Q&A with Wendy Bowman

November 21, 2017

In our latest Q&A, 2017 Prize winner Wendy Bowman shares about her work with the Hunter Environment Lobby in her fight against the expansion of coal mining at her farm, Rosedale, and within the larger community of Hunter Valley.

Where you were born? How did you find your way to the farm?

I was born in Sydney, Australia. My mother’s family came in the early 1800s and settled in the Hunter Valley region. After graduating from college with an art degree, I married Mick Bowman, a farmer in the Hunter Valley. When he passed away in 1984, I took over operations on the family farm. My husband’s family was among some of the first settlers to come from England, Scotland and Wales to Australia in 1798.

What memories do you have from when the Australian open cut mining rush began in the late 1980s?

When I was forced to relocate my farm in 1988, I was given six weeks to get off my property. I realized that even as the mines encroached on local communities, landowners did not understand the impacts of mining on air quality, water supplies, cattle, and crops.

The open cut mining rush led to the origin of MineWatch in 1990. My objective was to share knowledge with other landowners throughout the Hunter Valley. This was the first group of individuals to staff such an organization, which traveled around to various regions helping local farmers.

How did you come to work with the Hunter Environment Lobby on the third-party merit suit (the case that would ultimately halt the Ashton mine expansion)?

Working with Hunter Environment Lobby, a political action committee (PAC), I had a central role in a third-party merits appeal (equivalent to public interest lawsuits in the US) in the New South Wales Land and Environment Court against the PAC decision to approve the mine’s expansion.

I also helped organize the Hunter New England Health Department. The doctors engaged with local children and found that some lost 20% of lung function due to coal dust inhalation. As a result, the Department installed air monitors outside each mine, which send push notifications when the air quality is too toxic to be outside.

Were you in court when the Land and Environment Court made its ruling in December 2014 on the mine’s expansion?

The mining company took it to the Court of Appeal and Yancoal appealed the court’s decision. On November 19, 2015, the New South Wales Court of Appeal upheld the judgment of the Land and Environment Court.

The Department of Planning sits in a high-rise building. They don’t come out to the countryside and look at the land they are selling for mining lease, which is part of the problem.

What’s happening to ensure that your farm, Rosedale, is protected in perpetuity? 

I am committed to coming up with a way to protect Rosedale in perpetuity. The resources from winning the Goldman Prize may be able to help in protecting the land.

How can people help?

I believe humans are exacerbating the problem of global warming. I think countries need to get together and shut down coal mining and go into green energy.