Former Greens Leader Bob Brown last night shared his hopes and dreams with an appreciative crowd at an overflowing Melbourne Town Hall. Hosted by the Wheeler Centre, and introduced by Noni Hazlehurst, this remarkably youthful looking 70-year-old spent 45 minutes sharing anecdotes from key stages in his life. He spoke frankly of the depression which nearly lead to suicide, a situation heavily influenced by his difficulty in ‘coming out’ as a gay man at a time when homosexuality was illegal. Supported by friends and family, he went on to work in London as a locum doctor. And it was there, in a hospital emergency department, that the body of Jimmy Hendrix was wheeled in, victim of a cocktail of drugs and alcohol. Brown was the same age as the legendary guitarist at the time and he spoke of how moved he was by Hendrix’s statement “We are our children’. He asked the audience to judge their actions by this credo, to ask “Will people in 10,000 years from now thank us for what we do today?”
When asked how it was possible not to give into pessimism when population growth is outstripped by consumption at a 10x rate, Brown declared that pessimism is self-defeating, while optimism leads to action.
In closing he exhorted the audience to stay positive and “take on those things where you can make a change”.
Reflections on a Life of Action, Bob Brown
Every so often we get to hear from a living legend. This was the case when Archbishop Desmond Tutu visited Australia as part of a speaking tour highlighting the injustices of apartheid in the early 80s. I was lucky enough to hear him speak at Latrobe University in Melbourne’s north. He was simply inspirational as he explained complex historic hatred in simple terms, with no visible anger or rancour.
Last night I was privileged to listen to a similarly gifted orator, this one with a broad Australian accent, but similarly high hopes for the future. It was former Senator Bob Brown, now a ‘free’ man employed by Planet Earth to speak on behalf of the trees, lakes, whales and wilderness. And what a fine job he did, as he shared anecdotes from his recently published book. Most of all he emphasised how, after 10 years of deep depression, he managed to chose hope over hopelessness and optimism over defeat.
So while we are raping our wilderness at an obscene pace, Brown manages to remind us of the battles won – saving the Franklin River and the Tarkine Wilderness – and the many ways we can continue to value that which can never be replaced – endangered species and old growth forests. Few of our current crop of political leaders could hold an audience’s attention so completely. But then few have such an inspiring and inclusive vision for the future. As Bob Brown finished his talk, he reminded us to service those who come after us by celebrating the ‘song of the earth’. Smiling broadly he finished with two simple words:
What do you think? Do you agree with Bob Brown that the planet is in dire shape? And if so, is this a cause for optimism or pessimism? What can individuals do to help restore the natural environment? What difference can you make?