At a fledgling CERES site in 1984, aided by a crew of unemployed locals, Mike Hill started Australia’s first curbside recycling scheme. Letter-boxing the neighbourhood Mike asked residents to put their newspapers, bottles and tin cans out on the nature strip in a bag. And so people tentatively began “taking out the recycling”. The next day Mike and the crew would collect it, bring it back to the now CERES Energy Park and sort it before it went to commercial recyclers. The community embraced the idea as did the Brunswick Council who saw the benefits and took over the scheme. Other councils around Melbourne and Australia caught on and the rest as they say…….
Some people rail and rage at what comes through their TV news, social media feeds, talk-back radios. Some respond by clicking online petitions, writing letters to politicians or going on protest marches. And then there are the rare ones who go deep, get in and under, year after year turning up at public consultations, writing submissions, going to interminable committee meetings, gathering allies, standing for office and finally if there is no joy – just starting something themselves to make something happen. Mike Hill was one of these people.
After CERES Mike became a councillor, then a mayor at Brunswick and Moreland Councils, he founded the Moreland Energy Foundation, the Victorian Local Government Association (VLGA), was a board member with the EPA, chair of ECOBuy, Keep Australia Beautiful Council, The Natural Resources League, vice chair of Sustainability Victoria and all the while an accidental award winning developer at Westwyck eco-housing development. For decades he’s kept turning up, usually on his bike, and the list of things he’s done and the number of people he’s guided, influenced, helped seems impossible.
The first stories I heard about Mike Hill was how as Mayor of Brunswick he had once impounded all the Optus vehicles for not asking permission to attach their cables to poles owned by the people of Brunswick and how later he’d successfully fought to keep roosters in the backyards of Moreland. He was not afraid to jump in during a crisis but it was his ability to nurture partnerships and build networks like the Victorian Local Government Association that saw him bring local and state governments together to make large scale environmental changes not just to our everyday lives but to our consciousness as well.
There are some things now we just take for granted; council recycling services, domestic solar energy, bike paths, backyard chickens, rainwater tanks. But not long ago these things were considered fringe, impractical, hippyish (the last two were, until quite recently, illegal). Through his energy, vision and influence so many of these things that make our city so progressive, so wonderfully liveable have been made possible. So this week when you roll your recycling out to the curb take a moment to thank Mike.
Mike Hill died at home last week. Our thoughts are with his family and friends, especially partner, Lorna Pitt (pictured below), who has also been involved with CERES for many years. His funeral service and celebration of his life and contribution to the community will be held in the Coburg Town Hall this Tuesday at 11am.
Have a great week
Mike was an extraordinary person whose achievements and exploits coloured and gave a foundation to my social and environmental awareness from my late 20s though to the present day in my late 40s. I am so sorry Westwyck stage 2 did not go ahead while he was here to see it. I hope it will, one day. I wish I’d had a chance to know him personally, better, but am so very grateful to have got to know him even a little.
Yesterday’s celebration of his life was wonderful. I came away feeling that one person really can make a huge difference, and every effort we can make is worth it…