No matter how we engage in solving the problems facing our planet, taking time out to better understand where we fit in and what motivates us is essential.
Here, three recent WELA participants talk about where they look for inspiration, in the hope this will help people of all genders seek and recognise their own sources of strength.
These days, Sherie Bruce finds her passion and purpose in the fascinating world of fungi. She’s learnt how seemingly ‘micro’ things can have significant impact for our planet.
“I am an Arrernte woman with a deep cultural connection with Yolgnu, both in the Northern Territory and on Darumbal Country where I currently live and work.
Something of a late bloomer, I recently graduated with a Bachelor of Environmental Science. That was in 2019 at 45 years of age! Now I am completing a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Environmental Biotechnology.
But I have been involved in the environment movement for most of my adult life. I’m the Deputy Chair of Queensland Conservation Council and work with a fantastic group of people in our organisation and the many other environment NGOs around Australia aiming to protect nature.
Growing up in the Northern Territory, I experienced the most amazing place and people in Australia. My upbringing instilled in me an insatiable need to understand nature and why people do the things we do.
Now, as a mother of two, I try to combine environmental science with advocacy and environmental and social justice. I am actively trying to make the world a better place for current and future generations.
In the environmental movement, we can experience many highs and many lows. However, together we push and pull each other through them.
Personally, one place I draw a huge amount of motivation from is nature, and in particular fungi. I am deeply fascinated with this little organism — the underdog of the natural world.
My recent studies took me down this road, and when I started learning about fungi I felt immediately as though I had found my reason for being. I was hooked. They are the most amazing organism and very important to humans. They are more closely related to humans than to plants! Without them, we would not have wine, cheese, beer, bread, mushrooms, antibiotics, anticoagulants and many other food items.
Fungi are also the decomposers of the environment. Without them, our bushlands would be waist-deep in leaves and branches. Amazingly, fungi can turn toxic waste like diesel, oils or pesticides into non-toxic or less toxic compounds, which enthrals me. I am currently researching fungi’s ability to degrade waste cigarette butts.
I hope to add my part to the scientific knowledge in solving an environmental pollution problem.”
"I draw a huge amount of motivation from fungi. I am deeply fascinated with this little organism — the underdog of the natural world."
Activist, student and sound artist
Racial and social injustices in the environment sector compelled Elyshia Weatherby to step back from her work with the federal government, and explore how she could contribute to a more inclusive movement.
“My place in the environment movement has been shaped by my identity. I am a queer Person of Colour and this influences how I move through the world and how I am included or excluded in the environment space.
I’ve found working in climate justice in Australia can feel racialised and othering, and I want to move away from that.
That’s why I’m about to be a student again. I chose to go back and study environmental science so I can develop new technical skills. I’d like to help change the environment movement so it has greater inclusivity, and help reframe sustainability so solutions capture the needs and experiences of People of Colour and First Nations people.
I want to put my attention and energy into celebrating voices and bodies like mine in the environment movement … to allow bodies of culture to be seen and heard. I see myself working in a space where campaigns are led by People of Colour and First Nations people, and where there is a deep level of care and learning.
I draw energy from this personal experience —from this deep desire for greater inclusivity. I see so many wicked problems that need solutions but often these solutions are inaccessible because of socio-economic and socio-cultural barriers. I want to intentionally focus on those who are excluded, and that really drives me.
As a young person, I also feel a lot of urgency. I’m driven by the pain I feel from colonisation and capitalism resulting in the fires, pollution, and glorifying a wasteful existence. I feel these things every day and I channel my anger into activism.
But this sense of urgency can also lead to burnout. I have found that it is important to practice self-care and check in on your capacity.
As I write this it is Lunar New Year, taking us into the Year of the Ox which represents sturdiness, hardship and determination, but also providing community support and care to collectively pass through this hardship.
I plan to do a lot of reading, writing and music so I have the energy to study and learn, and to do my next job, leading a Canberra-based campaign on racial justice in the environment space with Democracy in Colour.”
"I want to put my attention and energy into celebrating voices and bodies like mine in the environment movement."
Environment and community worker
Collaboration, stillness and authenticity are the guides by which Julie Kirkwood navigates her work for the environment. Plus an acceptance that not everything can work out exactly how we expect.
“I worked in the environment movement for a long time — in biodiversity conservation, and often supporting volunteers and community action.
More recently I’ve worked in community development because I wanted to integrate more collaboration, inclusion, social justice, compassion and wellbeing into my work.
Participating in WELA was perfect timing for me because the program is all about that, plus it supports women to embrace our own way of working, without trying to be someone we’re not. It’s about authenticity, which I find very motivating.
I’ve recently refocused my work back to the environment, in local government, and I’m excited by the possibilities this new role brings.
I’m particularly inspired by Project Drawdown, a motivating response to global warming based on rigorous science and economic modelling. Drawdown shows us that not only is reducing emissions possible, but so is reversing global warming.
We can scale-up positive actions for humanity and the environment in many sectors … energy, food production, waste management, regenerative agriculture, habitat protection, restoration, Indigenous people’s land management, transport, and education — particularly for girls and women.
But sometimes, when I’m constantly on the go, I can get overwhelmed. I replenish my energy from being in nature and tuning into stillness. First Nations people and eastern traditions can teach us a lot about these things. Trees are like big rechargers for me. When I really notice a tree (or a lake or the ocean), it’s a reminder of my own inner stillness and peace.
I also believe we learn from our mistakes. I made peace with a lot of my past stuff-ups and disappointments during lockdown in 2020. It helps to accept things don’t always go perfectly, in fact they usually don’t. Looking back, some of my greatest learnings, shifts in direction and life changes have happened after things went seemingly pear-shaped.
This is an exciting year for opportunities and positive change, so I remain open to contributing as much as I can. And I plan on bringing some WELA women together for meditation. Understanding ourselves is so vital, which is where meditation and mindfulness come in.
So are our connections. They motivate, empower and support us to explore and build on our personal strengths. From that we can make the contribution in the world we’re here to make.”
"Trees are like big rechargers for me. When I really notice a tree (or a lake or the ocean), it’s a reminder of my own inner stillness and peace."
Header image: Annette Ruzicka/MAPgroup
Illustrations: Lucy Fahey/ACF