“It looked like a torrential downpour coming from the ocean. The energy that was pouring out from everyone… it was a surreal moment. I remember thinking, ‘We’re really on to something here.’ People are very upset and willing to stand up and protect their beaches.”
Damien Cole, newly appointed National Campaigns Manager for Surfrider Foundation Australia, describes the Fight for the Bight paddle out demonstration at Torquay in March 2019. You may have heard him speak at that rally, seen him out in the surf, or perhaps you recognise him because he ran for both State (2018 South Barwon) and Federal (2019 Corangamite) elections. Through his tireless campaigning and genuine commitment to his community, Damien has earned himself the reputation of being that young local tradie who put his hand up to protect our environment.
“No one thing brought me to where I am now, I guess it’s the building blocks of life. My parents have been environmentally aware and outspoken in the community. I attended my first protest with them at age 6 in France. All the pro surfers did a walk past the Vice President’s holiday house on the way to their competition when the French nuclear bomb testing was happening in the Pacific. I still remember the day so vividly, people coming together for a cause. I remember thinking -Wow, these people are all standing up for what they believe in!’’
Controversially, Damien spent the first part of his career earning good coin in the fossil fuel industry.
“When you’re offered that much money and you’re young…It fed my travel around the world. But I never felt that comfortable. I always had a constant battle with myself, a moral dilemma, but I kept hiding behind the thought of ‘Well, you know, what difference am I going to make? I’m just one person.’ But in my late twenties I realised I was lying to myself. I couldn’t knowingly be part of the problem. My last job was the highest paying job I’d ever had, but I was the unhappiest I’d ever been in my life. I got to a point where I walked away and went back to Victoria to study Environmental Science.”
“I just knew I wanted to do something for the environment, and my studies have made me realise how the world is all connected, how many different careers are involved in conservation, and that the environment affects every single aspect of our society.”
Around the same time Damien made a point of connecting with his local community in Torquay.
“Joining community groups helped me find my way and understand how we can put theory into practice. It was during a Greater Torquay Alliance meeting that the idea was floated to put a candidate up for election – I put my hand up (because no one else had) and said – ‘I’ll do it if it helps stop the Spring Creek development.’- Here I was, a tradie with half a degree! Until the state election I had never even spoken in public before!”
The rest, as they say, is history. Or is it?!
Fight for the Bight in Torquay was just one of many nation-wide rallies organised by Surfrider Foundation Australia against drilling for oil in the Great Australian Bight. Voices were loud, and voices were heard. For now, plans for that rig are off the table. But in his new role at Surfrider Foundation, Damien reminds us that amidst the global pandemic, the Federal Government are seeking to drill more oil from around our coastlines. One high profile spot under threat is Ningaloo Reef in WA (https://www.protectningaloo.org.au/). Closer to home, our Victorian State Government is currently reviewing tenders for the exploration of five petroleum release areas offshore, between Port Campbell and the South Australian border (https://tinyurl.com/oil-and-gas-acreage-releases).
“Our world is crying out for help and here we are opening up pristine wilderness to this?! It’s heart breaking. Let your local State Member and the Premier know we don’t want to humour the idea at all.”
Chatting with Damien, you get the feeling that we’re all able to make a positive difference… together.
“We need to empower ourselves with knowledge, our mind is the most powerful tool we have. Join community groups who share similar values and passions, people power creates change. Ask yourself, what do you stand for? What legacy would you like to leave? It’s inspiring realising that we are the writers, directors and stars in our own story, the question is what will your story say about you?”
We look forward to seeing Damien thrive in his new role at Surfrider Foundation Australia. @surfriderau
If you’re feeling inspired to join a local community group, you could get in touch with the Surfrider Foundation Victorian branch, who’s HQ happens to be in Torquay. Damien is on FB as @DamoMojique
Story: Sarah Treacy. Photo: Ed Sloane