Lesley Walker is in the middle of a bitter stalemate with unknown assailants. For months, someone has kept removing the anti-logging placard she attaches to metal bollards outside of The Herbert Cafe in Northcote.
She arrives by bike on an overcast spring morning prepared with a new sign, only to find there has been a bizarre escalation – one of the bollards, previously bolted to the ground, is missing.
In August, she helped paint a mural promoting climate action in Northcote, which featured the extinction symbol, a stylised hourglass sign popularised by global climate activist group Extinction Rebellion.
It was quickly vandalised with crude iterations of the hammer and sickle, a confusing accusation of Communism. She seems more annoyed than disappointed that this is happening in a municipality that previously elected Greens senator Lidia Thorpe.
“A lot of people say ‘Oh, you’re preaching to the converted’ … sometimes, depending on how nasty I’m feeling, I say, ‘But what are you actually doing?’”
Walker, a retired science teacher, has lived in the Darebin area for about 30 years. At 68 years old, she is now the proclaimed “outreach queen” of Extinction Rebellion’s northside chapter in Melbourne, a title she shares with fellow climate activist group Darebin Climate Action Now.
Her weekly schedule includes weeding and cleaning the St George’s Rd bike path, logging and categorising the rubbish her groups have collected for three years. She attends a recurring event on Friday evenings, Fridays for Future, with Extinction Rebellion members at a busy Northcote intersection, armed with banners, signs and flyers calling for immediate action on climate.
“The first time Lesley turned up for Fridays for Future, she had this massive skeleton on the back of her bike” said Ella Zentgraf, a Red Rebel performance activist who met Walker through Extinction Rebellion. Indigo Medling, a fellow Red Rebel, said the giant skeleton is anatomically accurate and difficult to assemble. Both cite Walker as an inspiration.
Walker attends protests regularly. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot her dressed as Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, speaking for the trees at anti-logging events. Fortnightly she’s outside the NGV, handing out information alongside the Sybil Disobedients – a creative Melbourne offshoot of Extinction Rebellion.
At The Herbert Cafe, Walker comes prepared with books, newspapers, and an internal encyclopaedia of climate-related media she recommends.
She wears a red badge that reads Rebel for Life: an apt claim, as she later reveals she is on a diversion notice from Victoria Police as a result of her activism.
Despite her passion and commitment, she can’t help but despair, to the point of tears, about the societal apathy towards the climate emergency.
A recent report by AP-NORC echoed her concerns, finding Americans in 2022 are less concerned about the effects of climate change than in 2019. She says the melancholy attitude is fuelled by disinformation – a bane she tries to combat by frequently “writing [to] uninterested editors of Murdoch papers”.
You don’t tell people ‘I think the house is on fire, but it’s nothing to be alarmed about’ – you say ‘the house is on fire, we have to get out: we have to deal with this’.
Walker, however, shows no signs of slowing down. Before leaving the cafe, she begins fiddling with reclaimed cable ties to reattach her anti-logging placard to the remaining bollard.
She struggles with the wind, which has picked up and is knocking the sign about, but manages to fasten it.
“There’s so many little things you can do.”