Woman Mann, Maria Katrina

Environmentalist and Psychologist

Written by Judy Lambert (edited from blogs prepared by Jane Elix), Australian National University

Maria Mann was born in Finland in 1953, to a Swedish-speaking family. They migrated to Australia when Maria was a small child, living in migrant hostels before moving to Adelaide, Geraldton, and finally settling in Carnarvon. At 15, Maria was sent to Perth to complete her schooling. In her early working life she used her Psychology degree in a variety of jobs in prisons and with Aboriginal people in the north of Western Australia.

Following her passions, Maria engaged with the environment movement. In 1996, outraged at proposals to dam the Fitzroy River she became the first secretary of the newly formed Environs Kimberley. Her experience and organising skills helped her to feel comfortable in filling that role. A visit to Broome by Bob Brown answered some of her questions about the logistics of environmental campaigning. As funding support grew she was able to be paid for her previously unremunerated work, initially part-time then eventually full-time. In partnership with the Kimberley Land Council and other local groups, Environs Kimberley initially focused on protecting the Fitzroy River but later worked on other campaigns. Maria did not see herself as a 'leader'. For some time her position was entitled 'Coordinator', but as the organisation and its campaign breadth grew that was changed to Director of Environs Kimberley.

Maria became part of the Australian Conservation Foundation's (ACF) governing council, and at about the same time, did some leadership training through the Mittagong Forum, organised by then ACF President Peter Garrett. She found the training very useful, first in recognising herself as a leader (a title she had previously resisted), then in understanding the different ways of leading. It complemented her more fundamental interest in how to bring about attitudinal change - something she was seeking to achieve in relation to the Fitzroy River and the Kimberley more broadly.

Maria's son was about seven when she became involved in Environs Kimberley and she faced the problems of many single mothers - limited money, no family support and a demanding job. She relied on friends to support her son, and regrets allowing her enthusiasm and commitment to her job to impact on her family life. In 2008, after 12 years at Environs Kimberley, Maria left the organisation and moved to Perth where she has taken up a position as Electorate Officer for a Greens MP. She now sees herself 'influencing from behind', a position that frees her of responsibility for dealing with the media - a role that she had found 'excruciating'.

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