Seated in the dining room of her beachside house, Angela Hawdon looks laid-back and down-to-earth in her green woolen sweater and blue jeans, a heart-shaped pendant of lapis lazuli hanging from her neck. A naturally wavy head of light brown hair frames her smiling, makeup-free face.
Angela’s living area is bright, inviting and full of character. Mismatched cushions decorate the sofas and big, colourful pieces of art don the walls. One particular painting hangs proudly above Angela’s TV, demanding attention as soon as one enters the room. It depicts two girls with their arms around each other as they sit on the beach looking out at the water. Angela says that the painting is by her sister, an artist who lives in Noosa. Her dog Ochre, a friendly corgi x jack russell, circles Angela’s legs under the table as she mentions that she’s been preparing for Melbourne’s global climate strike event – a cause which she is extremely passionate about.
Angela, 50, has made wildlife conservation and environmental consciousness her life’s work. She is one of the leaders of the Save Barwon Heads Alliance, an organisation whose purpose is to protect the wetlands that surround the outskirts of Barwon Heads.
“We’re really the advocate for the wetlands within the planning sphere. Every 10 years they have a structure planning process which puts this land under question,” Angela says. “We’ve got migratory species that come all the way from Siberia. There’s a little 20-gram bird called the red-necked stint, that flies here and back each year, )and in its lifetime flies a distance further than from here to the moon. I just think it’s an honour and a privilege to live in an environment where they come to visit us, and it’s beholden upon us to look after that land and make sure they’re welcome when they arrive.”
Angela and her fellow Save Barwon Heads Alliance members have fought hard to protect such species, going to battle with developers who want to extend the boundary which prevents them from putting up residential lots in close proximity to the wetlands. Earlier this year, the Alliance succeeded in getting the Geelong council to keep the boundary where it currently is. It’s no surprise that Angela is so invested in the wetland’s wellbeing, considering her home overlooks them.
Angela says that her passion for wildlife comes from being surrounded by nature her whole life. “I’ve always felt a real connection to nature. One of my earliest memories is from when I lived in Malvern and there was a pond in the park at the bottom of our street, so every night we’d be down there collecting fish or frogs. I always seemed to gravitate towards that sort of thing. When I finished school I did one year of arts but that was sort of because I didn’t really have any idea what I wanted to do. Then I took a year off to travel around Australia and camped the whole time and I was just fascinated with everything. I remember just watching ants and thinking I really want to learn more about the natural world and why these ants are doing what they’re doing.”
Environmental activism is much more than a side project for Angela. After travelling around Australia, she went back to university and graduated with an honours degree in environmental science. From there she classified crustaceans for Museum Victoria and did project planning for the environment department of the Victorian Government, which led to a job with Parks Victoria, planning for coastal infrastructure. After this, she worked for global resources company BHP.
Currently, aside from her work with the Save Barwon Heads Alliance and a group called 100% Clean Bellarine, Angela’s day-to-day job entails working for Bush Heritage Australia, a not-for-profit company that uses donations to purchase and manage land all throughout Australia in order to conserve its natural landscapes and native species.
“We’ve got 1.2 million hectares of land that we own but we also partner with Aboriginal traditional owners and those who own indigenous-protected areas to help them manage their land in the way that they want it managed. So that adds about 10 million hectares to the area that we manage. My role is to look towards how we can continue to grow with sustainable financing solutions,” Angela says.
Angela’s love for the natural world is further emphasised through how she chooses to spend her free time. Aside from going to climate change rallies, Angela says her favourite thing to do is snorkelling.
“I absolutely love being underwater. I love living near the water. I like going for walks on the beach. I like birdwatching. But I also like hanging around watching Netflix. I’m not a complete nerd…well I am, but that’s okay,” she laughs.
Angela says she also loves spending time with her two daughters – Eloise, 17, and Penny, 19. Her love for her daughters is verified by a quick glance at her dining room wall, which is adorned with a multitude of framed photos of the pair.
The love is mutual. Eloise describes her mum as being passionate and caring and “very driven, sometimes to the point of annoyance”.
She says that her mum’s environmentalism has altered the way they do things in their household, from the way that they shop to the way that they view the world around them. “We’ve learnt to value what we have more. Especially the wetlands. When we figured out that they could not be there it made us realise their value,” says Eloise.
Her mum’s activism has inspired Eloise to pursue a university course that will lead to the same line of work. Next year she will be studying science, with a focus on ecology, at Monash University.
Angela says that the Save Barwon Heads Alliance has plans to eventually buy the area that is home to the wetlands. “Lots of people will tell us it can’t be done but I work for an organisation that bought 1.2 million hectares of land – this is 52 hectares. Surely a community can come together to work out how to do that.”
Despite the current environmental crisis, Angela still has hope for the future. “There are times when you get really down about watching the things that you love and realising that they’re not going to have a future, that’s a really hard thing to face. But face it we must. It’s a reality now. I still think there’s lots we can do and saving the wetlands here is part of that in my mind.”