Local OAM awarded environmentalist and Manager at TIDE (Taree Indigenous Development and Employment Services) Chris Sheed speaks with Gemma Bellanto about his passion for the environment, travel, education and the Manning Valley.
Being a 16 year old in London during the Summer of Love of 1968 has had a lasting impact on Chris Sheed; most of his major life decisions have been predicated by love, including his arrival in Australia and eventually the Manning Valley. Arriving in Elands in 1981 after years traversing the globe, Chris discovered terrain that was magical and under siege.
Tell us a bit about your formative influences and how you came to emigrate from England to Australia?
I had an English public school education thanks to a scholarship to study at Dulwich College in London. Living through the sixties, the hippy stuff rubbed off, and I was far more interested in Rolling Stones concerts and the liberal arts than attending school – so I dropped out at age 17 and worked odd jobs for a period.
As a 20 year old, my then girlfriend, her brother and friend decided to take the overland trip across India to Australia, so I decided to join them. I bought an Austin 1100 for 37 pounds, and we drove across Europe and Asia, through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India through to Kathmandu, where I sold it for $400.
We were in South East Asia when we discovered that the Australian Immigration policy was due to become much more stringent on British arrivals from January 1, 1975 , so we literally booked the last berth in the last boat out of Singapore to arrive on December 28, 1974.
We anticipated travelling further to South America, but we loved Australia so much we all decided to stay – and are still here. I loved the wide open spaces and the rugged landscapes so far removed from inner city London. We were initially in Fremantle, and I spent some time working in the Pilbara before becoming a permanent resident. In 1978 I left Australia to do some further travel through Asia and spent a year or so in India. While in Goa, I met my now ex-wife and followed her back to the Manning Valley – where she owned a property at Elands.
You received an OAM in 2000 for services to the Environment. Tell us more about this.
When I first moved to Elands, I got involved with setting up 2BOB radio through the Manning Media Co-operative from 1982. Our first studio was the old SES shack next to Wingham Town Hall. 2BOB went from strength to strength.
I became very interested in environmental issues and started doing a show in 1988 focusing on the environment. A friend invited me to come and witness the old growth logging operations happening up at Doyle’s River, and I was appalled at the destruction … the waste.
We formed Wingham Forest Action to stop old growth forest logging and reduce the wood chipping. We were involved in a number of campaigns; the North East Forest Alliance was an affiliate that orchestrated protest activities. We held a number of blockades in places like Mummel Gulf and Chaelundi and at Elands.
Hundreds of us were arrested – including me. I appealed it, the arrest was upheld, but they quashed the conviction. That time of my life was serious but fun; we did lots of media work, publicity, promotion in addition to our protest activities. In 1995 Bob Carr came into power; he promised to protect the ‘old growth’ forests, and subsequently did a reasonable job.
In the late eighties, as the president of the Oxygen Farm Association, I was involved in the establishment of the 900 acre Oxygen Farm Conservation Reserve on escarpment at Elands. We didn’t have the funds to purchase outright, so I conceived of the idea to buy the land, subdivide nine small building blocks, sell them off and use the profits to fund the project and establish the conservation reserve. There were fifteen of us who contributed $5,000 to initially fund it, who later got our money back with interest. This was only the second Voluntary Conservation Agreement in NSW.
I was also the environmental representative on the first Manning Catchment Management Committee chaired by the late Mick Tuck, and I worked for a while as the Manning Landcare Co-ordinator.
In 2000 I was awarded an Order of Australia for services to Conservation.
What is your focus these days?
I currently work as the Manager at TIDE Services, providing employment, training and other services to the Aboriginal community. The pathway into this role was rather circuitous. In the ‘90s, I studied eco-tourism and natural resource management through CSU via distance education. This led to spending part of my Honours year in Vietnam interviewing ethnic minorities living in the recently declared Ba Be National Park, where I studied the impacts of tourism.
Not long after I had completed my studies in 2001, I was employed by the local Aboriginal Land Council in an eco-tourism role. I then moved into working for the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP), where I remained until I took up a position at TIDE several years ago. In that time I have worked closely with John Clark OAM, who has been a tremendous boss, mentor and friend to me.
What are your priorities in the near future?
My immediate priorities are to get TIDE on a solid footing. As an indigenous controlled entity, TIDE is well supported by funding from a range of government departments and has built a good reputation in the community as a competent and trustworthy provider of indigenous services.
I am also keen to see the local business community take a greater interest in indigenous employment, and TIDE is in the process of partnering with the Manning Valley Business Chamber to improve indigenous employment opportunities.
What advice do you have for budding environmentalists?
Think globally and act locally. If I can borrow from the cultural anthropologist and writer Margaret Mead (1901–78): “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Story by Gemma Bellanto.