Sowing the seed: Amelia Telford

By Natsumi Penberthy 29 October 2015
Reading Time: 2 Minutes Print this page
Our 2015 Young Conservationist of the Year, has created an environmental network that has given a voice to Aboriginal youth.

AMELIA ‘MILLIE’ TELFORD is no ordinary 21-year-old. Instead of spending her days with her nose buried in university textbooks, she works in a busy Melbourne office, giving advice to young Aboriginal people all over the country.

In 2013, while working with the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC), Amelia raised funds to create the Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network, an organisation that supports Aboriginal people aged under 30 who want to participate in environmental debates. It was an effort that saw the young Bundjalung woman, from northern NSW, become the joint NAIDOC Youth of the Year in 2014.

She is talking to an increasingly important demographic; more than half of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are under 25, and world governments are recognising that remote and rural indigenous communities are among those most affected by climate change (see AG #103).

Impact of climate change on world’s indigenous people

“We’re filling a gap that no-one has really been working on,” Amelia says. “The way that we’re doing it alongside the AYCC, a non-indigenous -organisation, is unique because we’re seeing indigenous and non-indigenous young people working together; we’re so much more powerful…because of that.”

Anna Rose, co-founder of the AYCC, and the AG Society’s 2014 Conservationist of the Year, heard of Amelia’s -campaigning power before the Lismore-based high school captain had even graduated.

When Amelia put off taking up a place as a medical student at the University of New South Wales to volunteer in the environmental sector, the AYCC offered her a role as its indigenous and diversity coordinator.

The 120,000-member-strong AYCC is one of Australia’s largest youth-run organisations, but Amelia quickly realised that the key to increasing Aboriginal participation was to create an independent body.

“At the time, we weren’t working particularly closely with indigenous young people,” she explains.

Sea-level rise in the Torres Strait and the Carmichael coalmine

However, since its launch in 2014, Seed has rapidly taken root. “There’s been an incredible response from our elders and community members,” Amelia says. “They realise that we need young people who have the privilege of being more open-minded and positive, and can learn from the struggles [of]… generations before us.”

Seed has trained 50 youth representatives in public speaking and media and project management. They are now participating in important debates concerning the effects of sea-level rise on the Torres Strait, and in negotiations with Aboriginal landholders in Queensland regarding what could become the country’s largest coal mine in the Galilee Basin.

Indeed, Amelia will soon be taking a road trip from Townsville to Brisbane to visit communities and “amplify their voice” in the run-up to the UN climate change negotiations in France in December 2015. Although climate change is a major focus, other youth advocates are raising awareness around local environmental issues, she says.  

According to Anna, Amelia has played a groundbreaking role in building a movement of young campaigners.

“They are effective in their own right, but are also challenging the rest of the environmental movement to be more so,” she says. “What Millie has done is really reinforce that environmentalism is about people and culture, and our connection to the land. That’s been a huge gift to the whole movement.”

Amelia also won the the Bob Brown Foundation’s 2015 Young Environmentalist of the Year award.

Source: Australian Geographic (Nov – Dec 2015)