Raised by her mother before the term ‘single mum’ was even invented, Bronte Somerset learned resilience at a young age. Her father died when she was just two years old but passed on to her a technical mind with a love of detail. He owned Sherwood Radio, which made valve radios back in the days when they were a substantial piece of furniture in a family’s lounge room.
While other kids at her school on Sydney’s north shore went to exotic destinations during holidays, Bronte and her siblings always spent time at their uncle’s farm in Burrawang, near Moss Vale, where they could muck about with cows in nature, which she always enjoyed.
Like most folks, after finishing school she married and had kids. Bronte had five of them and now has 12 grandchildren.
Her first son Jared was born profoundly deaf. Her first dip into education was to teach him how to read lips and to speak without him ever having heard natural speech, using the John Tracy Clinic method. Bronte worked hard to teach him the skills he needed to navigate the world. She proudly says that now he’s usually the most talkative member of the family.
Bronte started her working life with a stint as a Qantas hostie where she learned to be organised; a skill she’s used throughout her life. She also spent a couple of years in Hong Kong as a young mother teaching English to refugee children and working with the UNHCR and the Red Cross to establish a recreation program for refugees from Cambodia and Vietnam.
Once her kids were teenagers, she worked at Macquarie University for 18 years, where she used her innate computing ability to teach university staff and students how to use their PCs as well as writing the courseware for computer software and multimedia classes.
During that time, she sought the qualifications to teach. She was 55 years old when she started uni, obtaining a Masters in Adult Education and Training at Sydney’s UTS. Bronte had found her niche and was offered placement in an Educational Doctorate course. She embarked on a thesis that explored the shifting way that theses themselves are conceived using new media and modern thought processes. She called it ‘Thoroughly Modern Theses’. Her work was highly respected as it ‘broke the bounds of traditional knowledge production’. Phew! Although now retired, she and her husband Richard Parker have proofread over 60 theses since moving to Quaama.
Bronte reckons she was always an advocate. Now her passion is saving our native forests. After moving down here from Sydney, she was shocked to see trucks carting trees down the highway and was heartbroken by the devastation left behind. She was motivated to oppose native forest logging because of the unnecessary damage to the forest, wildlife, water, soil, carbon, culture and beauty.
Bronte founded the Great Southern Forest (GSF) group to advocate for new thinking about forestry and conservation. Just last year, the Australian Institute estimated that the Forestry Corporation of NSW lost $79 million over the last seven years through unsustainable practices that sees our native forests logged, chipped and sent overseas for pulp, all while losing money. Our taxpayer dollars are subsidising this dinosaur industry, which Bronte feels needs to change from a 19th century mindset to one of protection, not exploitation, appropriate for the 21st century.
She understands that plantation timber can fulfil demand without native forests needing to be logged at all, that logging and forestry jobs can be reimagined into those that restore and sustain, and how the inevitable pricing of carbon will see forests valued as they stand rather than as they fall.
Bronte feels that in this endeavour she now collaborates with some of the finest people she has known. They are working hard as two agreements to log in our region are coming up for review in 2019 and 2021, when they could be extended for another twenty years.
You can expect to hear more from Bronte and her GSF colleagues as pressure from the community standing together is required to effect change. Let’s hope that Bronte is allowed to use her considerable skills to teach our politicians a thoroughly modern way of seeing the natural world and be successful in this noble endeavour to save our native forests and the wildlife that lives within them.
For more information about GSF see their website www.greatsouthernforest.org.au.