At the IDEA conference in Newcastle Dr Steve Robinson received an award for exceptional dedication to DEA and our values in the Gloucester region of NSW. The citation at the presentation is included here...
After 25 years as the psychiatrist on the mental health crisis team in this very city, Steve Robinson began a slow metamorphosis to his next career- as a forester. Not the lumberjack Monty Python type- but one that took damaged farm land and regenerated it with agroforestry. To this end he purchased a 400 hectare property to the north of Gloucester, named it Eagletop and planted acres of eucalyptus, even completing the course that made him a Master Tree Grower.
Moving to Gloucester with his wife Pippa, he had inadvertently moved to one of the epicenters of fossil fuel extraction in NSW and a coal seam gas issue that was seen as a make or break conflict for green groups and fossil fuel extractors alike. Working as a psychiatrist in Gloucester he became aware of the deep psychological damage being wrought upon people unlucky enough to be living in proximity to an open cut coal mine. The seed of activism was sown.
Steve joined the local environment group, then Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) and local organisations that would one day consolidate to become Groundswell Gloucester. It was this little group that would take on some of Australia’s largest companies- AGL and Yancoal, in addition to Stratford Coal and Gloucester Resources.
Steve’s focus was the impact of mining and CSG on health. He developed a treasure trove of knowledge on mine noise, dust and emissions. He organised public meetings bringing in outside experts such as DEA’s Prof Melissa Haswell and dust expert Dick Van Stennis from the UK. He commenced lung function testing for those living close to the minefields and facilitated tank water testing for heavy metal contaminants. He began noise assessments to document background noise levels prior to mine developments. To local residents opposing these developments he was a saint - to the government and extractors - he was a persistent but respected “pain in the arse”.
Steve’s letters, his representations to government ministers, his detailed submissions and his probing of mining companies through community consultative committees were both bold and thoughtful.
But, don’t for a moment think that Steve’s activism was only academic.
Let me share an incident in Steve’s words from his contribution to a recent book about AGL’s ill fated incursion into Gloucester.
“In December 2011 we learned that AGL drillers were headed our way. I was telephoned on a Monday afternoon to be told that the drilling team had been spotted. I spread the word and raced to put my chair in the lane leading to the AGL site…..and a blockade was established. Ten people slept at the blockade site and by Tuesday morning there was a line of about twenty protesters blocking the road.
This was the first time any of us had taken such action. Very few of us were under 60yrs of age. This was really the first protest activity against AGL’s CSG plans.
After nearly a fortnight the drilling rig went away. This was our first small victory and as a result, AGL agreed to carry out a water study. Subsequently my wife and I took part in many protest activities such as marches, blockades and meetings and I worked to expose the health risks surrounding AGL’s plans. Our involvement continued until AGL announced their departure in February 2016.”
To this day Steve continues health and environmental advocacy for his community in its fight against the proposed Rocky Hill Mine, an open cut coal mine just 3 km from the local school.
That fight will go to the land and environment court in August despite the rare refusal of the project by the NSW Department of Planning.
Meanwhile at Eagletop, Steve’s trees are tall now. His blue gums are a small reminder to him of his beloved Blue Gum forest in the Blue Mountains. As Paul Kelly sang, “From little things big things grow”. But as any forester, farmer, environmentalist or doctor knows, it takes wisdom, energy and perseverance to ensure this achievement.
Steve, many have benefited from your work and others have been inspired by your bold example. DEA has been fortunate to have you as a member and hopefully you will inspire others to follow in your footsteps. Advocacy, as a doctor, is essential if we are to protect our future.
Congratulations on all you have done to ensure healthy people living on a healthy planet.
Thanks to Garry Lyford for preparing this citation