History of the movement

3 March 2014

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The Australian environment movement began with the first European naturalists who were inspired by the natural beauty and unique biodiversity of their adopted land.

Since the late 1800s until now, advocacy and action have been primarily driven by people with the passion and commitment to conserve and act as custodians for nature — ordinary people achieving significant and lasting outcomes. Their legacy is the reserve system and strong environmental protection measures we have today.

From the early public outcry over koala killings in the early 1900s, leading to their protection, grass roots activism has been the key to so many of Australia’s environmental wins.


In the 1960s and ‘70s, campaigns led to protection of some of Australia’s unique and special natural places.  In the 1970s and ‘80s, the proposed damming of Tasmania’s Franklin River mobilised tens of thousands of Australians, achieving not only protection of the Franklin, but of most of South-West Tasmania.

Catalysed by the vision of key philanthropists, volunteer landholder groups formed the Landcare movement to address land degradation. Today there are over 6000 Landcare and Coastcare groups nationwide.

Since the late 1980s, climate change has emerged as a key issue, the major issue of our time which is being fought by hundreds of thoughts of individuals, as well as grass-roots organisations and larger conservation groups.

The global nature of environmental problems such as sustainability and climate change has seen an increased international focus by Australian-based organisations. The current movement is now a complex driver of change, drawing on the professional strengths of employed staff and the ongoing commitment of many volunteers.

A more detailed history of the Australian environment movement can be downloaded below.  We would like to acknowledge and thank the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, whose funding made this project possible, and Ann McGregor for preparing this history document.

The environment movement began outside institutions, in the minds and actions of ordinary (and great) people who perceived environmental issues and problems that were largely ignored by mainstream politics.

Doyle 2000

Full report

Thank you to Ann McGregor for preparing the history of the environmental movement. Download the full report.


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