Protect Our Winters Australia is excited to present POWcast, our very own podcast channel where we discuss our love of the mountains and our shared journey to protect them.

In these fascinating discussions we chat to the people who bind our mountain culture together, weaving stories of adventure, environment and community into a yarn of passion and purpose.

The POWcast keeps you up to speed with the issues facing these wild and fragile places and stories celebrating the landscape and lifestyle we are fighting to preserve.

Episodes will be published monthly until the end of the winter season on Spotify and Youtube.

Episode 1: People Power in the Mountains

Episode 1 of the POWcast is online now and features environmental campaigner, champion of the snowsports community and self-described mountain enthusiast, Cam Walker.

Cam has volunteered at Friends of the Earth Melbourne for over 30 years, and has been exploring the Australian backcountry for even longer. He has been a driving force behind the ban of native forest logging and fracking in Victoria, and fought with the CFA during the 2019-2020 Black Summer fire season. Cam is also the founder of the Victorian Backcountry Festival and creator of Mountain Journal.

In this episode, we discuss how Cam’s adventures in the Australian mountains and across the globe have fuelled his passion to fight to protect these environments. We talk bushfires and how to address them in a changing climate, Cam’s work with Friends of the Earth to ban native forest logging and fracking. We discuss the importance of community in these issues, reaching across the political divide to fight for what we love, as well as Cam’s involvement in establishing the Victorian Backcountry Festival.

We also chat about recognising our First Peoples in the mountains, and our hosts tell us how we, as individuals, can get involved in protecting our snow gum forests and meeting the challenge of increased bushfires under climate change.

Listen on Youtube:

Listen on Spotify:

POWcast Episode 1 Transcript

Sam Quirke: This podcast was recorded on the lands of the Gunai Kurnai people in Dargo High Plains and the Wurundjeri people in Melbourne.

James Worsfold: Welcome to the POWcast, a podcast from Protect Our Winters Australia, where we chat with folks about their love of winter and our shared journey to protect it. I’m your co host today, James Worsfold, and we’ll be hearing from legendary environmentalist and friend of Pow, Cam Walker.
But first, I’ll introduce our co host, lead advocate of POW Australia, Sam Quirke.

Sam Quirke: Hey James, how you going?

James Worsfold: I am doing great, good to be with you Sam.

Sam Quirke: Good to see you too. So, um, if you haven’t heard of us before or don’t know who we are, we are Protect Our Winters or POW. Um, our mission is to help our outdoor community protect the integrity of Australia’s unique alpine environment and our lifestyle from climate change.

And what that looks like in practice is us, a bunch of volunteers, uh, trying to bring together our very passionate community who enjoy winter in a range of different ways and engage them in climate action and to enable them and enable us as a community to be an outsized voice in climate action.
Because a lot, um, of what we all really love to do, many of us, is highly impacted by climate change. So that’s what we’re here to do and, um, we’re on a mission to protect our winters.

James Worsfold: Yeah, you’re right. We do have a very passionate community. Of people who use the mountains for various means and just brought together by their shared love of, of place and, and the things that they can do up there. And over the course of this podcast series, we’ll be chatting to a range of people who do a range of wonderful things and chatting about our need to protect this beautiful and fragile space.

Sam Quirke: All right, James, let’s get started. Who are we going to be hearing from today?

James Worsfold: Well, Sam, I’ll start off by setting the scene. So, the other day, I was walking in the high country with a bunch of mountain enthusiasts in a region just south of Mount Hotham, and this was part of a campaign organised by Friends of the Earth in partnership with some local mountain graziers. Now, this campaign had gone on for a few years, and it was to protect a nearby section of forest that had been unburnt.

Now, it’s quite rare to see unburnt forests in the mountains these days, as bushfires are becoming all the more common. Older forests are very, very important because they’re very resilient to bushfires. Their canopies are higher up, which means it’s harder for the fires to reach the crowns of the trees.
And as the forests get older, they tend to thin out a bit, giving the fire less fuel, which is also an absolute delight to walk through. So, I was walking through this forest, learning about the importance of protecting this precious land, uh, led by the one and only Cam Walker, who was at the centre of this campaign.
Now, I’ll think I’ll let Cam introduce himself.

Cam Walker: So, Cam is my name. Been a skier all my life since I was 14. Into telemark skiing, mostly backcountry, bit of resort, climber. I, I describe myself as a mountain enthusiast. So, all things mountain related I really enjoy, and an activist with Friends of the Earth.

James Worsfold: So there are a lot of things to unpack there.
I guess we will start with skiing. Telemark skiing and backcountry skiing. Because nowadays, I guess we’re going through a bit of a boom in backcountry skiing. But I assume when you started it was a bit more of a fringe movement. Could you tell me how you got into it and what the scene.

Cam Walker: was like back then?
So it was really an extension from bushwalking. So, you know, we had those classic old skinny cross country skis with horrible leather boots that, you know, gave you no power to turn. Um, so everyone was into cross country skiing in those days and then there was just the development in the technology.
which kind of led to the concept of backcountry skiing, which was, you know, skiing steep stuff but on touring gear. Uh, telemark gear was always kind of set up for that, but nowadays of course we have alpine touring gear and we have split boards and so everyone can get out there and uh, be able to do that.

But it was a slow progression and there was just a point in my life where I got, you know, plastic boots, which was pretty amazing because you ski 30 percent better, uh, on leather boots without learning any extra skills and heavier skis so you can break through stuff more and better edging and you know better binding so you’ve got a little bit more power on the turn and yeah bit by bit got more into you know skiing bigger stuff in the backcountry and then more and more time in the resort.

James Worsfold: Where have been your favourite places to ski in the Australian backcountry?

Cam Walker: When Tasmania goes off, it completely goes off. And more and more under climate change, it doesn’t even have a snowpack in winter anymore. You know, it’s just, you get a big downfall and it’s there for a few days and it’s gone. When it goes off, it’s phenomenal for backcountry skiing, the Mt. Field area, the um, area in through the labyrinth in Cradle Mountain National Park, and uh, Ben Lomond, you know, there’s some incredible stuff, there’s couloirs, there’s slopes, there’s amazing skiing, and uh, you know, no one really knows about it because it’s, it’s, it’s so rare, it can be only, you know, in condition sometimes for a couple of days in the year.

I like all the regular places. So the main range and the Razorback and the Bogong High Plains and Mount Bogong. Um, I guess my favourite destination is that range of mountains that goes, it’s in the Mount Buller area in Victoria, uh, from the bluff across to Mount Howard. And that’s, you know, just spectacular, remote, uh, incredible backcountry, you know, big skiing, and also you feel incredibly remote.

James Worsfold: You touched on there, that’s. A lot of these places aren’t getting enough snowpack anymore. What changes have you seen since you started skiing the mountains and how have the, the mountains changed in that, in that time?

Cam Walker: The problem of course that we face is we have what’s called shifting baseline syndrome. So we look out the window and we think what we can see is what’s always been. So you’ve always got to be a bit cautious about anecdotes, you know. But my experience, of course, is that we, you know, opening weekends, often you don’t ski anymore, you know, it’s a party weekend, it’s not a skiing weekend, you know, our experience is that, you know, the seasons are shorter and they’re more erratic, but if you look at the data that’s been borne out by the data, we all know about that. The Spencer’s Creek data in the Snowy Mountains, which is a really important kind of central piece of information around, um, how the snowpack is faring. And we know that in Australia, snowpack has been in decline since 1957. And we know that that’s due to human induced climate change. And we also know that the impacts of that are being felt lower down.

And so I was recently reading that up on the Buffalo Plateau in Victoria, people used to go up there in the 1920s and 30s to ice skate at Lake Kittany, and the last time anyone could skate on it was about 1973, so those lower elevation areas, Mount Selwyn in New South Wales, Lake Mountain in Victoria to a degree, Baw Baw, certainly Donabue Ang, they’re now done, you know, as ski locations. And it’s pretty amazing that, you know, that has happened in our lifetime, that it’s gone from, you could ski everywhere, you know, in the mountains through a long winter, and now the lower elevations are already gone and the snowpack in the higher elevations is increasingly erratic.

James Worsfold: So you were one of the founding members of Protect Our Winters Australia. Why did POW need a presence in the Australian mountains?

Cam Walker: I’m always puzzled by the outdoor, the skiing and the riding, you know, community. Um, anyone that’s paying attention can see what’s going on, and to me it’s obvious that Climate change is impacting on what we love and for many of us it’s impacting on our jobs as well and our economic security.
We know how much money the snow and the skateboarding industry brings to Australia. We know how many tens of thousands of jobs it brings to regional Australia. We are a really important sector of the Australian economy, certainly the tourism economy. And you know, there’s many conservation groups that represent different sectors.

There’s trail runners, there’s mountain bikers and all the rest of it. And there’s even surfers for climate. And it just seemed logical that there’d be skiers and riders for climate. And that’s where POW came in. And of course, you know, anyone who Admires backcountry riding, knows Jeremy Jones, who was the founder and, you know, he’s been a huge inspiration to many people and just seemed logical to create a PAL branch here in Australia.

James Worsfold: Now, it’s not just the snowpack that’s changing. We’re seeing lots of other changes to our mountains, including our forests. Since colonisation or generally in the past few hundred years, how have Australia’s mountain forests changed?

Cam Walker: They’ve absolutely changed on a profound level. And that’s, uh, apart from the snowpack, we’re witnessing much more intense and much more frequent wildfire. And what that is doing is transforming the vegetation of the mountains. So if you come out of the valley areas, if you drive in from Jindabyne, if you drive up from Mount Beauty, drive up from Mansfield. You go up into the mountains, you go through what’s called the mixed species forest, then you get into the mountain, uh, into the alpine ash, or in some instances the mountain ash, and then you get into the snow gum, and then you get into the true alpine zone.

And the fires are impacting on the alpine ash, the mountain ash, and the snow gum in a way that’s causing them to collapse. So here in Victoria. After all the fires we’ve had recently, the alpine ash, there’s more than 140, 000 hectares of alpine ash forests. If it gets burnt again, it will collapse, it will stop existing, and it will be replaced by grass and scrub.

So we’re experiencing ecological collapse of both snow gums and alpine ash, and that’s directly because even though their fire adapts. They don’t mind a burn,, um, they just don’t need a burn very often and what’s happening is the interval between the fires is becoming so short that the forests can’t adapt and they’re starting to collapse and basically we’re witnessing a transformation of landscapes from what they looked like to what they are now which is, you know, grey dead trunks and really flammable regrowth.

James Worsfold: So you’re saying the interval between fires as is, is decreasing and fires have been part of the Australian landscape for a long time. But they are becoming more and more frequent. Why is this? Is it, is it climate change? Are there other factors at play?

Cam Walker: It’s primarily climate change, so it is certainly around how we manage our forests. And so, as we know, with colonisation, Aboriginal land practices in the southeast were basically extinguished. So we lost cultural burning. We lost a lot of practical land management. You know, when you come up into the mountains and there’s such beautiful places, you kind of think of them as wilderness, whereas they were never really wilderness, you know, they were peopled landscapes and people lived lightly in those landscapes, but they did actually manage those landscapes primarily through fire and other things. And as cultural burning was removed, you know, it started to impact on how the forests existed. And there’s a great researcher called Phil Zylstra from Curtin University and he’s done a lot of work that shows that if you get a fire through a snow gum forest, it becomes very flammable because that triggers a whole lot of fresh regrowth. They’re very flammable for a set of years, but over time the forests become less flammable. Whereas what’s happening is we’re getting more and more fires, which means you get more and more frequent seed growth. produces seedlings that then become flammable, that then when it burns the whole forest dies. So it’s just getting stuck in this cycle of fire, the trees recover a bit, another fire, it kills off those trees, they throw a bit of seedlings, another fire, the seedlings are dead, and then there’s nothing left. And we are finding that there are sections of the Victorian High Country that have been burnt three or four and even five times in the last 30 years and that’s beyond their capacity to recover.

So we’re now starting to witness on a really broad scale the loss of snow gums out of the landscape and at best what you’re seeing is dead old trunks with low levels of, you know, really scrubby regrowth and that regrowth is very flammable and it’s not the old open forest that, you know, our parents and grandparents would have known.

James Worsfold: So our forests are being affected by fire. Is there a way that we can mitigate this? That we, any practical solutions that we can implement to counteract these, these threats?

Cam Walker: Yeah, there is. And of course the first thing we’ve got to do is stop global warming. You know, we’ve got to stop contributing to further climate change.

So that’s always the main game, and that’s true of bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef or, you know, all the issues around the planet. That is the solution. In terms of how we manage the forests, there’s two things we need to do. One is, uh, we need to keep fire out of these forests as they recover. So they’re fire adapted ecosystems, but they don’t like too frequent fire and they will sort themselves out over time. So our job is to keep fire out of the snow gum woodlands and fire out of the alpine ash as they recover. And if we’re going to do that, what that means is we need a lot more firefighting capacity. And in particular, what we need is first strike capacity.

So people who can get into remote areas. When a lightning strike has hit a tree, the fire is, you know, a couple of meters across, you can knock it off with a rake hoe and a little bit of work. We need a lot more people who are willing and able to do that work. And one of the campaigns we’ve been running is to get a volunteer remote area firefighting team. We have professionals who do this work, but there’s actually only a few crews of them in Victoria. There’s a great need to have more people who can get out there quickly into the bush, who are skilled in dry firefighting, who know what to do, who can get in and out safely and put these fires out before they turn into blazes.

James Worsfold: You work at the CFA and you were part of fighting the fires around Dinner Plain in 2019, 2020. Could you tell us about that experience?

Cam Walker: So, at that time, we had, uh, around New Year’s Eve on 2019, so coming into early 2020, there was a dry lightning storm that came across the Australian Alps. I was on Mount Stirling at the time, and by the time we walked up to the summit, you could see fire smoke columns in every direction.
You know, there were hundreds and hundreds of lightning strikes. Very quickly, FFMV, which is the state paid firefighters, were in there. They were trying to put those fires out. Then I went up to Mount Hotham and it was the same there. We had a couple of lightning strikes near the village and a couple on the east side as well. But there just weren’t enough teams. So these little fires were sitting there, just kind of doing not very much for a couple of days. burning, kind of trickling through the bush, waiting for something to happen. And that was weather. So when wind came, as you know, you know, if you’ve got a little campfire, it can sit there if the air is still, but if the air is windy, it will, you know, get up and make a run for it.

And that’s what happened. So we had crews that were in there, they were doing a really good job, but there weren’t enough of them. Near us there were two lightning strikes near an area called Mount Tabletop and there were some strikes down near the Victoria River, the upper Victoria River. The FFMV people weren’t able to get on top of them. They turned into bigger blazes. They then came, uh, to the Dinner Plane Village. The fire became so hot because it burnt through regrowth snow gum forest, it became of such an intensity that it was deemed by the organisation that we couldn’t safely fight those fires, we were forced to evacuate.

Luckily there was a wind change and their village wasn’t burnt, so that was just sheer luck. The second time the fire came back, luckily there was a large air tanker they were able to divert, which laid down a really perfect line of fire retardant, um, as the fire burnt more slowly down a slope towards the village.
So, one was, well both times really it was luck, is how we managed to save the village. But that fire then went on to burn well over 40, 000 hectares of land and threatened a whole bunch of farming country and a whole bunch of really important mountain country. So you know, I guess the lesson in this was we need more people who can knock off those fires initially after they’ve started and they’re literally only a smouldering stump before they turn into a blaze.

James Worsfold: Hang on, Sam. We’re Protect Our Winters? Why are we talking about fire?

Sam Quirke: So at Protect Our Winters Australia, we are an environmental protection group first. We all experience winter in different ways. Many of us, or say the majority, experience winter through skiing and snowboarding, backcountry skiing on snow. We’re an environmental group first and foremost, and climate change is impacting the environment that we love, the Australian Alps, just in the way that Cam explained there. So climate change increases the intensity and the frequency of fire events. So this is something that we can do, uh, we can support, uh, to protect the environment that we love to ski in.
We love to hike in and we love to be in because it needs to be protected. The alpine ash and the snow gums are beautiful and unique and It’s Australian and we are so lucky to be able to ski and snowboard in this country. We need to protect it.

James Worsfold: Yeah. Australia might not have the best snow or the biggest mountains, but skiing amongst the snow gums is pretty special. But what can I do to protect these places? What can the listeners do to get involved and protect the bush that they love?

Sam Quirke: So as Cam was speaking about the need for a remote firefighting capacity, so we as Protect Our Winters Australia have signed a petition to the Victorian government to investigate this and support this and put the funding that is desperately needed behind rural firefighting in Victoria and just generally speaking more widely throughout the country. But you as an individual, what you can do is you’ll find in the show notes a link to this petition as well. So you can sign to that, that petition and let the government know that this is something that we need. This is that you care about the environment, uh, that we all love and that this is one way that we can help protect it.

James Worsfold: Yeah, especially considering, according to the latest Victorian climate science report, if climate change keeps progressing the way it is, annual number of high fire danger days will increase by over 60 percent by 2050. That’s a lot, and our firefighting resources are stretched enough as it is. Imagine how it would be in a decade or two decades time. And since the Black Summer fires, the CFA has lost almost 2,000 volunteers. We really need to up our capacity. So to allow people living in urban areas to come and, and join in and protect the places that they love. I think that’s really important.

Um, let’s switch track a little bit and talk about, uh, another challenge that our forests are facing. So people have been using, um, Uh, the mountain trees for timber for tens of thousands of years and at the moment we’re sitting in this settlement made of uh, alpine ash and we even saw skis made from alpine ash.
Why can’t we keep using native trees for logging for our timber? Why, why does that need to stop?

Cam Walker: For a very long time I supported the idea of small volume, high value added native forest logging. You know, the concept that you could go into a forest, perhaps as they do in Japan, select a few trees, and use that timber to its highest possible use. You know, furniture or appearance grade timber or, you know, whatever. Um, But that’s not how our system works here. Basically they log forests for pulp primarily. The bulk of the timber that’s taken out of our native forest goes as pulp and in the 21st century it is insane that we’re cutting down 80 or 100 year old trees to make single use paper.

It just does not make sense. Um, the other thing I think is that, um, it comes at a really great cost to the taxpayer because we are paying, uh, in effect a subsidy to Harvest our forests and when these forests regrow, often there is failure in regeneration and that’s been very well documented across the higher country in Victoria.

And if they do recover, they become very flammable for the first 30 or 40 years. So as a system, it just didn’t make sense. We need to move to a system that’s got a much more ecological approach to forestry. It’ll be a mix of plantation. and farm forestry, agroforestry, mixed species, you know, grown on previous cleared land. That’s really where we’ve got to go to. The native forest industry, it was a good concept, but it failed to do what it needed to do. That is to pull out a small volume of trees and treat them very well into high grade timber. Instead it went for mass volume, low value product, and that resulted in mass destruction of our mountain and foothill forests.

James Worsfold: What is the current state of native forest logging in Victoria and widely in Australia? How much further do we have to go to achieve the protection of our environments that we want to achieve?

Cam Walker: So with lack of federal government intervention, states are now moving. So Western Australia is going to phase out native forest logging.
There’s a serious conversation in New South Wales. Victoria has announced that in January 1, 2024, um, that all native forest logging in the east of the state will stop and then we’ll have to worry about the west of the state. And that’s a phenomenal breakthrough because it’s been a campaign almost for 50 years, you know.

Tens and tens of thousands of people have supported the campaign to end native forest logging and it’s actually, the day has arrived. And I think it’s a good reminder for us that that it’s not because the government woke up one day and said, Oh, let’s stop native forest logging. They were forced to do it by the community. They were, you know, taken to the courts. They had citizen scientists out in the forest. They had people having protest rallies. They had people ringing up politicians. It didn’t just happen, you know, as a gift from heaven. It happened as a result of people power and sustained people power. So I think the Victorian announcement will have a really significant impact on what happens next, both in Tasmania.

And in New South Wales, because it shows a government can actually decide to do the right thing to end native forest logging, and that it will be rewarded for it through public opinion.

James Worsfold: Let’s chat about people power. You’ve been involved with Friends of the Earth for over 30 years. Um, let’s start off by discussing how you got involved with Friends of the Earth and the conservation movements that you have been involved in.

Cam Walker: To be honest, I ended up working at Friends of the Earth because I’d just had gone overseas and had so many adventures, in Alaska particularly. I was really into mixed, uh, kind of, you know, mixed ice and rock mountaineering in those days. Came back, was completely broke, had a teaching degree, but was struggling to find teaching and managed to get a job at Friends of the Earth. So it was a little bit, um, I stumbled into it. I hadn’t been involved as a volunteer with Friends of the Earth, I’ve volunteered with lots of other groups. Um, and I just found my place, you know, I really love the politics because it’s a global network and it’s a, it’s an environmental group deeply focused on social justice as well.

So when we say, well, let’s save the trees, we also ask the question, what happens to the workers? So there’s a very deep social justice lens and there’s a very deep international lens because we do work in 70 countries. So I love the politics and it kind of feels like, you know, my political home and I’ve been lucky enough to, you know, work at the global level. I’ve worked in South America and Africa and Europe, uh, through my work with Friends the Earth, uh, lots and lots of on the ground campaigns, everything from uranium mining to sustainable cities to, you know, the, the renewable energy revolution. I guess one of my, you know, favourite campaigns was we spent six years getting a ban on fracking in Victoria.

It’s the first permanent ban on fracking in the country. Uh, it’s one of the few on the planet. It’s enshrined in the state constitution and it happened because we were able to work with a whole bunch of very diverse regional communities. And I, I think more than anything, I’ve found that people are basically good and people basically do the good thing by their communities if they get the chance.
But most people are kind of locked into the cycle of you, you got to get to work. You’ve got to do the things, you know, we are stuck, you know, in the systems that we find ourselves in. And yet when people have the chance to chip in and contribute and support their community, they will often do that. And the really exciting things that often What happened in activism is when people who are different managed to work together across their political differences.

And that’s why the Fracking Campaign was great, because it was, you know, inner city greenies working with often quite conservative rural communities and finding common cause. And that common cause was love for the places where they lived, and then building a narrative from there, building trust, building relationships, and building the ability to work together and ultimately 75 communities in regional Victoria declared themselves gas field free.
And that became so powerful that it became a state election issue and both major parties and most of the smaller parties said, well, we will support you. And they supported us not because they wanted to, but because they could say which way the wind was blowing.

They knew the people power was so intense that if they said, no, we want to drill for gas. We want to frack. We want to do all those things. It would have been an election killer for them. So it was people power that led to the ban on fracking.

James Worsfold: Now what’s often present is a dichotomy between the economy and the environment. Or people who care about jobs and people who care about our forests. When you went into these places, how did you bridge that gap? And then what opposition did you initially face?

Cam Walker: We faced a lot of cynicism at first, and in Australian culture there is cynicism about change and activism. People think, oh, why bother, the companies will always get their way. So we, we do have a kind of deep level of kind of cynicism, kind of hardwired into our society. Some cultures are really, you know, in Latin America there’s big cultures of community activism. We don’t have that. So you’ve got the inbuilt. Kind of cynicism and the lack of desire to be involved in activism. But what we did by going into communities was to be very clear that we would leave our baggage at the door. We wouldn’t talk about climate change. We wouldn’t talk about renewable energy. We would just say, does fracking concern you? And if it does, we’d start from that. And we talk about, well, why are you concerned?

And you’d find it might be about groundwater pollution. It might be about, you know, rental stress. It might be about trucks going past the local school. And it might be about air pollution. It might be around industrialization of landscapes. It might be about the fact that it will drive down the cost of farms.
And so farmers won’t be able to, you know, sell out if they need to. And we realize that In approaching that, we talked about a rope, a braid of issues, and as long as you were worried about one of those issues, there was room for you in the movement. So it was a movement that predicated on, as long as you are concerned, there’s a place for you and you need to bring your skills and your networks into that movement.

So you might be concerned about groundwater contamination, or you might be concerned about climate change. It didn’t actually matter. As long as you cared, you were part of the movement. So it was a movement predicated on the concept that none of us are as powerful as all of us. We can only do this if we work together.

We can only do this, we can only achieve this if we’re strategic. So that is, you don’t protest for the sake of protesting. You campaign around particular goals. You develop your sense of understanding around. How political change happens and we developed what we call an inside track and an outside track approach to campaigning outside track was the grassroots community power inside track was the people who are working with the politicians and the fact we had a link between community and the lobbyists meant we could be very effective and very strategic in the way we did our actions. And if you do all those things, you can actually win. And often early on in the campaign, you’d go to town meetings in, you know, rural communities and People would be like, Oh, I don’t think we can win. And you’d tell a story about how we could win, and you kind of felt a little bit like you were telling a fairy tale.

And you weren’t quite sure if you believed it yourself. But our line from the start was, if we get organised, if we work together, if we’re strategic, we can win this. And as it turned out, that was entirely true, and we did win a permanent ban on fracking in Victoria.

James Worsfold: So the debate around climate and the environment over the past decade, few decades, It has been polarised by identity politics and plagued with stagnation. So for a lot of people it’s very easy to feel helpless or apathetic about climate change or about environmental issues. So what message of hope could you have for these people who want to care but are finding it hard to?

Cam Walker: Know that you can win. You know, so wherever you are, there’s community groups that are working.

And there’s community groups that are winning, so I’m based in Victoria, but I look at Victoria. So we won the ban on fracking. We won a rebuild of the Climate Change Act. We won a Victorian Renewable Energy Target, which is driving the uptake of renewable energy. We won a commitment to phase out coal fired power stations. We won emission reduction targets that are really powerful, that are going to really ramp down our carbon emissions. And just in the last couple of months, we’ve won a ban on native forest logging in the eastern half of the state. All of those things only happened because people got, you know, off their arse, they got organized, they got together with other people and they actually, you know, achieved amazing things.

So cynicism is always, uh, you know, an easy way out, but it’s, it doesn’t deliver us anything. But action can deliver us something. And I think the thing to understand is we all bring something to that struggle and that’s why power is important because it brings in the snow sports, the winter snow sports community. And you know, they have particular skills, they have particular networks, they have particular ways to influence governments. So we need all the wheels to the, you know, sorry, all the shoulders to the wheel, uh, to achieve change. And that’s why it’s really important that all sectors get involved. And that includes the snow sports loving community.

James Worsfold: Now, for the snow sports loving community you may not know that Cam is the founder of the Vic Backcountry Festival and behind Mountain Journal, so if you’ve ever come across a, a publication sitting in a hut somewhere in the mountains, that’s Cam. Could you tell us about how you started these things and why, and why you think they’re important for the mountain communities?

Cam Walker: I really love community events and I’m heavily addicted to the hut network in Colorado. They have this not for profit hut network that allows you to ski, you know, sometimes for weeks at a time between huts, uh, in the central Rocky Mountains. And, um, you know, I was all, in my years where I’ve visited Colorado, I’ve always loved the love of mountain culture. You know, and the love of community events. And I wanted to do my bit to help replicate that here in Australia. So I created the Backcountry Festival, the first one we had in 2018. We’re into year six now, started at Falls Creek. It now lives at Mount Hotham. That’s really, it’s kind of home. It’s been really embraced by the Hotham community and it brings people together.

And I guess you know our ethos from the start was ski and ride hard, do good. So we always tried to kind of hardwire in a sense of community. We’ve really consciously sought to be very inclusive, you know, and as we know, the backcountry scene, it can be, you know, um, the old beardy guys running the show. We’ve really sought to have other voices there. We want everyone to be able to look at that community and see themselves in that community. You can’t be what you can’t see, et cetera. And it has turned into a really amazing, uh, community event. We aim to make it low cost, so it’s accessible because as we all know, skiing and riding in resort is hellishly expensive.

Backcountry is, you know, I guess a growth sector and we want to help people get into their, you know, Uh, into the back country, but in a way that’s going to be safe, uh, and we want to make sure that it’s community orientated, that it’s inclusive and that it’s safe. And so that’s kind of led us to create the festival.
And, you know, we have a couple of hundred people through the door. We have tours and workshops and speakers programs and a repair cafe. We have this fantastic skiing bar on a mountain top, you know, and we have a whole bunch of businesses involved in that. It’s a really fantastic event and we do it entirely a hundred percent volunteer and we do it out of love for the backcountry and mountain communities in general.

James Worsfold: So, I’ve heard you speak before about Indigenous use of the mountains and their current reconnection to the country up here. Could you share with us your knowledge on that topic and Why it’s important to include these people when talking about the mountains and conservation.

Cam Walker: When I started skiing and bushwalking when I was about 14, I had no idea there were Aboriginal people ever in the mountains, you know, like they’re just not part of the ethos up here. The cultural ethos is the mountain cattle person, you know, and you can go to Mount Buller and the square there.
There’s a mountain cattle person, you know, a statue of them. There’s a real deep sense of the European history of the mountains. That’s born out in lots and lots of places, the man from Snowy River and so on, but there’s just no awareness of indigenous history. Whereas there were people in the mountains.
We know from the work that was done by Gunai Kurnai man, Russell Mullet, after the, uh, 2006, seven fires in the Victorian Alps, he discovered. Tens of thousands of artifacts that demonstrated that people were living in the High Country nine months in the year. Um, it was a beautiful climate, uh, it had lots of food, you know, it was culturally really significant because of the Bogong, uh, moths in the High Country and that was a place where the different nations would travel from the inland and the coast and meet and do business and, you know, basically hang out together and have a great time in the mountains.
That history has been largely ignored and erased, um, so we don’t know about it, but there are Indigenous people with connection to the High Country that one way or the other have managed to keep that connection, and now they are reasserting themselves. So in Victoria, we have Wurundjeri, Tungurrung. Gunai Kurnai all have their native title claim recognized over the high country.

Just recently the Gunai Kurnai, who are the Gippsland people, have taken over co management of the Alpine National Park. In their country we have other groups like Jaithmathang and Dhudhuroa that are starting to kind of exert their reconnection to country. I think that that is really incredibly exciting.
They looked after this country for potentially tens of thousands of years. And, uh, you know, in a very short period of time, we’ve trashed it through climate change and logging. And I feel very excited that they are now starting to reassert their connection to country and their right to manage country.
And I have no doubt they’ll do a much better job than we ever have. And I also feel really hopeful that We’ll find a way to work together across, you know, the cultural divide and in coming years, find ways to co manage and, and, and look after the high country in a way that really meets its needs and people’s needs.

James Worsfold: Yeah and I think that’s a very important part of the story of people coming together in the mountains and doing what they love and also fighting for what they love. So thank you for speaking with us today, Cam. I really do appreciate it.

Cam Walker: Good to have a yarn, thank you.

James Worsfold: That was Cam Walker, environmentalist at Friends of the Earth for over 30 years, mountain enthusiast and all round legend.
And since recording that interview, Cam’s won the Bob Brown Foundation 2023 Environmentalist of the Year. Very, very well deserved.

Sam Quirke: Absolutely, and yeah, it was amazing hearing from Cam and he’s such an important part in, um, you know, Victoria and more widely Australia’s, uh, environmental campaigning. And then also the, the inception of, of POW here in Australia. So great to hear from Cam. James, what did you get out of your chat with Cam?

James Worsfold: Well, I learned a lot of things in our fireside chat, but I think what really resonated with me are those messages of hope from all the environmental winds that Cam and Friends of the Earth have achieved through ending native logging in Victoria, in the east and, and fracking and, and all the, the myriad of, of, of successes and, and wins.

And it’s, I think it’s really important to keep that in mind and not feel futile in our fight to project our winters and, and act against climate change. And it’s also great to hear that. People can connect across a political or social divide, and find common connection in what they care about and what they’re passionate about, and for us, that’s winter. People from all walks of life use the mountains for skiing, for snowboarding, for hiking, love the space, and we should all come together and fight for what we love.

Sam Quirke: Absolutely, James, and that’s what we’re all about here at Protect Our Winters Australia. DidCam leave you with anything else?

James Worsfold: Yeah, Sam. So Cam and Friends of the Earth are currently asking the Victorian government for an investigation into our snowgum forests.
Because at the moment, less than 10 percent of snowgum forests haven’t been burnt in the last 20 years, and that’s a lot. There’s currently a program to protect alpine ash through aerial seeding of burnt forest. And, we need this for the snow gums as well. Um, so what Friends of the Earth and Cam are asking for is, is an investigation into, into researching what’s happened to our snow gum forest and how we can go about protecting them. Because we can’t protect what we don’t know. If you want to help, head to our show notes where you’ll find a link to Friends of the Earth’s website where you can send a message to our state government, our Victorian state government, uh, asking them for this investigation.

Sam Quirke: Absolutely, James. Well, thank you very much for going onto country with Cam and recording that interview. It was hugely insightful and amazing to hear from, from the legend, Cam Walker. And thank you to the listener for listening in to our first POW Pod. There will be, uh, hopefully many more to come, where we’ll be talking with, um, legends just like Cam and other people involved in the fight for climate change, focused around protecting our winters. Stay tuned. Make sure that you’re subscribed to the podcast here, that you, uh, signed up to our emailing list and following us on social media. 2024 is going to be a really big year for Protect Our Winters Australia and we’re keen to take you along for the journey. So thank you very much.

James Worsfold: Thanks Sam, stay stoked.