Together we can, with Claire O'rourke
After a deep and engaging conversation at Purpose Conference, we’re so excited to bring you a Journal piece from the wonderful Claire O’Rourke.
With over 20 years of experience across journalism, communications and campaigning – Claire has been on the front lines and behind the scenes of organisations such as Solar Citizens and Amnesty International. Now, she’s added Author to her broad list of talents.
In her book “Together We Can”, Claire tells the unique and captivating stories of the people across Australia who are making a difference in the face of the climate crisis.
Welcome to Kingaroy, only 212 kilometres north-west of Brisbane, but just about as far away as possible from the concerns of the chardonnay- and latte-sipping crowds of the inner cities. Known as ‘red ant’ in the local Wakka Wakka language, the town was famous for decades as the home of long-time premier and prime ministerial aspirant the late Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Navy beans, maize and sorghum grow well in Kingaroy, but the town is even more famous for being the peanut capital of Australia: after 50 years of locals talking about it, a 450-kilogram steel peanut was finally raised in November 2021 at the local Lions Park to recog- nise the title. A pig slaughterhouse, Swickers, is a major employer, and the Meandu coalmine and Tarong power station are only a few clicks down the Kingaroy–Cooyar Road. Call me a captive of my formative adult years crawling inner-city Sydney, but it seemed pretty unlikely that this would be the place you’d find climate freaked-out folks. That was what I thought until I met Suzanne Mungall.
Suzanne hit her mid-forties with the same enthusiasm she’d always had for life, thanks to a combo of four kids, a nice bloke, a great job and good health. The self-confessed life of the party is connected to everything local, from the soccer club to playing flute (badly, she says) and singing alto in the choir at the local Catholic church. A daughter of cattle farmers, Suzanne wistfully described her idyllic rural childhood spent helping fix fences and manage vegetation on the family’s Mount Morgan property in central Queensland. There wasn’t a thought about the precarious state of life, the planet and all the rest. ‘I thought I was doing the right thing…we loved our cattle, we knew every single one of them by their faces,’ she said. ‘How could that be wrong?’
So many things changed for Suzanne over twelve short months. Studying a master’s in public health planted the seeds of climate awakening; her son was waging a war on waste guided by his primary school teacher; and then, she mentioned, almost in passing, that more than 90 per cent of the family farm burned in a fire that swept across her property (thankfully her home was spared). But this swirling, unsettling year had a more unforgettable moment for Suzanne when she was watching a documentary suggested by her son’s schoolteacher, starring Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage climate action juggernaut. Thunberg’s narrowed eyes and fierce words resonated so deeply that a switch flipped in Suzanne’s head.
‘When I first truly looked hard at the environmental stuff I was so shocked to the core, I remember feeling it was like perceiving God is not real,’ she said. ‘I was like, do you mean to say I have been raising cattle? I was the person out there killing all the trees!’ Suzanne was rattled, really rattled. The months passed and Suzanne became more irritable, crying often and dreaming of the environmental devastation that was to come. She didn’t panic, but the gloom certainly settled in, her eyes misting over as she remembered how she kept asking herself why she’d had so many children.
Suzanne is not alone. Researchers have now identified specific climate change – related emotions as part of a groundbreaking global report, completed in 2021 by the Institute of Global Health Innovation and the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London. The report found that climate-related anxieties and strong emotional responses were identified in large proportions of university students and children in the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States (between 44 and 82 per cent).
Friends, getting caught in cycles of despair and hopelessness is just about the last thing we need if we’re going to accelerate the biggest transformation of our economy and society since the industrial revolution. What did Suzanne do about her charged emotions? Regular exercise, a podcast or twenty and writing down her thoughts did help, and in time, her ruminations shifted into a single-minded decision: to do something. ‘I’m a goal setter. So in my diary, I wrote: “I’m really cranky about this. I’m really sad about this. I’m going to do this.” So that’s how I got myself through—I would just go to my plan.’
It feels like no time has passed and Suzanne is now doing not just something, but so many things: running an environment and gardening group at a local primary school; hosting an ‘Ordinary Eco-Mum’ group on Facebook; kicking off a South Burnett regional climate action group; coordinating writing letters to local members of state and federal parliaments; holding lobbying meetings with South Burnett Regional Council calling for a climate emergency declaration to be made; and convening group and individual conversations as a facilitator with Climate For Change.
These days Suzanne laughingly describes herself as a greenie, hilarious because the only ones she’d ever encountered before were ‘in the shops with the crystals’. Driving every action she takes is people, the centre of her climate mission. ‘I’ve always loved people above everything else. So even though I’m the greenie now, it’s not the earth itself that I particularly give a damn about. It’s actually the people in it and the relationships we have. What would be the point of the world being amazing if I’ve got nobody to share it with?’
To learn more about Claire or to pick up a copy of ‘Together we can’ – head to her website: