Meet Jimmy Cocking, nature lover and festival organiser. Jimmy has found his life’s work right here in the heart of Australia – working for the environment and organising an outdoors music festival. The landscape and ecology and the can-do attitude of Central Australians are just a few of the things that he loves about this place that he calls home.
Clarion Call for the Future of Region's Environment - Jimmy Cocking's Story
Resilient, resourceful, passionate, controversial – there are many words to describe environmentalist Jimmy Cocking, but ‘quiet’ is certainly not one of them. For the past six years, Jimmy has been leading the sustainability movement in Central Australia in his role as Director of the Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC). Passionate about protecting the unique and relatively intact ecosystem of the region, Jimmy has been on a crusade to preserve and to educate.
Raised on a farm in Beveridge, Victoria to dairy and beef farmers, Jimmy and his three younger brothers grew up with a strong connection to land and understanding of environmental issues.
“My three younger brothers (two are Veterinarians and one is an Agricultural Economist) and I were all very aware of environmental issues from a young age. You see them by living on the land – you have to live through droughts and manage things in a way that in the good years you are putting things away and in the hard years, you are able to draw on that and have the persistence to keep going”
After high school, Jimmy went to Monash University where he studied Biomedical Science. His final year thesis was in cell biology and examining possible links between stem cells and endometriosis – one of the leading causes of female infertility. He graduated with First Class Honours and presented his paper at the World Congress on Fertility and Sterility. At the same time, the War in Afghanistan was launched in retaliation to the September 11 attacks and Jimmy began to have a growing awareness and unease with the social and political issues of that era. Not one to turn ignore his discontent with the neo-conservative policies dominating world politics, Jimmy became an activist.
“I think protesting makes a difference and it’s really important that people do. A combination of actions are required if we are going to create change”
“The biggest threat in this day and age is when people stop caring about issues – whether it’s about people on the other side of the world, welfare of animals or environmental issues”
In 2002, Jimmy came to Alice Springs for the first time and it was this trip that became a defining point in his life. “I came up here for a protest, made some really good friends and essentially decided to dedicate my life to trying to make the world better - whether that’s through writing, activism, organizing events or anything that is trying to help people understand issues and care about them”
It wasn’t until six years later that Jimmy moved to Central Australia permanently but in the intervening years he worked for the Wilderness Society in Tasmania, numerous hospitality jobs in Melbourne followed by the Australian Red Cross where he assisted West Papuan refugees with resettlement while undertaking his Masters in Social Science.
“Before I moved up here in 2008, I had two goals in my life – one was to run an environmental organization and the other to start a music festival and I have managed to do both”
Over a few backyard beers, - Jimmy, Rodney Angelo and Scott Large conjured up a festival that was a culmination of music, arts and desert culture. Wide Open Space Festival launched in 2009 on the May long weekend. Set against the picturesque backdrop of the East MacDonnell landscape, Wide Open Space brings together festivalgoers from around the country who are interested in connecting with the music and culture in Central Australia. This year, the event drew a crowd of 1500.
“It has become an event for the diaspora of Alice Springs and desert people who connected with this place because it’s one of those things where everyone will say ‘see you at Wide Open Space’ and they will come up and hang out for a week or two to catch up with friends, get the red sand in their skin, head back to where they came from and spread the joy”
In addition to the music festival, the greatest achievements for Jimmy are what he’s been able to achieve through ALEC. The Community Garden in East Side, Biodiversity Matters and the desertSMART Eco Fair are community initiatives that Jimmy takes the greatest pride in.
“I’m really proud to be part of bringing those three things to Alice Springs. One project is about local sustainability to grow our own food, Biodiversity Matters is about getting out in nature and doing stuff that actually helps and Eco Fair is a sustainable living festival that is connected with National Science Week”
“The grassroots is where it’s at. It’s where we can act and build stronger communities so we can better look after ourselves”
ALEC is also making a foray into sustainability tourism. Over the next few months, Jimmy and his team will be launching a tourist trail that will bring together all their sustainability initiatives. And the Biodiversity Matters program will be exploring ‘eco-voluntourism’ opportunities to get people out bush caring for the land and threatened species. Jimmy believes innovation is the key for getting through tough times and science communications and tourism are not mutually exclusive.
“The future outlook is that it's going to get hotter and drier in some parts of Australia. In Central Australia we have adapted and developed ways of dealing with this over millennia of living with the land. This gives us a head start out here and also provides a great reason for people to visit and learn more about this beautiful country”
Alice Springs is also his home and after six years in the Red Centre, Jimmy is an adapted creature to this ecosystem.
“I have seen the creatures that live out here, the birds, the plants, the animals and how they adapt to the environment – it’s a harsh place for unadapted species but for those that are adapted - they wouldn’t live anywhere else”