Woman Dowsett, Brigid Helen
Written by Judy Lambert (edited from blogs prepared by Jane Elix), Australian National University
Brigid Dowsett was born in Bromley, Kent in England in 1944 into a sometimes unstable family situation. Her father's work demands saw Brigid move 12 times during her schooling. Brigid became 'rebellious and slightly subversive' and expulsion from grammar school saw her enter convent education, where the nuns 'made you feel that they cared about you'. In 1961 Brigid completed school in New York, where she became involved in left-wing causes. Back in the UK, she attended art school and gained secretarial qualifications, before coming to Australian in 1965. Brigid then 'got on with having a family' with her husband Leonard.
The Franklin River campaign was Brigid's environmental awakening. Since the early 1980s she has worked on environmental issues, including support roles in Milo Dunphy's Federal and State election campaigns in 1983 and 1984. After volunteering in the Australian Conservation Foundation's (ACF's) Sydney office, Brigid became a researcher to Jane Elix and John Cameron while writing their book Recovering Ground, going on to become a campaigner in the ACF's Natural Resources team. After her paid positions at ACF finished, Brigid initially coordinated, for a consortium of environment groups, a major project funded by Sydney Water from 1991 to 1993. She then supervised local bush regenerators, which led to Directorship of the Bush Regenerators' Cooperative, a role involving substantially more management. Brigid describes her entry to leadership positions as identifying and filling a gap: 'being ready and willing to take on responsibility at a certain level and make some decisions about the way I felt things should be managed, or volunteering to do something that no-one else was available to do' (http://janeelix.wordpress.com/2011/06/16/Brigid_Dowsett/).
In 1993 Brigid became an ACF Councillor, representing New South Wales on the organisation's governing body. Accustomed to working with groups of like-minded people, she found the competition between campaign groups challenging. Her continued activity at the local level included several terms as President of Ryde Hunters Hill Flora and Fauna Preservation Society (which originally won the struggle to protect the Field of Mars). Currently Vice-President of this society, she has also represented ACF on Landcare Australia Ltd since 1994, was an elected member of the NSW Nature Conservation Council's executive for several years and has represented the NSW peak non-government environment organisations on Sydney Water's Customer Council since the early 1990s.
Brigid admires Christine Milne as 'someone who is always "on message" and informed'. She sees determination as an essential for women seeking to become leaders in the environment movement. 'In the past it was the structure of the environment movement that the men were "doing" and the women were "enabling". I don't think that it's all that different now. Most of the voices in the environment movement are still male...What the reason for that is, I'm not sure. Women come in hoping and believing that the environment movement was going to be different - less hierarchical - but in the end it's really no different from the way the rest of society functions.'
- Dowsett, Brigid, A New Course for Sydney Water: The Final Report of the Sydney Water Project, Sydney Water Project, Sydney, New South Wales, 1995. Details
- Elix, Jane, 'Brigid Dowsett', in Jane Elix’s Blog, 16 June 2011, http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/134287/20120604-0915/janeelix.wordpress.com/2011/06/16/brigid-dowsett/index.html. Details