Earth Calling #3: At 83, This Woman Defeated Coal Mining Giant in Australia

Produced by Camille Duran / Published by Eleen Murphy / Senior Editors Eleen Murphy & Camille Duran / Music Credits: License by Ins. Green White Space.

You’re never too old to make a difference. We show Planet Earth that we humans are going to keep fighting the good fight, and tell her the story of how Australian farmer Wendy Bowman put a stop to coal mining practices in her home of Hunter Valley, New South Wales. Oh, and it looks like Camille may have earned himself a fan…

Goldman Environmental Prize 2017.
Wendy Bowman voice of the people – Article.
Wendy Bowman Shall Not Be Moved – Article.

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Transcript from the Episode

Eleen Murphy (EM): Guess who is calling again?

Camille Duran (CD): Who? No, tell me…the Earth?

EM: I think you might have yourself a fan, Camille…

CD: come on, Eleen…

EM: She might be addicted to your stories.

CD: Yeah right. Is she on the line now?

EM: Yeah, she’s on line one.

CD: Alright, I take it.


CD: Hey, how are you?

[Planet Earth speaks]

CD: Yes, I thought so. It’s almost like a new habit now? Giving us a call for stories…

[Planet Earth speaks]

CD: No I like it, especially if it cheers you up. Who better than you could we have in our audience, right?

EM: Oh, there we go…

CD: Ok, I’ve got my folder ready, but before we start, I had one question for you related to the story today. I mean maybe this is a little bit intimate so you don’t have to answer, but I was wondering what you feel at the surface, on your skin…

[Planet Earth speaks]

CD: I suppose you don’t really feel humans and animals walking on the ground for instance – I mean, we’re too small. Right?

[Planet Earth speaks]

CD: Hm. Yeah, I always wondered, are volcano eruptions happening when you’re angry?

[Planet Earth speaks]

CD: Ah, not really…Mh, it’s more complicated than this… Yeah, sorry I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable.

[Planet Earth speaks]

CD: No I was wondering if you feel human activity because today I have a story about mining. About coal mining to be specific.

[Planet Earth speaks]

CD: Ah, mining is painful. Right? Yeah I can imagine. We’ll you’re going to like this story then.

So, our hero today is an old woman called Wendy Bowman.

[Audio Clip]

Wendy Bowman: My name is Wendy Bowman, I live in a place called Rosedale.”

CD: She’s 83 years old, which is quite young from your perspective, but quite old for a human being as you may know. But don’t get me wrong, she is still strong and physically active. She is actually a farmer, and her land is in Hunter Valley, a beautiful landscape in New South Wales in Australia.

In this place of the world, they found a lot of coal. There are 40 open pit coal mines in the region. And as you know, we humans are ready to do whatever it takes to produce energy,

[Planet Earth speaks]

CD: Why? Well, because this way we can go faster, and do more.

[Planet Earth speaks]

CD: No, I don’t know why really…um, probably because we like to feel more powerful than the neighbour.

[Planet Earth speaks]

CD: No, we don’t really need coal to be happy, that’s right. I guess…I guess it’s complicated. One thing for sure is that Wendy didn’t need coal to be happy.

[Audio Clip]

Wendy Bowman: Well it’s been a very difficult thirty years.

CD: Just to clarify, if you have a coal mine nearby, you hear these kind of sounds, 24/7…

[Loud Mining Sounds]

[Audio Clip]

Wendy Bowman: The dust and the noise all day, all night. It never stops.

CD: You start making these kind of sounds…[Sound of person coughing]. You lose your lung capacity, people get asthma… The ground water gets polluted, and the dust flying around is polluting the ecosystem as well.

[Audio Clip]

Wendy Bowman: We suddenly heard that there were so many people with cancer in this area.

CD: The list goes on and on and on. It’s really terrible.

Wendy had been displaced  already once. She had a farm where the cattle wouldn’t even eat the feed anymore and the water was contaminated with heavy metals. It took four years for the the mining company to finally compensate her so she could relocate her farm. Until a few years later when the Chinese company Yancoal started pushing to open a new mine near her new farm. At this point, 50% of the coal reserve was situated on land she owned.

[Audio Clip]

Wendy Bowman: Yancoal have got a very bad reputation for things going wrong at all their different mines, and I just think it’s appalling that the government has allowed the mines to come here and rape our land.

CD: You could see a lot of anger accumulating behind her blue eyes. But this time, she decided to take on the fight.

[Audio Clip]

Wendy Bowman: It’s just brought it all back again, and I just think I’ve had enough. You don’t dig up alluvial soils because they cannot be replaced. That is what the experts say.

CD: Communities have been impacted for too long and accepting the financial compensations offered by the mining company was just not the right thing to do.

The situation had become completely unacceptable.

CD: So here is what she did – and by the way that’s kind of a standard roadmap in that type of situation:

  • First, she focused on getting the legal help – and that was very difficult as you can imagine.
  • She empowered other local leaders and started to organise her community. I love this: she organised her community.
  • They also started puling independent experts into the affair to address the issues of water, air, even aborigenal heritage.

And as you can imagine, it was an intense effort. It was hard. A lot of concerns come up when you start fighting those power structures.

A few months later came the verdict: The decision from the land and environmental court was unanimous. The mining company could proceed only if Wendy Bowman would accept to sell her land to them.
Guess what. She said no, of course. So Yancoal, the mining company, went to the Court of Appeal, because they were p*ssed off. And at the Court of Appeal: still a unanimous decision. So Wendy won.
Yep: right now, when the mining company looks at the geological map of the region and visualise all the money they could make from here, the name of Wendy Bowman is haunting them.
And you know what? I am sure that a number of people in the mining industry secretly admire Wendy, and they wished they had as much integrity, courage and resourcefulness as this woman. And I would say: it’s never too late guys, you can switch to a career in renewables right now, and start doing the right thing!

[Audio Clip]

Wendy Bowman: Here we are in Australia with probably as much sunshine and wind as anywhere else in the world. Why not have solar?

CD: Wendy recently won the Goldman Environmental Prize. That is a nice recognition in the world of change makers. And that’s it for today!

[Planet Earth speaks]

CD: Yeah, no I love this story, I think it’s a great one. Because it shows there is no age to become an environmental leader. There is no age to stand up, to fight the interests of large corporations, to be an inspiration for the world. No, I like it a lot. And you know, you can see Wendy on our Instagram – as usually, we post pictures with some information about the people we talk about. And links on the episode page as well. Our website is

[Planet Earth speaks]

CD: And yeah, I don’t like mining either, but… it’s complicated. I guess we’re not done talking about this… Is there anything that you like feeling at your surface? Some kind of human activity, or weather phenomena, or…?

[Planet Earth speaks]

CD: Wind? Oh you like wind…? Ah, you know that I come from the windiest region in my country…

EM: Okay…let’s…let’s leave it there…

CD: I like wind too, yeah… Well maybe you can come visit one day….


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