ReefWalk 2013

Chain Reaction #119, Nov 2013,

Hi, my name is June Norman and I have been a volunteer with Friends of the Earth, Brisbane for eight years. I began my involvement with the anti-nuclear campaign, when in 2010 I organised a walk from Brisbane to Canberra − 'Women's International Walk for Peace' − walking for a nuclear-free sustainable future for our grandchildren.

Three years ago I transferred to Six Degrees to focus on coal and coal seam gas. The unprecedented expansion of these industries is a very real threat to our Great Barrier Reef. My concern is echoed by the involvement of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's investigation into development at Gladstone and its impact to the reef.

Last year, I was struggling with how to bring awareness of these concerns to ordinary people, especially those living in small towns and communities. As walking is my passion, I decided to organise a walk from Cairns to Gladstone, 'ReefWalk 2013'. After a Brisbane launch on May 24 at Kangaroo Point, with supporters including Bob Irwin and Larissa Waters, we headed to Cairns to start the epic journey on June 1.

After a wholesome breakfast send off in Cairns with great TV coverage, 14 walkers (including a 13 year boy with his arm in a sling) continued along the Bruce Highway.

Three days later we arrived in Babinda, where we were given a warm welcome. The next morning we were treated to a spectacular send off with the release of over 100 homing pigeons ... 'Pigeons for the Reef'.

The walk attended Innisfail's celebration of World Environment Day. I was honoured to be invited to plant a tree in town's Rotary Park in partnership with the local indigenous elder, Henry Epong. It was a ancient indigenous food tree (podocarpus).

One of the key things that kept me motivated along the walk was the presence and passion of all the walkers. Rosalie and Nick, local doctors from Alice Springs walked from Ingham to Gladstone; Glenda from Switzerland, who walked from Proserpine to Gladstone to let Australian's know "the Reef belongs to the world and that you are just the custodians"; Anna from Sydney, a legal secretary, walked the first 10 days to Mission Beach alongside her daughter and 13 year old grandson. We say every step counts, one hour, one day, one week or all the way, those who walked a few hours played their part in the journey.

In total we had over 300 people participate in ReefWalk 2013. Together, we walked an average of 20 kms a day with a rest day every five or six days. A support vehicle carried our food, water and camping gear.

The walk itself could not have happened without the support of the communities along the way, the special people who found us places to stay: schools, private homes, community halls, camp grounds, caravan parks and show-grounds. They provided wonderful meals, baked dinners, salads, BBQs, lasagnas, home-made cakes and sweets. I don't think anyone lost any weight!

We were welcomed at community gatherings, given the opportunity to show slideshows, documentaries and to listen to the concerns of the local people of their feelings of powerlessness against the government and the mining companies.

I believe the walk was very successful in highlighting the issues threatening our Great Barrier Reef, connecting communities and empowering and supporting people to stand up and speak out.