Tribute: a farmer and a fighter

Tribute: a farmer and a fighter

It is with deep respect that we remember an iconic member of NSW Farmers: Hunter Valley farmer and mother of three, Wendy Bowman.

Wendy was a courageous and determined individual who dedicated her life to preserving the land she loved.

Born in the 1930s to a family with proud history in the Hunter Valley since the 19th century, Wendy married Hunter Valley farmer Mick Bowman and the couple farmed together until Mick’s passing in 1984 meant Wendy was left in sole charge.

In 1988, Wendy faced a devastating setback when open mining operations forced her to relocate. Her crops failed due to heavy metal contamination in the water used for irrigation, caused by mining activities. Furthermore, the coal dust in the grass made her cattle refuse to eat. Wendy turned her grief into determination and decided to take action.

From 1990, she became actively involved in the fight for environmental justice, founding advocacy group MineWatch in 1990 after witnessing a proliferation of open-cut mines across the Hunter Valley, combining that with alarm that landholders clearly 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. Even after relocating her farm to Rosedale in Camberwell in 2005, Wendy’s battle was far from over. The Chinese Yancoal company threatened Rosedale in 2010 with plans to extend the Ashton South East Open Cut mine to one of the main tributaries of the Hunter River. Despite the majority of farmers in the area selling their properties, Wendy stood her ground, refusing to give up her land to protect the area from irreversible devastation.

In December 2014, Wendy’s unwavering commitment bore fruit when the Land and Environment Court ruled that Yancoal could only proceed with the mine if she agreed to sell. Despite offers of millions of dollars, she remained resolute in her decision, effectively halting Yancoal’s efforts to exploit the area. In 2022, the mine’s approval officially lapsed.

For her remarkable efforts, Wendy Bowman was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in April 2017 – the first Australian in nearly 15 years to do so.

NSW Farmers CEO Pete Arkle says that Wendy set an example that will be remembered well beyond her time. “The values and rights that Wendy fought for are as relevant today as they were back then,” he says, “with land access issues surrounding not only mining but transmission lines and more affecting farmers around the state.

“We are proud to have known Wendy, especially as such a prominent and active member of NSW Farmers. She showed us all that one person really can stand up and make a difference. We’re sending our best wishes to her family, friends and her community – we know she will be very much missed.”  

On the news of Wendy’s passing, her friend Georgina Woods told ABC News that: “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.”

On July 26, at the age of 89, Wendy Bowman passed away, leaving behind a legacy of tenacity, resilience, and environmental stewardship. Her dedication and strength inspired many in the Hunter region and beyond.

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

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

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