Bendigo-based ACF Group Leader Melissa Abel shares her thoughts on courage, community and creating change with ACF Storytelling Volunteer Matilda Bowra.

When Melissa Abel helped form an ACF community group, she was surprised by how many people in her part of regional Victoria share her concerns about protecting the planet and want to act.

What inspired you to form an ACF Community Group in Bendigo?
The environment has always been a passion of mine but having small children adds an extra layer of responsibility. I get very upset at the state of the world and what we might be passing onto my kids. I’m frightened for their future and want to do something about it.

I guess it is about being a good role model. If I’m just sitting in my lounge room telling my kids how the planet’s in bad shape or we are in an extinction crisis, what’s it achieving? I have to do something and show them they have the power to create change. We have the power to change things and we have to try.

Where does your courage come from?
My love for my kids and the outrage I feel at what is being done to their future is enough to push me out of my comfort zone. I think you don't know how much courage you have until you test it out. All you can do is try, and then you find you do have the strength and the power to act. I've surprised myself by what I've been able to do when I've put my mind to it.


What’s your approach to engaging your community?
I think it’s hugely important to bring everyone along with us. We need to connect with people and find common ground and not alienate people. At the end of the day, we all want the same things. We all want clean air, healthy wildlife, we all want our kids to thrive, we just have different ideas about how to go about it. I think you have to open up those conversations and find common ground.

We try to think about how to involve different parts of the community and families, as that’s my area of interest. We run information stalls, have lots of rallies and protests and meet with our local MP. We’ve also held Politics in the Pub events with our elected representatives and Planet Minder Picnics which are family picnics with guest speakers.

Anyone can get involved. We have people in the group who are into the technical side, engineering and policy, and we have artists and people who love talking with people. It’s an interesting mix and they all have ways they can contribute. There’s a place for everybody.

With small children and a part-time job, you are very time poor, why have you made time to volunteer?
I love feeling like I’m giving something back and I’m contributing. It gives me a sense of hope and I feel less alone in the world. It doesn’t have to be a burden. Volunteering gives me a sense of purpose, a sense of fulfilment. I feel I’m doing what I can to make a difference.

The contact with the different members of the community is great. I know there are a lot of people in the community who feel just as strongly about this stuff as I do and are really driven to make change. Bendigo is traditionally a bit conservative so it’s nice to connect with liked minded people.


What would you say to people who are thinking of volunteering?
We all need to be working for the same things, regardless of our political views. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report shows we’ve really got to get some movement happening. We only have a few years to turn this around.

There are plenty of days when I struggle to find hope, but I have to have hope, for the sake of my kids. Rise Against, one of my favourite bands, have this wonderful lyric that says, "When it all comes down, will you say you did everything you could?"

If you feel inspired by Mel's story, why not join or start your own community group. You can also learn some great tips on how to talk to your children about climate change through our visual resource How do I talk to my kids about climate change?

Photos: Annette Ruzicka/MAPgroup



Matilda Bowra

ACF Storytelling Volunteer