Woman Henderson, Judy Isabel


Environmentalist, Natural Resource Manager and Paediatrician

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

Judy Henderson was born in 1945 and raised on a dairy farm near Bellingen New South Wales. An Elder in the Presbyterian church, her father died when Judy was eight. However, Judy's extended family buffered this early loss. Throughout school and into university where she studied medicine, Judy was more at ease exploring the natural environment than in social situations. She volunteered at the Redfern Aboriginal Medical Centre and then worked with Aboriginal children whilst undertaking paediatric training in Perth. It is largely to Save the Children nurse and co-worker Margaret Clements and her husband that she attributes her early understanding of social justice. Judy spent three months working in a hospital in Nepal before going to Canada to work as a paediatrician. After a year she returned to Nepal, working in Kathmandu and remote areas where she encountered extreme poverty.

In 1985 Judy returned to Tasmania and joined the emerging like-minded community involved in the Franklin River campaign, led by her life-long friend Bob Brown. She became deeply involved in the environment movement, and in Community Aid Abroad (later Oxfam). Her first paid job in the environment movement was as Coordinator of the Australian Bush Heritage Fund, of which she and Bob Brown were founding Directors. In 1992, she was an NGO adviser to the Australian delegation to the Rio Earth Summit. Between 1995 and the early 2000s, she was appointed Chair of Oxfam International, a Board member of Greenpeace International, a Commissioner on the International Commission on Dams, and Chair of the Global Reporting Initiative.

In 2004, Judy's extensive governance experience saw her appointed the Chair of the Northern Rivers Catchment Management Authority, a position she held until 2011. Currently living in her ancestral home at Repton, She enjoys working within the local farming community. She has recently been appointed a member of the National Wildlife Corridors Plan Advisory Group and the Australian Landcare Council. Even though she doesn't like the word 'leadership', Judy provides some very meaningful insights about it. She attributes her leadership qualities to her interest in people and an ability to understand their behaviour - a quality she links to her medical training. Bringing people along with you, rather than forging ahead is crucial to Judy's leadership style. She sees women as being better at this than men, although she identifies some strong women who 'take on the male persona'. The former Irish Prime Minister Mary Robinson, for example, she describes as a 'fantastic leader' with superb listening skills and an ability to engage with others. Judy also identifies as influential leaders, local women who make a tremendous difference through their work on the ground.

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