are taken seriously.

Jill’s activism is very integrated into her personal life – she says that 60-70% of her time is spent on campaigning, and she lives right in the middle of the forested area that she is trying to protect.   Jill says

Sometimes it would be really nice to put the blinkers up and do something really pleasant with life.  Life is very precious and so much of mine is being wasted fighting these planet-rapers.   It’s a horrible, ugly battle field, and they attack you and they don’t play fair, and you have to continually justify your own existence to the whole region … it’s lucky the world is bigger than East Gippsland.

I just love animals and gardening and being self-reliant, and I’m not able to do that because it[forest destruction] is in my face all day, every day and I can’t just let them get away with it.  Seeing the trucks go up and down, and the scars they leave behind… It is my motivation – I can’t move on to something else. … I’m staying right here and as long as this barbaric industry continues, so will I.

I do look forward to the day I can retire, but I was born with a strong outrage against injustices … and there’s no shortage of them. I think I’d always be involved in something.

Jill’s fierce independence and her commitment to self-reliance and the protection of her forest environment is extraordinary.  Her profile raises issues about women activists who live and work in often very conservative rural areas, and the impact their leadership can have on their roles and identities within their communities.

Comments on Jill’s profile are very welcome.

Posted in Redwood, Jill, Women leaders in social change movements | 6 Comments