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Celebrating 30 years of advocacy, action and education

Celebrating 30 years of advocacy, action and education

EcoNetwork held a gathering of past and present committee members and their partners at a special lunch at Saltwater on 2 February to celebrate the 30 years since the launch of our organisation in 1993.

Founder Darrell Dawson, EcoNetwork life member and recent awardee for Freeman of Port Stephens, was the special guest. We were delighted other founding committee members Frank Future and Kassia Klinger attended, along with very early committee members Carol Ridgeway-Bissett, life member Ray Taylor, Geoff Bartlett and Roger Yeo. We were thrilled that Geoff & Betty Bartlett came all the way from Narrabeen to help celebrate.

‘In this our 30th year, what better way than celebrating with our founder, Darrell Dawson, Freeman of Port Stephens, awarded to a distinguished citizen who has contributed eminent service to the community over so many years.’

Vice President, Sue Olsson, honoured Darrell Dawson and opened the celebrations for the 30th year of EcoNetwork Port Stephens.

It is most fitting to recognise our founder’s commitment and successes, and to celebrate Darrell Dawson’s ongoing efforts to protect precious Port Stephens. As we reflect on 30 years of EcoNetwork and Darrell’s award, we find the two are inextricably intertwined.

In leading up to EcoNetwork’s formation in 1993, Darrell was part of many community actions that demonstrated the need to strengthen voice and unity and bring together environmental groups as independent organisations.

In 1992 Darrell initiated a Wildlife Summit at Raymond Terrace, supported by Council and attended by 110 representatives of local organisations, activists and Council officers, with recommendations leading to the formation of EcoNetwork Port Stephens the following year, 1993.

EcoNetwork’s first executive committee comprised President Harold Richins, Vice President Frank Future, Secretary DarrelI Dawson, Treasurer Suzie Worth, Committee members Esme Hull, Glen Stevenson and Kassia Klinger. Along with 16 affiliate groups and a handful of individual members, EcoNetwork Port Stephens was born.

Over 30 years, committees change, but Darrell was the constant there for 25 or so years, providing his vision for a network organisation with a strong united voice. During those years there were many achievements and Darrell’s vision, leadership, negotiating and networking skills, along with dedication of various committee members, each contributed to EcoNetwork’s achievements, here are some highlights:

  • Expansion of the Tomaree National Park. EcoNetwork collaborated with other organisations in one of its earliest achievements, from 1993 to 1996, nearly tripling the original park gazettal.
  • Active in advocating for conservation of our diverse wildlife habitat.
  • Representation on Destination Port Stephens for many years. Members such as Ray Taylor were active raising the profile that nature, our landscapes and wildlife, are the reasons people come to Port Stephens. The quality of our green and blue spaces, while needing to be protected for their own sake, are the basis of our local economy
  • Native Animal Trust Fund (Hunter Region), the affiliate group to which Geoff and Betty Bartlett and Roger and Kathy Yeo belonged and were the sole fauna and koala carers on the peninsula for many years, a formidable task.
  • Protecting Mambo Wanda Wetlands from further intrusive development. Darrell, Carol Bissett-Ridgeway and other committee members were active in saving 13 hectares as well as the sacred women’s site at Wanda Wetlands, Salamander Bay. Following 10 years of protests, investigation, submission writing and garnering local support, the proposed Landcom housing estate did not proceed and today we have this wonderful protected wetland, reviewed as worthy of Ramsar listing, a process underway with Council, for which EcoNetwork is advocating with affiliates.
  • Active in protection of marine waterways, together with many other NGOs:
    • Contributed to creating the Port Stephens / Great Lakes Marine Park (PSGL), and ongoing representation to its Advisory Committee, and now supporting advocates for World Heritage status for the estuary and much of its catchment.
    • Advocated, with others, for marine improvements including vessel sewage pump-out systems (1996 – 98) and the protection of estuary and off-shore waters from 94ha of pearl farms (2000-10)
    • Reinstatement of over half of the PSGL Marine Park ocean beach sanctuary zones, major expansion of Soldiers Point Marina proposal and protection of sea turtles with the ban of ‘witch’s hat’ crab trap in PSGL Marine Park.
  • Representation on government consultation and advisory bodies – too many to mention, but that demonstrates our advocacy and networking role.
  • Representation of members views on development applications and other government proposals, many coordinated with other groups, such as our advocacy for appropriate township development sympathetic to our surrounding environment –an ongoing tussle of wins and losses.
  • Advocacy toward climate action and a more renewable and zero emission program.
  • Establishment and active support of many groups such as the Shoal Bay Community Association, Mambo Wanda Wetlands Conservation Group and Climate Action Port Stephens.

As in all associations, there comes a turning point – can we continue and is there the value and energy to re-vitalise? EcoNetwork came to that point in 2019 and the answer was a resounding YES, with many members recognising the need to provide support.

In recent years from 2020-2023, we have focused on EcoNetwork’s direction and renewing our community engagement for a strong advocacy base.

  • EcoNetwork focussed internally on our direction, re-confirming our mission, developing statements of values, and core strategic directions (2020). And renewed our constitution prefaced with First Nations statement (2020-2021).
  • Our affiliate forum 2021 highlighted combined affiliate issues regarding Port Stephens Council transparency and meaningful engagement for which a multitude of actions have followed.
  • Community engagement products, such as EcoUpdate our new, informative and innovative community e-newsletter with over 500 direct recipient supporters, together with our revitalised web site, have laid the foundations to connect members and non-members with local environmental and nature stories and action (2021 – ongoing).
  • Our community engagement activity reached a new high throughout 2022, raising EcoNetwork’s standing in the community after the preceding Covid years with a range of activities including environmental film nights and the aRRRRRt awards, putting the R into aRt: Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle! Our Gala Dinner for World Environment Day, wildflower walks in conjunction with Friends of Tomaree National Park to promote the festival, and more culminated in our finale event, the Sustainable Futures Festival 2022, with over 1000 participants, nearly 100 stalls, supported financially with a range of sponsors.
  • A program of activities celebrating our 30 years (2023) is a partnership with various affiliates. February focussed on Wetlands. Coming up are reinvigorating forums, connecting understanding between east and west Port Stephens via bus trips, highlighting our nature with wildflower walks, marking 30 years of birds and birdwatching, and a partnership with local markets to provide a mini Sustainable Futures Festival.

With the strong vision Darrell Dawson and others had for EcoNetwork Port Stephens 30 years ago, our network has grown and consolidated to over 30 affiliated groups, countless valued individual members, a supporters list of over 500 and a litany of achievements through strong community advocacy and participation. And we’re building!

Vice-president Sue Olsson quoting from The Lorax.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” And thank you to all those in EcoNetwork Port Stephens who over 30 years have made Port Stephens nature a better place.

Dr Seuss — The Lorax

And on this very same day, Thursday 2 February, that EcoNetwork was enjoying the anniversary lunch, Mayor Palmer was quoted in the Examiner stating:

‘… Lastly, but most importantly, we’re working to gain both financial support and policy support to protect and enhance our most important asset – our incredible local environment.’

We believe that some of EcoNetwork’s advocacy, representation and support to the work of affiliates has shifted the rhetoric toward the environment — and now we’re looking forward to more action and outcomes.

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