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Celebrating our Local Heroes

By Jenny Davies, WATCH (Wodonga & Albury Towards Climate Health)

In 1990 I moved to NE Victoria with my husband. We bought a great block of land in Bethanga overlooking the mountains and Lake Hume and built a passive solar house, powered by off-grid solar panels. The locals thought we were mad but, 20 years on, the current owners recently installed grid-connected solar and this doesn’t appear radical anymore. I became involved in the local Landcare group and taught kids about passive solar design and renewable energy at one of the local schools.

In the early 1990s I attended a permaculture course run by Vries Gravestein at his property near Mt Pilot where he lived with his wife June. Not only did Vries introduce me to the principles of permaculture but also to other like-minded people. One was Rob Fenton who has gone on to do great things at the National Environment Centre in Thurgoona. Those of you who have been on a tour of the NEC’s organic farm with Rob will appreciate his knowledge, passion and enthusiasm towards sustainable farming practices.

Another important person I met on that course was Betty Carrasco. Anyone involved with things environmental in Albury Wodonga would have known Betty. During her retirement, she was a passionate advocate for the environment and was involved with so many groups that you rapidly ran out of fingers when trying to list them all. She built a passive solar house in Thurgoona and added solar panels and a water tank before most people had thought of them. Her garden was productive and she willingly shared her knowledge and produce. Tragically Betty was killed in a road accident seven years ago on September 6th 2004. Her untimely death sent a wave of sorrow through the local environmental community and beyond.

Betty’s commitment to the planet and her desire to ‘live lightly’ has inspired many of us to take up the cause and keep working to achieve her vision for sustainable living. Vries worked tirelessly for many years and influenced a whole generation of ‘permies’. He is now living in Pambula and will soon be recognised in a new book about permaculture visionaries.

Living Lightly has showcased many wonderful sustainability initiatives in the region. Betty would have been delighted!  On the first anniversary of this column, let’s also celebrate and acknowledge those leaders among us who give us hope and inspiration and who push forward, at times against the odds.