By Jimi Wollumbin, CEO, OHO

This week I volunteered on an urgent local environmental project for a day – the Gasfield Free Northern Rivers blockade at Bentley. It required me to put my time where my mouth is and clear my schedule for a day. As my finger hovered over the ‘send’ button on the text that would cancel appointments with nine separate people I came face to face with my own value system in a way that I haven’t had to do for a while. Yes, this was an issue that is dear to my heart; yes, I had promised my tear-stained 6-year old son that when the time came I would do whatever it took to protect “mother-earth”; yes, I could make this happen with the flick of a text – so why the struggle? In that vulnerable moment with my iPhone I discovered that a deep part of me was still afraid of trying and failing.

Protectors at Bentley Blockade

Upon arriving at the site I was greeted by a collection of some 2,000 people who were not afraid of trying. The feeling in the air was ineffable – a heady mix of community spirit, peaceful celebration and unflinching conviction. My eyes brimmed with tears as I entered the makeshift campsite and was directed by a team of volunteers pitching in wherever they were needed; farmers, eco-warriors, mothers, white collar workers, teenage school students and tradies – all working side by side. The sense of common purpose was all embracing and inescapable, and with it came a steady rising tide of hope.

After checking in with a senior campaign organiser I was directed to ‘buddy’ with one of the  volunteers at the front line. My job-description was simple: to keep them company, bring them food and water and bolster their spirits whenever needed. Eight hours later when my shift had finished I left the main gate in what can only be described as an altered state. For although I have been fortunate enough to volunteer on a wide variety of community initiatives across the globe, the combination of a very acute sense of urgency and the sheer breadth of my own local community represented provided me with one of the most powerful examples of the power of people to effect positive social change that I have experienced to date.

Later when I reflected upon this I came up with the following formulation that neatly summarised what I had experienced at Bentley:

“Change = Hope galvanised into action”