Interview | Lucy Small

September 15, 2023

How long have you been surfing and what is your proudest sporting moment?

I started surfing when I was 14, in my hometown of Denmark in southern Western Australia. It’s a very isolated stretch of coastline, but it’s beautiful. Growing up there, the idea of ever becoming a professional surfer seemed so far away in the distance - I hadn’t even seen a professional surfer until I was 18!

My proudest sporting moment would have to be calling out the Curly Maljam, a contest in Sydney, who awarded the men’s division winner $2500 more than they awarded the women’s winner. I won the event and when they gave out the novelty cheques at the presentation, I called them out on the microphone. The video of the moment received a huge media and community response and led me to start Equal Pay for Equal Play - a campaign for gender equality in sport across all codes.

Most recently I represented Australia at the ISA World Longboard Championships in El Salvador, which was awesome to be part of the team and competing at such an incredible global event.

When did climate action become important to you? Was there a specific moment?

Climate action has always been important to me. I have been an environmentalist for as long as I can remember - the first job I ever said I wanted to be when I grew up when I was about six was a frog saver! When I learnt more about the climate crisis as I got older, it was so confusing to me that we could be facing this huge global challenge that is a threat to all of us and the adults didn’t seem to care. I remember an assignment I did in year nine, when we had to write a letter to a politician, I wrote mine to newly elected Kevin Rudd calling on him to take climate action.

As I have learnt more about gender and got into gender equality activism, I have learnt about how this intersects with the environmental challenges that we face. The biggest threat to women’s rights at the moment is the climate crisis. Research shows that in times of resource scarcity or crisis, the gains that women may have made toward emancipation are invariably wound back. We saw this during the pandemic in local sport - boardriders clubs taking away women’s prize money or cutting the division all together because they had limited funding due to the pandemic. The climate crisis is also set to disproportionately impact women - women routinely become more vulnerable to violence and exploitation while living in displacement, they are required to carry a greater burden of domestic labour and often women form the backbone of disaster responses.

Any conversation about gender equality needs to have the climate conversation embedded in it. But this also positions women in a unique place to take action. We know how to resist, to fight back and to take action because most of us have been doing that our whole lives in one way or another. We can bring this culture of resistance to the fossil fuel corporations and the governments who refuse to listen and take action.

Tell us about your involvement in climate and sustainability

In my career outside of surfing I work for a Greens MP in NSW Parliament. I got involved with the Greens during the 2022 election campaign after I was so disheartened and frustrated by the 2019 election outcome. Ahead of the 2019 election that ScoMo tragically stumbled over the line, I was involved in some Greenpeace direct actions as part of their boat team leading up to the election. When we failed to bring in a new government, I felt so powerless, like young people are shouting at the top of their lungs for the future of our planet to be saved and the people with the power to save it are there lining the pockets of planet trashing fossil fuel giants executives with the dirty money of extraction.

I decided to get more involved directly, so joined the Greens and now work with Sue Higginson who is an awesome Greens MP. We have the environment and climate change portfolios so we do a lot to try and end the logging of our native forests, to protect the rights of climate protestors and to try and push the government to move us toward a future of clean energy.

As a surfer, the threat that the ocean is under is heartbreaking. The ocean is a living breathing life giving body that gives us so much. It cools the planet, it sinks carbon, it provides us with an array of precious food sources, livelihoods and also gives a lot of people a lot of joy. But it’s being trashed in many ways, but in the biggest ways by fossil fuel companies. Plastics, which are another way that petroleum companies make immense amounts of money, have made their way into our food chain via tiny toxic microplastics that are poisoning marine life and subsequently all who depend on it. Rising global surface temperatures due to climate change mean the ocean is experiencing mass coral bleaching events, increased acidity and countless other disastrous impacts that are caused by fossil fuel companies clinging on to their profit margins at the expense of all of us.

Is there anything happening in the climate space that you're particularly interested in or excited about?

I am excited to see the end of gas in NSW. It feels like we are getting closer. NSW doesn’t currently produce a lot of gas, but there are some potential projects that I think if we work together and put enough pressure on the government, we can prevent them from going ahead. The Narrabri Gas project in the Pilliga Forest is the main one. If this goes ahead to the production stage it will be a climate bomb. They currently have an exploration license, so they are already drilling down below the Great Artesian Basin, Australia’s main water supply and the biggest Artesian Basin in the world, to extract gas. To progress to the stage of production though, they need to have had approved and built the pipeline to transport the gas out of the wells and down to connect up with the existing infrastructure inland from Newcastle. This pipeline would cross the Liverpool Plains, the most important agricultural region in the state, and the farmers there on the frontline are fighting hard to stop this from going ahead. It is the state minister who had the power to prevent the pipeline from going ahead, so if we can keep pressuring the NSW Government to prevent the pipeline this would be a huge step in the right direction.

There was also a bill introduced recently that would make it very difficult for PEP 11, the offshore gas exploration license for the region off the coast of Sydney, to ever go ahead by banning any associated infrastructure in NSW waters. This feels like something that has a high chance of success and would be a really exciting step.

Climate change can be overwhelming. How do you stay positive and what motivates you to keep being an advocate?

I spend a lot of time overwhelmed! I think the best antidote to feeling overwhelmed is to take action. Even if it is something small, such as emailing your MP asking them to take climate action, it can be an empowering feeling to know that you are at least trying to do something. So sometimes I do get quite down, but just try and channel that into doing something that will help move us toward a sustainable future.

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