The ANU Alumni Series
Julie Melrose, National Campaign Manager at The Wilderness Society
Environmental lawyer and campaigner, Julie Melrose, left the ANU with a Juris Doctor (Honours) and Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice only a few years ago, and yet her CV shows an impressive range of experiences in activism, politics, law and policy. A former PARSA President and active advocate for the environment while at ANU, Melrose is currently the National Campaign Manager for The Wilderness Society Australia, and is the second person to feature in Woroni’s ANU Alumni Series.
What is it that led you to your current role?
I grew up exploring the Australian wilderness with my family, who are really into exploring, which is how I became passionate about protecting the environment. When this position came up at the Wilderness Society it aligned perfectly with my values, passion for wild places, and desire to work to protect them and to address threats like climate change.
From where did you come and why did you choose/get sent to ANU?
I did my undergraduate degree in International Studies at the University of Sydney, which is where I am from. While at Sydney Uni I started working in the Australian environment movement for a few different NGOs, and got to attend several UN climate conferences. I did heaps of travel in my undergrad years and got the travel bug, so I took a year off and went backpacking around Central America. I fell in love with the Caribbean, and so stayed and did my Divemaster training in Belize. After living on a small island for a while, something deep down told me I needed to come home and keep working as an activist. There was so much more to be done in my lifetime to help protect our precious environment. I wouldn’t have been able to keep diving in the beautiful ocean every day knowing how much everything I loved was under threat. But I knew I needed more skills to be able to make a real impact, which is why I decided to become an environmental lawyer. I remember I was sailing in the Caribbean when I climbed up the mast to call mum and found out I got the offer to study at ANU.
What did you love and hate the most about Canberra?
It couldn’t have been more of a contrast moving from living on an island in the Caribbean to living in Canberra, but to my surprise, I absolutely loved it. I loved how easy it was to meet like minded people who were into the same things as me. I took up mountain biking, joined the ANU Mountaineering Club, met heaps of new people through becoming involved in PARSA, and became more and more politically active in campaigns. I loved how Canberra felt like a community, and that I got to live and study with amazing friends from all over the world.
There’s not much I hated about Canberra, but I did resent the fact that the lake was not swimmable.
The other thing I now hate, is that because all your friends you make in Canberra are from all over the world and Australia, inevitably, you all scatter away after uni and you don’t get to see much of each other anymore. But the plus side is you do have great friends to visit in interesting places.
What else did you do (other than study) at ANU?
I got involved in PARSA and was President in 2013. I took a group of students to Brazil to research sustainable development. I sat on the ANU Council. I researched deforestation policy at the UN climate conference in South Africa. I also played water polo for ANU at Uni Games, and ran a few social sporting teams like touch footy and indoor soccer.
What was your go-to meal while you were an ANU student?
Dickson Asian Noodle House Laksa for takeaway. I was also in a 7-person share house where we had an arrangement that each person would cook one night a week each, so we usually had awesome home cooked family dinners every night. My friend Ian always cooked Rogan Josh, Nick did Tuna Pasta, Irish Liz always made something with potatoes…
What was the biggest political issue affecting you and your mates when you were at ANU, and what were your views on that issue?
The biggest issue was probably the proposal for higher education deregulation, and I was staunchly opposed to this.
Do you have a favourite ANU lecturer or researcher, and what was it that you liked about her/him?
My favourite course at the ANU was Environmental Litigation with Dr Chris McGrath who is a practising Barrister in Queensland. He was excellent in linking theory to practice, and taught us really practical skills in running environmental law cases.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your ANU student self?
In 2013 I had a real health shock when I became severely burnt out by the sheer amount of things I was doing – studying law full-time, working as acting Executive Director of the ACT Conservation Council, PARSA President, and then running for Parliament in the Federal Election. I don’t regret doing any of those things, but the advice I would give is to do a few things really well and take care of yourself in the process.
If the Vice Chancellor called you up today and asked you to tell him one thing you think he should do to change/improve the ANU, what would it be?
I would encourage him to be more proactive in implementing bridging programs and outreach programs to increase the number of Indigenous Australian staff and students at the ANU.
What do you think is the biggest issue facing Australia today, and how can ANU students be part of addressing it?
The biggest threat facing Australia and the world is climate change. Addressing climate change requires a complete rethink of our entire economic system, and requires innovation and creativity to rebuild a more sustainable world. There are endless opportunities in every single field of study to contribute to solving this challenge and being part of creating a better world.