Every region in Australia needs protecting by an environment centre. This is especially true for the Sutherland Shire – one of the most remarkable local government regions in Australia. It is home to a host of natural features: the two great bays, Port Hacking and Botany Bay; three of Sydney’s six rivers, four national parks including the oldest in the world; many of Sydney’s best beaches; and the place where Aboriginal and European cultures first met.
For over 60,000 years before Cook’s arrival, Aboriginal people lived a deep connection with Australia’s unique natural environment. They cared for and continue to care for country. Dharawal people are reported by the First Fleet diarists to have assembled muttering, shouting and making obscene gestures when Phillip’s sailors indiscriminately chopped down trees on Kurnell. We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of this Land, the Dharawal and Gandangara peoples, and recognise that Aboriginal Sovereignty has never been ceded.
Sutherland Shire Environment Centre was born following a Writing for the Environment course, held in Sutherland in 1991 by local historian, publisher and environmental activist, Bob Walshe (1923-2018). A few inspired participants banded together, intending to put the lessons from the course to good use.
After the launch of the Environment Centre on the 22 July, 1991 it wasn’t long before its founding members were hard at work on their first campaign. It was to be the first of many successes. All through the intervening years, Sutherland Shire Environment Centre has been in the forefront of many campaigns on behalf of environmental protection in and around Sutherland Shire:
- the expansion of Lucas Heights Waste Depot as Sydney’s ‘Megatip’, 1992
- a Helensburgh expansion that would have polluted the Royal National Park, 1994
- the Metromix proposal to mine huge quantities of sand off-shore from Botany Bay, Cronulla and the Royal National Park, 1994
- siting of Sydney’s second airport at Holsworthy, 1997
- a co-generation plant at Kurnell that would have damaged Botany Bay, 1998
- construction of the M6 which would split the Shire in two
- development of 3000 homes in West Menai
Bob Walshe passed away on 6 March, 2018. A tribute to Bob, “An Activist for all Seasons”, by Rowan Cahill, gives a heartfelt overview of his life, “his modesty, his kindness, thoughtfulness, and intelligence”:
Few knew the full extent of his activism and impacts, because the thing about Bob was he was not a walking CV; his activism was not ego-driven in the modern ‘selfie’ sort of way. Rather he helped others to become the people they could become, and let them take the credit warranted. Writing in 2002, Alan Barcan described Bob as “a model activist”, while Terry Irving and I writing in 2016 attempted to capture him and his activism by describing him as “the most famous person you do not know”.
Sutherland Shire Library has a wonderful oral history interview with Bob Walshe from 2006. He talks about his early life, his work as a local teacher, then an author, publisher, historian and environmental advocate. The Leader tribute to Bob notes the role he played in establishing the Total Environment Centre in 1972.
Our recent campaigns have focused on raising awareness of the risks of climate change, threats to our water supply from coal mining, wildlife corridors, protecting koala habitat, helping Sutherland Shire stay plastic free. We aim to keep Bob’s vision and commitment alive, to honour his legacy, and his care for the Sutherland Shire, supporting our members, local community and community organisations in their efforts to protect and improve their local, natural environments.