Activism At Any Age: Bob Morrish

Bob Morrish

 

Clancy had “Gone a-droving “down the Cooper.”” Bob never imagined he would need to fight to save Cooper Creek, the iconic river of Banjo Patterson’s poetry – one of world’s most pristine desert rivers.

Born and raised in western Queensland, near Inglewood, Dr Bob Morrish, went to boarding school in Toowoomba making his way to the University of Queensland just in time for the for the heyday of 1960s student activism on campus. Having inherited a sense of “non-political empathy” with the downtrodden from his father, the protest movement deepened Bob’s commitment to equality and social justice. There, he gained some activist skills, got insight in to Australian society and enjoyed heady and fun times. Bob recalls being thrown out of the Criterion Hotel with Merle Thornton who was challenging the gender bar at the hotel–and later attempting a pub crawl with Neville Bonner – already a Queensland Senator, but not also allowed to drink at the bars. At a time when UQ only had approximately 8,000 students, Bob was one of the hundreds arrested at the 4,000 strong civil liberties march in 1967. Upon completing his PhD in psychophysiology, he took a job at La Trobe University (Melbourne).  He hated city life, quit after one year, and drifted… way out to far west Queensland.

 

The harsh, but spectacularly beautiful, Channel Country, became his home. He bought a property 80ks from Windoorah. He ran cattle there, raised his daughter there and, when Cooper Creek was under threat of cotton farming, used his scientific knowledge and activist skill to champion its protection.

 

The fight for the Cooper was a “labour of love”. Bob was instrumental in forming an alliance of scientists, conservationists and local people to challenge the use of the river for large-scale irrigation. Sick of writing submissions they felt fell on deaf ears, the Coopers Creek Protection Group, took the issue to community, to the politicians, whom they attacked with vigour, and to the media.  Over four years, the Coopers Creek Protection Group used events, actions, scientific argument and media savvy to creatively highlight the importance of the river system. And they won. An incoming Labor government brought in rules to protect the Cooper from large-scale irrigation. The Cooper would flow. Year laters, thanks to ongoing community vigilance and lobbying led by the Wilderness Society, the Channel Country rivers were protected under the Wild Rivers Act. (unfortunately later repealed by the Newman government.).

After 35 years on the land, Bob decided to downsize, sell his property and make a new home closer to his daughter.

 

In 2015, 71 year old Bob was just resettling close to Inglewood when the Federal government announced it had shortlisted six communities around Australia as potential sites for a national radioactive waste repository. One of them, Omanama, was just 20ks from Inglewood. The community was given a mere 120 days to respond. Bob swung back in to action.

 

Bob’s scientific background and his long connection with the community saw him play a key role in galvanizing action to oppose the project. The proposal divided the small town, but the opposition was clear; Omanama was taken off the shortlist. (Bob and others still support the campaign to stop the siting of the waste repository at the final shortlisted sites in SA.)

 

Now at 73, Bob has two successful campaigns under his belt and has not given up the fight for the environment.  Deforestation, habitat loss and, climate change, irrigation and the state of the Murray Darling worry him –  and weakened environmental protection laws see the Channel Country facing new threats of fracking for both CSG and shale or unconventional gas.

 

“When you work towards the goal of protecting the planet,” Bob says, “it’s overwhelming sometimes. It’s important to keep fighting.  No matter how powerful the opponent is, while people are still fighting – there’s hope.”

 

 

 

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