2017 NSW Environment Awards

The NSW Environment Awards celebrate the outstanding commitment and achievement of campaigners, grassroots environmentalists and conservation groups across the state. The 2017 awards were presented on October 28 at Redfern Town Hall in Sydney, as part of the Nature Conservation Council's Annual Conference.  

Marie Byles Award 

For the most inspiring community action initiative.

Winner: 4Nature

4nature is a volunteer-based conservation group established in 2010 to protect the natural environment in Australia and the South Pacific.

In 2015, the group turned its sights on Centennial Coal, one of the biggest polluters of Sydney’s drinking water supply.

In September that year, the NSW Government approved Centennial’s plans to expand its Springvale coal mine near Lithgow.

The approval included a green light to pump millions of litres of polluted water into the Coxs River, a major source for Warragamba Dam, the largest storage in Sydney’s drinking water supply. With the aid of EDO NSW, 4nature and a handful of other conservation groups challenged the approval in the Land and Environment Court, contending the government had failed to properly consider the effects of the project on the city’s drinking water.

(The case was supported by Blue Mountains Conservation Society, the Nature Conservation Council, the Colong Foundation for Wilderness, Lithgow Environment Group, and National Parks Association of NSW.)

In September 2016, the court ruled against 4nature, but undeterred, the group earlier this year (2017) appealed to the Supreme Court, where the original approval was ruled invalid.

Unfortunately, before the court could rule on what steps the company should take to comply with the law, the NSW Government enacted new legislation to permit the company to continue to pollute obviating the need for the court to consider the matter further.


Dunphy Award

For outstanding commitment and success in conservation (individual). 

Winner: Sue Higginson

Sue Higginson has dedicated 11 years to championing the conservation of nature through the Environmental Defender’s Office of NSW (EDO NSW).

Sue has recently stepped down as CEO of this esteemed organisation after having run many significant legal cases for hundreds of community clients all across NSW.

Sue pioneered the first branch office of EDO NSW in the Northern Rivers, providing expert environmental legal services to rural, regional and remote communities where it is often lacking.

Notable cases that she has won include challenging Chinese coal company Yancoal’s bid to expand operations in the Hunter Valley town of Camberwell.

She’s been involved in cases as diverse as Japanese whaling, challenging the Adani corporation and its massive Carmichael coal project in Queensland, and the ongoing destruction of native forests in NSW.

Sue is a guest lecturer at several universities and a mentor to many around her.

Winner: Phil Spark

Phil Spark started out a farmer, trained as an ecologist, and ended up one of the state’s leading environmentalists.

He has been in the front line in the battle to save forests and woodlands against the ravages of the coal and gas industries in NSW, especially in his native northwest of the state where he has campaigned for years to save Leard state forest and the Pilliga from coal mines and coal seam gas developments.

Phil was a founding member of the Northern Inland Council for the Environment (NICE), which has been a potent force for environmental advocacy and protection in the region for more than a decade.

NICE led the charge against two coal mines in the Leard State Forest near Boggabri in north-western NSW, taking legal action to challenge Commonwealth approvals in 2013.

He has frequently used his expertise as an ecologist, serving as an expert witness during the assessment that led to the protection of the Brigalow Belt South and Nandewar forests, as well as composing thorough submissions to government processes in the hope of strengthening environmental protections for wildlife.

A tireless and fearless warrior in the campaign to protect nature, he has been blowing the whistle on illegal land clearers and collecting evidence to aid prosecutions for many years, often at considerable personal risk.

Phil has also been a skilled advocate through the media and is a passionate educator opening the eyes of the wider public to beauty and wonder of the bushland and wildlife that are rapidly vanishing from our landscape.

Rising Star Award 

For an outstanding environmentalist aged under 30.

Winner: James Stanton-Cooke

James’ concept of growing a natural, organic and really effortless beard to start a conversation about conservation via the 90 Day BeardsOn Challenge is truly inspiring.

More impressive is that at the end of the challenge they encouraged the grower to go #HalfCut showing 48% of the world’s forests destroyed.

It represents individual action, education, awareness and a new movement in addressing these very real and serious matters in a fun way. James has raised nearly $50,000 this year with his fundraiser BeardsOn with all the money going to replanting trees for conservation.

He is a hard-working environmentalist who is passionate about saving the planet and preserving rainforests. The campaign educates and empowers the public in ways that allow them to see the damage our everyday behaviours can have on nature and the planet, and demonstrate ways that we can sustain and improve our choices.

Ziggy Megne Volunteer Award  

For longstanding service.

Winner: Garry Kelly

Garry has been the backbone of the climate movement in Sydney, and increasingly at a national level. Garry organised all the transport for the Break Free action in Newcastle for Indigenous and Pacific allies as well as hundreds of supporters of the Break Free action at Newcastle's coal port. He organised transport, gear, and accommodation for 'Mana Moana', a Pacific-lead action that involved kayaking across Sydney Habour to PM Malcolm Turnbull's home to deliver a climate message.

Garry organised transport and gear for the recent #StopAdani Frontline Week of Action that required him to be based in Queensland for a month and saw 150 people take action at Adani's Abbott Point coal port to protect the Great Barrier Reef and the global climate.

He has been the coordinator for 350 Sydney and led it through the Power for Change campaign that include airing AGL's 'greenwashing' on washing lines outside AGL's HQ, a tug-of-war between coal and renewables in the middle of Martin Place outside Channel 7, huge social media and phone calling storms to push AGL beyond coal attending by 50+ people.

More recently, Garry founded and coordinates the Repower Sydney group and is committed to making NSW 100% renewable.

Nature Conservation Council Member Group Award   

For a group that has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to and success in conservation.

Winner: Mountain Districts Association

The Mountain Districts Association (MDA) worked for more than two years on the dramatic 4 Corners exposé of the waste industry that aired on August 7, which was a major breakthrough. The 4 Corners crew spent weeks interviewing members who were researching the issue, and had film crews and helicopters on the mountain in the lead up to the story. The Landfill Subcommittee of the MDA has been researching a landfill site in Central Mangrove (inland of the Central Coast), which was originally approved to take 80,000 tonnes of waste, but now contains an unapproved waste mountain of 800,000 tonnes. A freedom of information search earlier this year found the former council allowed the operator to exceed the original 80,000 tonnes and had itself contributed to the non-compliance by transferring more than 120,000 tonnes from its Woy Woy and Kincumber waste management facilities to Mangrove Mountain. The landfill sits in a watercourse that supplies fresh water to more than 300,000 people on the Central Coast. MDA and fellow NCC member Community Environment Network (CEN) have been instrumental in exposing this waste catastrophe and have called for an inquiry into the state Environment Protection Authority.

Allan Strom Hall of Fame Award 

For untiring dedication to conservation and environmental education.

Winner: Frances Bray

Frances Bray has dedicated years to the preservation of Lake Wollumboola on the South Coast, and our incredible coastal zone more broadly. In 1993, Frances established the Lake Wollumboola Protection Association to lobby for the protection of the lake’s natural values.

For many years Frances has volunteered to protect shorebirds, including the little tern and pied oystercatcher, and has documented more than 100 bird species that visit the lake. Frances feels a special responsibility for the little tern. With ongoing threats from predators and human pressures, Frances and her colleagues give their time to educate beachgoers about the bird’s nesting behaviour and threats to its survival.

Since the early 1990s, she has monitored the lake’s population of endangered green and golden bell frogs that breed in the wetlands on the northern shore. With their distinctive markings, Frances has been able to recognise individuals each year. The species disappeared from Lake Wollumboola for several years but to her delight, they were recorded again in 2015.

For Frances, the environmental volunteer experience continues to be an enriching journey of discovery in understanding the lake’s environment and the fascinating species it supports. She hopes to inspire others to join her in the challenge.