While working on the history of the Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition (CVCC) for our recent ReWeavers Awards night, I was reminded of how seemingly “ordinary” people sometimes step up and achieve remarkable results. One such person was Rosie Richards who in September 1988 became the first President of the Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition. She led the campaign against Daishowa’s proposed Clarence Valley chemical pulp mill.
Rosie was an ideal person for the job in many ways. In the conservative Clarence community she was not publicly associated with any of the recent or on-going conservation issues such as the Washpool campaign. While she was concerned about environmental impacts, both short and long-term, and made no secret of the fact, she did not look like a greenie – or the conservative view of what a greenie looked like.
Rosie was 56 years old. She was a grandmother. Her background was not that of a stereotype greenie either. She grew up in Pymble and in the early fifties was a member of the Liberal Party Younger Set. Her other life experiences included years as a farmer’s wife and the wife of a professional fisherman. (Her husband Geoff had been both.)
Rosie’s personality also qualified her for this leadership role in the pulp mill campaign. She ran both the Coalition committee and general meetings efficiently. She was calm, sincere, friendly, articulate and very much “a lady” in old-fashioned terms. But she was also determined and possessed a “steel backbone”. This “steel backbone” and her courage were very necessary in the campaign to obtain information and disseminate it to the North Coast community.
Courage was necessary to the campaigners because those promoting the benefits of Daishowa’s plans attacked the Coalition, referring to its spokespersons as scaremongers and “a benighted group who distort the facts.” Those in power locally and at the state level weren’t in any hurry to provide facts but they decried the efforts of community members who were trying to find information on pulp mill operations. However, this did not deter the CVCC. It sought information on pulp mills and pulping processes from around the world, asked questions of those in power and disseminated information to the community
Following Daishowa’s announcement that it would not be proceeding with its pulp mill proposal Rosie wrote to The Daily Examiner (4 April 1990) praising the efforts of the community in defeating the proposal:
“It has been an interesting nineteen months; a period that has seen the resolve of north coast people come to the fore; we have seen People Power used in a democratic way to say ‘No’ to something that we knew would harm our existing industries and our air and water. If it had not been for the people of the Clarence Valley and their attendance at public meetings, their letters to politicians, to newspapers in Tokyo and our own Daily Examiner, and their strong support of the Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition, we may have had a huge polluting industrial complex set down in our midst, without a whimper.”
People Power did do the job – but Rosie Richards and the others on the CVCC Committee played a very important part in organizing and channelling that people power.