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Meeting an Australian of the Year

Beata works as a qualified primary school teacher, a councillor for drug and alcohol addiction and a farm caretaker for organic olive grow.

The water was clear and the horizon blue as I clung to my bodyboard.

A perfect wave rolled toward me and as I swung on top of it.

A perfect wave rolled toward me and as I swung on top of it.

I noticed a man pass me on his surfboard.

The thrill of the fast ride felt as though it would never end but soon enough, we both stumbled onto the shore, exhilarated and laughing.

As he brushed sand from his wetsuit, I caught up to him, placing my short board under my arm. “Excuse me, but you seem familiar. This is my first day here.”

He looked up to point at the dark clouds gathering above our heads. “The weather's always unpredictable here in Tasmania, even in summer.” He stretched out his hand. “My name's Craig.”

“Anne,” I said as I shook it. I felt a little foolish saying: “Sorry, it's just writer’s instinct, but you remind me of a character from my next novel. It's about the sea.”

“Do I?” He chuckled, pointing at the beach cafe on top of a dune. “I usually have breakfast there. You're welcome to join me if you like?"

"I grew up here on this beach,” he nodded toward the waves in the distance as he bit into his bruschetta, with salmon and lettuce. I sipped on a coffee as I marvelled at the surrounding hills, dotted with houses along the bay.

“So you're a writer?” He turned to me quizzically.

I shook my head, laughing.

“It's just a hobby. What about you?”

“It's just a hobby. What about you?”

He shrugged as an old surfer with a white beard passed us, winking at Craig.

“Good on you mate! Winning the Australian of the Year award. You make us proud.”

I pressed a hand over my mouth, remembering his photo in the newspaper. “You're that famous film-maker! I watched your documentary on youtube, about ocean pollution.”

He smiled half heartedly, obviously uncomfortable with the fuss, turning his gaze back to the ocean. The storm clouds made the water dark, glistening like spilled oil. “I spent my childhood around the rock pools down there. You know, when the tide's out, animals survive together by relying on each other. After my years at university, I came back to find the rock pools empty of animals but full of empty plastic bags and bottle tops.”

“The documentary was called A Plastic Ocean in 2017. Was that your first, Craig?” I looked at him with open admiration. “I've been writing for years but I've had no success with publishing.”

He picked up his coffee mug, turning toward me. “Never give up. It took eight years to make that documentary. Throughout those years, there was zero interest in it from producers. They warned me that audiences aren't interested in pollution.”

“It must feel good now, knowing that your time, effort and money was justified.” I sighed, patting the laptop in my backpack.

Watching me, he asked: “Why do you write?”

I was taken aback by the question. “I'm writing to find things out, but I write for pleasure. Just like body surfing, when the sentences roll the right way, time just stops.”

He nodded. “I've just finished my second documentary, The Last Glacier.

I had to learn to climb mountains and glaciers as well as paragliding in the Alps.”

I had to learn to climb mountains and glaciers as well as paragliding in the Alps.”

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I clapped my hands. “Wow! Lucky you! That must have been lots of fun.”

He shook his head. “Not if you're scared of heights like I am. I get giddy looking down from a high rise balcony! But it was the only way I could document the death of the glaciers.”

“It must feel very special to be on top of a six thousand metre mountain peak.” I said, dreamily.

He sighed. “It's difficult to get there, but when you do, you look around at the receding glacier to see that it's lost much of it's volume. It's all grey instead of the white that you expect to see in the middle of winter. It's heart breaking.”

“Did you lose your fear of heights, after climbing?” I asked, curious.

He shook his head. “The professionals who taught me to climb also have a fear of heights. They taught me that you don't lose the fear but that you can overcome it by problem solving. For me personally, I focussed on getting off the ledge. I realised that if I worried too much about falling, I might indeed fall. Instead, I think about solutions to avoid catastrophes. It's the same with climate change - we can't stop it, but there are solutions that already exist that we can use to help.”

I nodded, finishing my coffee.

“My children are more aware of what's happening to our planet. "

“My children are more aware of what's happening to our planet. "

"My son told me that if we don't fix the climate change problem...

life support systems around the world will continue to collapse and that he won't have a future.”

Craig smiled at me across the table. “Children have no filters. They ask questions that force us to think more deeply about issues that we haven't considered much before. They know that the ultimate legacy that we leave them is not how much money we have in the bank, but how we leave our planet for the next generation. We all want to leave it better than we found it, but sadly that's not the case anymore… My son has a poster stuck to his door, saying 'There's no business on a dead planet'.”

I nodded. We both looked toward the bay where we'd surfed the waves just an hour ago. The water was black and the horizon was lost in fog.

We stood up simultaneously, and he shook my hand in farewell. “We all have a responsibility to document what's happening around us, in the best way we can.”

“I'm writing a story about a scientist who for decades, took samples of different depths from glaciers around the world. He collected frozen bubbles in which the atmosphere had been trapped for million of years of ice ages. He decided to travel around the world to present his findings to audiences, showing historical gasses in atmospheres throughout eight ice ages, as our planet heated and cooled. Glaciers formed and went, until a hundred and sixty years ago when it all changed with the burning of fossil fuels. All that's left in the bubbles from our time are green house gasses. But no one was willing to listen to the scientist, calling him a madman. He destroyed his collection of a hundred frozen bubbles that he'd spent his lifetime collecting and researching. He disappeared in Antarctica, never to be seen again. He lost his faith in humankind.”

“What a great story!”

Craig smiled at me broadly, but I shook my head.

Craig smiled at me broadly, but I shook my head.

“I wanted to write it simply, in a way that anyone from eight to eighty could understand...

But I've been told that no publisher will publish it. There's no interest for it.”

“Who do you write for?” Craig asked me.

I shrugged. “I write for myself. I can't write for anyone else but myself.

“The right answer! And what do you mostly like to write about?” He looked in my eyes intently.

I answered quickly. “Things come to me out of the blue. Scary and tragic things that happen unexpectedly. It comes from my fear of something happening to one person, and rippling to all the people around me and the community, affecting all of humanity.”

He smiled at me sadly before he turned his back on me to leave. “It happens to all of us. That fear, the intensity of the moment. Like the ocean, where it's just you and the water. You try to catch the perfect wave to enjoy a ride but sometimes you're dumped on the sand, stranded there while the water recedes, left alone there in the rock pool, waiting for the end."

I believe strong climate leadership means replacing burning coal and gas ...

with 100% clean, renewable energy this decade and I will vote accordingly.

with 100% clean, renewable energy this decade and I will vote accordingly.

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