CAMBERWELL woman Wendy Bowman, who has battled for community rights against coal mining since the 1980s, has won one of the world’s most prestigious environmental awards.
Mrs Bowman, 83, is a winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize awarded annually to people from six global regions for outstanding grassroots conservation. In an interview before flying to San Francisco for the award ceremony, followed by a second ceremony in the Capitol Building in Washington, Mrs Bowman was delighted to be the oldest winner and the only woman.
She plans to use the Capitol Hill event – hosted by powerful Democrat minority leader of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi – to talk to visiting Australian Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg about the impact of coal mining on Hunter communities.
She is not unhappy that President Donald Trump won’t be there, and says the chance to talk to Mr Frydenberg is more significant.
“I’ll have a chance to get in his ear,” Mrs Bowman said.
“I was told that (Australian ambassador to Washington) Joe Hockey would be there along with Frydenberg because he’ll be in Washington at the time, so I’ll ask Frydenberg whether he’s ever come up and actually talked to local people about what happens when mining companies move into an area.
“When these mining leases are let the decisions are made by people in high rise air-conditioned offices in cities. They don’t get their feet on the ground. They just see a little valley or a little community and think, ‘That doesn’t matter, it’s only small’, and they don’t see the people who are pushed around and pushed away.”
The Goldman Environmental Prize was established in 1989 by American philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman to recognise individuals for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, often at great personal risk.
“The Goldman Prize views grassroots leaders as those involved in local efforts, where positive change is created through community or citizen participation in the issues that affect them. Through recognizing these individual leaders, the Prize seeks to inspire other ordinary people to take extraordinary actions to protect the natural world,” a Goldman Prize spokesperson said.
Mrs Bowman, a Camberwell farmer, was nominated for decades of work supporting and promoting activism on the part of Hunter communities affected by coal mining, which started after the sudden death of her husband in 1984 left her with responsibility for running a farm and raising a family.
She has twice been forced to relocate because of coal mining, and in 2014 was part of a landmark court decision and appeal against Yancoal’s Ashton South East open cut mine proposal, which requires the mine to buy her property before it can go ahead with the project.
Mrs Bowman isn’t selling.
“Mining companies treated people like peasants for years. Look at all the small communities that have been lost because of mining. Camberwell, Rathmines, Warkworth, Ulan, Bulga now that the mine extension there has been approved and Wollar will be next,” she said.
“They don’t care that they’re wiping people out and the government and department just goes along with it.”
Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Wood said the alliance was thrilled that Mrs Bowman’s extraordinary contribution to the Hunter region had been recognised with the influential award.
“Wendy's court victory against Yancoal has shown that farming champions can prevail and protect farmland from coal mines. Her success has laid down a challenge to the NSW Government to reset its priorities. There are plenty of coal mines in the Hunter, but rich alluvial farmland can’t be replaced and nor can community,” Ms Wood said.
“Wendy has not only drawn a line in the sand to protect her own place, she is a tirelessly generous matriarch of the Hunter Valley community who supports other communities that find themselves in the path of destructive coal mines.
“Wendy's victory against Yancoal has turned on its head the NSW Government’s usual practice of letting coal mining companies create unbearable noise and air pollution for surrounding neighbours and forcing them to sell up and leave, tearing apart communities.”