Award-winning Hunter Valley environmentalist and farmer Wendy Bowman dies aged 89

Award-winning Hunter Valley environmentalist and farmer Wendy Bowman dies aged 89


ABC Upper Hunter

By Cecilia Connell and Amelia Bernasconi

Posted 01/08/2023 at 2:19pm, updated 02/08/2023.

Featured Image: Hunter Valley farmer and environmentalist Wendy Bowman has passed away. (ABC Upper Hunter: Cecilia Connell)

Author’s note: Wendy Bowman is my spouse Sarah’s first cousin. He co-conspirator in the original Mine Watch lobby group was my good friend and professional colleague, Muswellbrook veterinarian Gavin Gidley-Baird.

An unwavering environmentalist and farmer who stopped a multi-million-dollar mine expansion in the coal-rich Hunter Valley is being remembered for her legacy.

Key points:

  • Environmentalist Wendy Bowman has passed away, aged 89.
  • The mother-of-three spent more than 30 years fighting local coal mines.
  • She’s being remembered as “deeply passionate” and “irreplaceable”.

For more than three decades, Camberwell cattle producer Wendy Bowman fought to protect the region’s rich alluvial soils and waterways from encroaching open-cut mining.

The 89-year-old passed away on Wednesday, July 26, 2023, after being diagnosed with cancer.

The mother-of-three has been described as a “beacon” of the community who inspired those around her.

Close friend Georgina Woods, from the Lock the Gate Alliance, remembered Ms Bowman’s “staunch dedication”.

“I shared cups of tea with her, got advice from her and a great deal of inspiration,” Ms Woods said.

“She was deeply passionate but not radical. What she wanted for the Hunter was so reasonable and clear.

“She has a long family history in the Hunter region and took very seriously her position as a matriarch of both farming and also the stand against open-cut coal mining.

“[She was] a unique and irreplaceable warrior for the Hunter Valley, its beauty, its productivity and its future.”

Wendy Bowman was the first Australian in almost 15 years to win the Goldman Environmental Prize. (Supplied: Goldman Environmental Prize)

The woman who stood in the way

For more than a decade the tiny village of Camberwell faced the prospect of being consumed by Yancoal’s proposed Ashton Southeast Open Cut coal mine extension.

After a long-running court battle, Ms Bowman gained unique power to either sell her property and make way for the expansion or hold onto her land and stop it from going ahead.

She stood firm and in 2022, the mine’s approval officially lapsed.

In 2017, Ms Bowman was bestowed the Goldman Environmental Prize, a prestigious international accolade awarded to the likes of former Greens leader Bob Brown.

“[She] became a symbol for many around the world that one person can hold fast against the multinational mining industry and protect what they value,” Ms Woods said.

Decades of advocacy

Ms Bowman established the lobby group Mine Watch NSW in 1990 after open-cut mines began to develop across the Hunter Valley and landholders did not know their rights.

In the following decades she was a significant activist for farmers and a voice for environmental concerns across the region.

An award-winning artwork of Wendy Bowman, painted by Murrurundi artist David Darcy.(Supplied: David Darcy)

Lawyer Elaine Johnson said Ms Bowman was one of her first clients when she joined the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) 12 years ago.

“She was a close friend of the EDO and of many of our staff … We’re going to miss her immensely,” Ms Johnson said.

“The legacy that she leaves behind is the principle that communities can fight for environmental justice and that they can win those fights with the support of each other.

“She was someone who was able to communicate with young and old, with First Nations communities, with government — she just had an incredible ability to communicate her position clearly.”

NSW Minerals Council chief executive Stephen Galilee said Ms Bowman had been a highly respected advocate for the Upper Hunter community.

“Over the years she was a forthright advocate on issues around air quality and land use,” he said.

“Wendy eventually became an active and highly valued member of the Upper Hunter Mining Dialogue, helping to drive projects on air and water quality monitoring and mining rehabilitation for use in cattle grazing.

“Her contribution should be celebrated, and we know she will be sorely missed by the Upper Hunter community.”

Ms Bowman’s tenacity was also captured by artist David Darcy, who won the 2020 People’s Choice Award for the National Portrait Gallery’s inaugural Darling Portrait Prize with a painting of her.

A memorial service will be held at the Singleton Uniting Church on Thursday, August 10, from 12pm.