Jeffrey Lee : Environmental Hero

In the environmental scene, certain personalities seem to pop up time and again. It’s great to see celebrities going green and fighting to protect forests and such, but we shouldn’t forget there are many ordinary folk doing the same with little or no fanfare – the people we hear little ornothing of. They need our support and deserve our accolades too.

These people often aren’t “glamorous”, polished or eloquent by some standards;but they are just getting on with the job of protecting a small part of the planet – and fighting with every ounce of their being.

One such man is Jeffrey Lee, an indigenous Australian. He is the last remaining member of the Djok clan, who are traditional owners ofa small area of land in the Northern Territory known as Koongarra.

Koongarra is just outside of Kakadu, one of our major a national parks. When the park was established in 1979, Koongarra missed out and Mr. Lee has been fighting to have it included ever since.

The stakes are high because Koongarra is also home to a very rich uranium resource, estimated to be worth 5 billion dollars.

An Australian delegation is in Paris at the moment for a World Heritage Committee meeting in an effort to get Koongarra added to Kakadu;but according to ABCNews, French energy company Areva wants the issue removed from the meeting’s agenda. It seems that the company has its sights set on mining Koongarra.

It also seems that Mr. Lee has been offered a lot of money to allow it to occur – the type of money that would make him an extremely wealthy man by any measure.

His opposition to the mining isn’t him holding out for more cash, he simply doesn’t want it to occur – he’s seen what has happened elsewhere when indigenous peoples have allowed mining companies to sink their claws in – not just in terms of damage to the land, but damage to the people through their new-found wealth.

Here’s Mr. Lee’s views of the situation and about his country:

“Country look after me and I look after my country,” says Mr. Lee. A simplestatement, but such a depth of appreciation and understanding of how importantit is to look after the land that sustains us.

There’s an old saying that goes “never meet your heroes” and mostly I agree with it, but Mr. Lee is a man I would love to meet just to shake his hand. You can imagine the sort of pressure hehas been under sitting on such a sought after resource for so long.

Thankfully, there is growing attention focusing on Mr. Lee’s fight in recentyears. While most of us will never meet him, nor get to visit Koongarra and Mr. Lee may never know we care abouthis country too, there is something we can do to help him. Contact Arevaand tell them you’re watching the situation unfold. Tell them to keep their paws off Koongarra. Ask others to do the same.

It’s an interesting situation we have in Australia – we are opposed to nuclear power within our own shores for environmental and safety reasons, but are quite happyto allow companies to rip up our countryside and export uranium to othernations.

Update: July 2011 – Koongarra was added to the World Heritage register during the meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Paris. Congratulation to Mr. Lee and all those involved in protecting this important parcel of land.


Unsung Environmental Heroes