Climate change and the community

The week that was has been full of activity on climate change, adaptation, and,  involved an important recognition of environmental scientist and tertiary educator, Professor Frank Fisher.

Those of you who have studied with Frank as a teacher will know that Monday brought together a hall full of people to celebrate his teaching, his life example and his sheer hard work and good will for better environmental outcomes.  BMW Edge was a sell out for a conversation around environmentalism, the organisational structures which sponsor sustainable outcomes and the ‘wilderness within’ our heads.  I joined Frank Fisher and others including Anthony James and James Tonson on the platform, and the newly appointed coordinator of the Western Alliance of Greenhouse Associations, Fran Macdonald, to acknowledge and celebrate Frank as a teacher and an inspiration.  Questions and comments came from all over the room and ranged from questions of ethics and gender to observations about how systems-thinking has enriched many people’s lives.  Over two hours people’s attention was gripped and their commitment to environmental science and sustainable outcomes was explored.  Frank responded to questions with humour, wisdom, and a fierce determination to encourage people to engage with the environment in their daily lives, across cultures and across generations. BMW Edge has seen many extraordinary environmental sessions but none better in terms of good humour and good will. 

Frank Fisher is a remarkable man and has always been a generous human being and deeply engaging teacher.  He has changed many people’s lives.  His last book Response Ability is a compilation of his thoughts and his publications, from letters to longer commentary. Frank continues his teaching connection as professor at Swinburne University’s National Centre for Sustainability and his book can be accessed on the www.understandascope.org , and the courses offered can be accessed online www.swin.edu.au/ncs.

The week brought together the Victorian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation Research (VCCCAR) and the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) in their annual conferences.  Both conferences were attended by national and international community members, government officials and scholars.

I started my Office’s participation in the VCCCAR conference with a reflection on adaptation and sustainability, continuing to talk about the work we have done around the state where people from all walks of life are demonstrating their thoughtful and practical commitment to environmental works and outcomes.

Whenever I talk about the steps being taken by the public I am told that this is inspiring.  That’s because it is.  I was then asked to convene a discussion involving local government about the steps being taken to embed sustainability in local government settings.  In a roundtable conversation we heard from the South East Climate Change Greenhouse Alliance, Darebin City Council, City of Greater Geelong , East Gippsland Shire and the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV). What came through really clearly from these presentations is the breadth and diversity of the work being done to address climate change adaptation. Each presenter spoke with passion about their individual efforts, but each also celebrated the work of their colleagues.

Our own session in the VCCCAR conference was chaired by me and Uncle Jim Berg (Gundijmara elder) and it involved Yorta Yorta, Wemba Wemba, Gundijmara, Windamara and Palawa Aboriginal people across generations – Denis Rose, Jan Muir, Rochelle Patten, Terrie Stewart, Wayne Muir, Shane Charles, Lee Joachim, to name a few of the senior people who attended.

Photo: Dave Griggs, Kate Auty and Uncle Jim Berg at VCCCAR annual forum

People came from Melbourne, Swan Hill and Heywood, from Preston and Barmah, from Essendon and Monash University (and we even had a visiting PNG scholar who asked to attend and did) to talk with climate change experts about energy, water, climate change science, housing, the heat island effect and  health in urban settings.  We specifically asked people to talk about urban issues but we also always returned to Indigenous concern for the environment and the deep spiritual well of their connection to country. We had asked Professors Dave Griggs, Alan Pears, Grant Blashki, and others including Anne Barker, Judy Bush, Lisa Rasmussen, and Annie Bolitho to be a part of this conversation.  Two hours was not long enough and the need for an ongoing discussion, connections and networking about urban climate change adaptation strategies, is, people said, necessary and we are already working on keeping this dialogue going. See our Facebook page for more photos from the VCCCAR session.

I would have liked to have stayed and talked on but had to get to the city for Frank Fisher’s panel.

After the evening with Frank and the community at BMW Edge the next three days was taken up in work with the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility.  This involved conducting a session on the centrality of scientists to robust policy debate and development, with a panel which included doctors and professors Peter Christoff, Roger Jones, Neville Smith and Tanya Ha formerly from Catalyst, and me.  We ran this session as an IQ2 debate and many of the public participants later told us they found this very engaging.  Sarah Barker, Special Counsel from Minter Ellison chaired the discussion and the debate finished with the conclusion that scientists are significant and necessary contributors to policy development but their role should not exclude others who have a contribution to make.

Photo: speakers on the debate panel (from left) Roger Jones, Neville Smith and Tanya Ha

The director of NCCARF, Professor Jean Palutikof asked me to chair the final plenary session – Visioning a climate change adapted Australia 2050 - where Professor Jon Barnett talked about the characteristics of an adapting Australia, Professor Dave Griggs discussed a climate change adapted Victoria in 2030 and Peter Cosier, director of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists invited the conference to think about what success and failure would look like.  The panel was also graced by presentations from both the youth representatives, Daniela Guitart and Colette Mortreux, with Daniela making the point that we need to communicate in ways that people understand, by pointedly presenting in her native language - Spanish – which only 4 people in a hall of 400 understood.  Point made!

My final contribution to the NCCARF conference was to chair the session which involved the researchers who are conducting work for and with Aboriginal communities. These projects cover a great deal of territory and will advance Aboriginal people’s ability to adapt to climate change across a wide variety of community settings, encourage an understanding of the great store of information which Aboriginal people hold about the environment and sponsor better communication across the disciplines.


I was then able to attend a session run by the Strathbogie Conservation Management Network at the Euroa Arboretum on Saturday with about 60 others to have local Taungurong people explain the stone implements and art of the region. Photos from the session at the Euroa Arboretum, are available at the CfES Facebook page.

The Taungurong speakers, Shane and Rodney Monk, have been actively involved in cross cultural awareness training of non-Aboriginal people for years at Camp Jungai and they are now, in company with the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority, working on the eradication of weeds of national significance in the Strathbogies.

This session was wonderfully informative about the environment and the unintended outcomes of environmental action in that many non-Indigenous people have come to share the information they have and the collections of stone tools they have acquired over years of farming in the area. Stone tools were brought along to the session by non-Aboriginal people who had their collections identified and catalogued and returned. 

Two non-Aboriginal archaeologists, Jo Bell and Francisco Almedia (from Portulgal) also participated in the identification of stone tools which had come from the mountains. 

This day was hugely successful and the Strathbogie Conservation Management Network is now building on its next project which is a butterfly festival and art prize.

Brown butterfly, Strathbogie


The week concluded on Monday, the first day of the week in which we celebrate NAIDIOC week and our efforts at reconciliation with Aboriginal people in this country we share, with a visit to the Barmah National Park and a guided tour of the waterlogged road into Yilema by Aunty Rochelle Patten, Yorta Yorta elder.  We had to change the date we are talking to Uncle Colin Walker as he was busy with NAIDOC celebrations and a welcome to country.

The forest is sending up regrowth out of the great deal of water received from rainfall and environmental flows.  We traced emu and kangaroo tracks across some reed beds and along the roads we walked (knee deep in water).

Reconciliation efforts will always be important, in formal and informal settings, and this visit, with such a wonderful, knowledgeable and generous guide, brought that message home very powerfully.

Photo: Aunty Rochelle Patten at Barmah National Park. See the CfES Facebook page for more photos from our visit to the Barmah National Park, and our Indigenous engagements.


Finally, a recent blog discussed the Nature, Cities, and Urban Planning, how do our kids connect? conference run by Victorian Child & Nature Connection. Visit their colourful website www.victorianchildandnatureconnection.org/ for more information about their work.