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The Rich History of Environmental Activism in Australia

November 25, 2019

Australia has an extensive and storied history of environmental activism. Our committed fellow Australians have stood against all odds to protect and preserve our natural environment, from the fight in Tasmania to the battle in Queensland. But how did all of the activists come together and share the same advocacy? Let us go back and revisit where it all began.

 

Dawn of the Environmental Movement

Environmental activism in Australia started during the early years of European settlement in the country. While many settlers were uncomfortable with their new environment, the first naturalists from Europe appreciated the natural beauty and unique biodiversity of their adopted land. Some of the vegetation, wildlife, and landscapes of the country were slowly diminishing. And the first to call for its protection were the scientific societies and field naturalists’ clubs. Towards the end  of nineteenth century, a small-scale movement came into existence to conserve nature and regulate the exploitation of the natural resources and the health of the urban public.

 

Environment Conservation Activities

There were fluctuating levels of activity in conservation that were recognised during the first half of the twentieth century, including the country’s stand on environmental issues. In each state, organisations were set up to particularly campaign about the creation and management of national parks. As time went on, activists increase their efforts in gaining stronger legislative protection for wildlife. 

The Zoological Society of New South Wales started to persuade the Bird Protection Act of 1881, and the government passed it. However, it was only applied for songbirds. In the early twentieth century, plumage became fashionable on women’s clothing and hats, that’s why ornithologists sought wider bird protection laws. In 1911, the Wildlife Preservation Society drafted a bill about the protection of native birds and mammals in NSW. In 1927, the world heard an outcry from the concerned individuals due to the large-scale slaughtering of koalas for skins, resulting in their protection in all states by 1937.

Even with the limited social dissent after the World War 2 period, the destruction of historic buildings, sites, and natural heritage gave birth to the establishment of National Trusts in each state. 

 

Emergence of the Modern Environmental Movement

In the 1960s, modern environmental movement emerged to respond to the extensive environmental degradation, pollution, and threats to nature. Some publications critical to this development inspired environmental activism across Australia and sparked campaigns about banning hazardous chemicals that pose a threat to the environment. Accompanying this growth was an enhanced formalisation of the movement. As years and decades went on, a number of environmental organisations came to the surface to raise public awareness of the degradation of our support system.

 

Ian Cohen on Environmental Activism

Now serving as an environmental keynote speaker for numerous conferences, Ian Cohen first gained popularity in the movement when he surfed the bow of a US nuclear armed warship. It attempted to enter Sydney Harbour to participate in the 75th anniversary of the Royal Australian Navy during the Cold War in 1986. It was also during this time when he founded the Sydney Peace Squadron and the Brisbane Peace and Environment Fleet. His action served as a protest against the nuclear war. It was photographed and the photo made the front page of quite a number of newspapers. This event gave Ian multiple recognition and a spot at the international environmental scene.

Ian Cohen is a living proof of the country’s steadfast commitment to the community and the environment, and a testimony to the abundant history of environmental activism in Australia. If you want to know more about the movement or interested in a discussion with Ian, head on over to his website and schedule an appointment.

 

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