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A Courageous Changemaker

Part 2 of our story on Anni Philp.

‘We are the sum of our history, but it’s what we build from that history that shapes the person we become.’

Anni Philp’s parents had died by the time she was 17, leaving her to raise two younger sisters. The teenager started her first business, a hairdressing salon in Ballarat. Three years later, she moved to Perth to escape the responsibility that had been thrust upon her. She became a peace activist.

Growing up in the post-war years when talk of ‘reds under the bed’ created paranoia, particularly about signing petitions, Anni heeded the words of anti-nuclear advocate Dr Helen Caldicott.

“Helen said, ‘They know who you are. Do not be afraid. Every time a petition comes in front of you, sign it!’ I did and still do and participated in the annual Palm Sunday anti-nuclear and peace demonstrations for many years.”

While in Perth, Anni met surveyor and yachty, Ric Colclough. Together, they travelled the world—adventures included a kibbutz shared living experience in Israel. On their return, Anni and Ric moved to Airlie Beach, recognised a need in the community, and were foster parents to teenagers. 

“We wanted to make a difference in the lives of young people by supporting them through a traumatic time. I’m still in touch with one of ‘our’ kids,” said Anni.

Reminiscent of childhood times spent in the family gardens, Anni completed a Permaculture Design Course with Bill Mollison, going on to teach and implement gardens in kindergartens and the Whitsunday Women’s Crisis Centre. 

“I also joined the Wildlife Preservation Society when the government had cut funding to environmental groups to undermine their influence.”

 I asked Anni to elaborate on her political endeavours.

“I became excited about politics when Gough Whitlam introduced free education in 1974. However, in the early 80s, disillusionment set in when Bob Hawke sold out on his commitment to stop uranium mining.

“In mid-’92, when Bob Brown and Drew Hutton toured up the east coast encouraging environmental groups to become political, I felt excited about politics once again. Ric and I were founding members of the Whitsunday Greens and three years later, my new friend, Bob Brown, nominated me to stand as the candidate for the Seat of Whitsunday.”

Amid political activities and foster parenting, Anni and Ric found time to sail the Whitsundays, but over a four-year period, they saw disturbing changes. Anni explains:

“Boats dropping their anchors onto the coral, damaged and decimated the reef surrounding the islands. We lobbied the government to place marker buoys to stop boats going so close to the shore, but they weren’t listening, so we acted.

“Supported by friends, we filmed what was happening and The 7.30 Report aired it. We then formed the Whitsunday branch of OUCH (Order of Underwater Coral Heroes) and the town got behind us to survey the reef. Dive companies volunteered, charter boat operators loaned boats and skippers, businesses provided food, and once a month we’d go out for the day and survey the location of the fringing reefs around the main Whitsunday Islands. The marker buoys protecting the reef today result from that amazing community effort.”

In the mid-’90s, Anni and Ric found they had grown in different directions and while remaining friends, they went their separate ways with Anni spending two years in Canberra where she pursued studies in Landscape Horticulture. In 1999, connections to Maleny drew Anni and Ric to become locals.

“On arrival in Maleny, I became a member of the UpFront Club and ran their volunteer program. I worked at Barung Landcare, was their volunteer coordinator and also volunteered at Mary Cairncross Park … all the while cutting hair and studying volunteer coordination.”

Anni Philp had proven early on that she was no pushover when life threw up challenges. However, there was another just around the corner. In March 2000, at 49, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“The doctor advised me to have a mastectomy, lymph nodes out, radiation five days a week for five weeks, and drug therapy for five years.

“Because both my parents had died in hospital, I was averse to going down that track. I attended the Gawler Foundation in Victoria and took four years off from paid employment to work on myself. I used every natural therapy imaginable, but mostly, Gersen Therapy with local practitioner, Katherine Alexander.”

Anni’s self-healing journey with support from community fundraising and practitioners set her on an alternative path. As a natural health coach, she ran workshops, taught fermentation techniques, and produced a DVD.

I asked Anni when her political activism kicked back in.

 “I transferred my membership to the Maleny Greens as soon as I arrived and supported from the background while dealing with cancer. Once in remission, I held executive positions and am currently the convenor.

 “Government isn’t fit for purpose and hasn’t been for a long time. The world is changing, the environment is changing. We have been calling for recognition of climate change for 30 years and nobody has been listening.”

In conclusion, I asked Anni, “What’s your hope for the future?”

“That’s a two-part answer: I feel deeply for our Indigenous people and there needs to be recognition. This is their land, culturally and spiritually. I also trust there’ll be a time when there aren’t any wars. I’d love to see that we can address conflict by talking, making concessions, and all live together in peace.”



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