She’s a relief teacher of Special Education and an honorary life member of Gecko – Gold Coast & Hinterland Environment Council, where she’s previously held the positions of Campaign Coordinator, President and Environmental Educator. She’s been on the board of Conservation Queensland and the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Gold Coast Branch and has been recognised as one of Queensland’s Champions of Conservation. Samantha Morris had the chance to put a few questions to Sheila Davis, to find out just what makes her tick.
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Sheila Davis’ hometown of Toms River, New Jersey (USA) was contaminated by a chemical dye factory when she was a child. The industry led to the soil, drinking water wells and the river itself being poisoned and clusters of devastating childhood cancers. It also led to her lifelong passion for environmental protection and campaigning for strong legislation, which started with one letter to the editor on World Environment Day, 1991.
Soon after she moved with her young family to the Redlands where housing development was occurring at a rapid rate – there she became a member of the Koala Action Group and planted koala trees, yet these grassroots activities weren’t enough to stem the development tide and Sheila and her husband Steve, devastated at the constant loss of koala habitat vowed to buy land and protect it.
Fast-forward more than 20 years and they own a piece of the Gold Coast hinterland they had to borrow and scrimp to buy and build on sustainably.
“We have carpet snakes, lace monitors, kookaburras, sulfur-crested cockatoos, noisy pittas, regent bowerbirds, brush turkeys, antechinus and bushrats, spiders, bats and possums, and, of course, the rainforest pademelons and even koalas,” Sheila said, proud of their native biodiversity conservation and noting that the property is now protected under Council’s Voluntary Conservation Agreement program.
She’s spent the last 20 odd years working with Gecko – Gold Coast & Hinterland Environment Council on many campaigns, but especially to protect Springbrook and its World Heritage values in the face of constant challenges from those who wish to exploit them.
“You wouldn’t think that you’d have to work to protect a World Heritage Area,” she said. “But then again look at what they’re doing to the Great Barrier Reef!”
Sheila is proud to share her biggest environmental win: stopping a proposal to build a 30km cableway from Mudgeeraba to Springbrook, through the World Heritage listed Springbrook National Park to the top of Purlingbrook Falls.
“About 10 of us met every week and campaigned and lobbied for about three years – our submissions to the environmental impact study were hundreds of pages long,” Sheila said.
“The decision by the Beattie Labor Government to reject the proposal, announced a few months before the state election in 2001, was celebrated by us on the front page of the Gold Coast Bulletin and contributed to the Gold Coast winning six new Labor seats at the time,” she said.
It doesn’t take a long conversation with Sheila to know that population growth is a major driver for her activist work.
“With the lowest and most erratic rainfall and thin, nutrient-deficient soils, Australia is a very low carrying-capacity country,” Sheila explains.
“We currently have about 23 million residents and twenty years ago that’s what the Australian Academy of Science suggested might be the limit. Yet with increasing conflict throughout the world due to overpopulation and subsequent ecological collapse, together with the need to move out of low-lying areas due to climate change, we are faced with unprecedented pressure on our life support systems.”
“Though Australian food exports currently provide for about 50 million, the world’s population increases by about 75 million each year, and Australia may soon be unable to feed its own citizens due to the effects of climate change,” Sheila said.
“Of course, we have to handle our consumption, but we also have to handle the number of consumers. I do believe, as did 179 nations back in 1994 at the UN Cairo Conference, that we need to slow population growth,” Sheila said.
Hangin’ 5 with Sheila
How long have you been an environmental worker for?
As a mother, campaigner and global citizen, what’s one piece of advice you’d give your 30 year old self?
That’s pertinent as I have a 29 yo daughter. I would tell her to ‘go for it’. To quote Goethe, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”
What do you think is the Gold Coast’s most under-rated environmental asset?
Its biodiversity of plants and animals in the hinterland foothills – they are full of wildlife, creeks and forests of national significance and lots of lifestyle and tourism options. You don’t have to go to the Great Barrier Reef or the top of the mountains to get biodiversity. It’s all here.
And what’s the hardest thing about being an environmental campaigner and activist?
Being branded an extremist when you know that you’re being the rational one and that ‘business as usual’ is extremely insane.
What motivates you to keep going?
I look to the bush for inspiration to continue. Whenever I feel downhearted, a critter will show itself. Critters always come with a message of gratitude and pleading for us to go on with the task of providing protection.