Menu Close

EcoNetwork founder Darrell Dawson wins Port Stephens Freeman Award

By Iain Watt, President EcoNetwork Port Stephens.

In 2023, EcoNetwork Port Stephens celebrates its 30 year anniversary. So this has been a most fitting moment to recognise the founder’s commitment and successes and to celebrate his efforts by awarding him the prestigious Freeman of Port Stephens.

Darrell was born in Stockton NSW on 18 October 1930 and grew up with 11 siblings (8 boys and 3 girls) in the Karuah area. At 15 Darrell left school, angry about the poverty his family had endured through the Great Depression and the WW2. Leaving Karuah at 16 to work in Newcastle, Darrel had a varied career including time as a seaman through the 1950s and prominent Union activist, supporting the rights of his fellow working colleagues.

Darrell moved to Nelson Bay in 1986. From his arrival he took an active interest in community and environmental equity in the Port. Darrell initially worked with several environmental and sustainability community groups and in 1993 he successfully established a grassroots organisation, EcoNetwork Port Stephens, to bring together the various active environmental and sustainability groups under one network.

Mr Dawson surrounded by friends from EcoNetwork at the awards ceremony. Seated (L-R ): Kathy Brown, Darrell Dawson, Carol Ridgeway-Bissett. Behind (L-R ): Alison Rogers, Roger Yeo, Iain Watt.

This was a visionary approach based on the principle that a coordinated environmental network could bring more weight to environmental advocacy than the lone voice of individual community groups. Over the years this has proven to be correct, and 30 years later, EcoNetwork now represents over 30 affiliated community groups and businesses with a combined membership of around 3000 individuals in Port Stephens.

Darrell always showed a positive attitude in his leadership and was always willing to negotiate in order to maximise environmental outcomes and community benefits and to build a consensus between otherwise warring factions. It was not uncommon for apparent adversaries to come to Darrell for advice on how best to achieve a mutually beneficial outcome.

With considerable community support, Darrell served one term of 4 years as a Port Stephens Councillor. During this time, he advanced the goals of the EcoNetwork Port Stephens affiliates and members, and represented the community on several State Government and Council consultative committees. Over the years he was also fully engaged with national conservation organisations including the National Parks Association, Australian Conservation Foundation, WWF-Australia and The Wilderness Society.

Throughout his time in Port Stephens Darrell has been prominent in protecting native wildlife and habitat. He was instrumental in the development of some of the most iconic environmental features of Port Stephens, such as the expansion of the Tomaree National Park while serving on the Tomaree National Parks Administration Committee, working towards protecting the waters of Port Stephens from pollution and large scale commercial aquaculture development as an active member of the Port Stephens and Great Lakes Marine Park Advisory Committee, and the Port Stephens/Myall Lakes Estuary Management Committee. He was also instrumental in the protection of the Mambo Wetlands and large areas of local koala habitat.

Darrell was awarded the Port Stephens Medal at the annual Community Awards in 2011. This medal is awarded to individuals (or groups) for distinguished service to the Port Stephens Community.

Darrell is now 92 years old and while he only recently stepped back from hands on action with EcoNetwork Port Stephens, he still contributes advice and experience to the environmental community of Port Stephens.

FREEMAN OF PORT STEPHENS: This honour recognises a distinguished citizen (or citizens) who have contributed eminent services to the community of Port Stephens or the wider community over many years. It may be awarded for outstanding achievement in the highest order for service to Port Stephens, Australia or general society. Council is not obligated to award the Freeman of Port Stephens every year.