Madeline Diamond – shining by example for climate justice
At just 22-years-old, climate activist Madeline Diamond has already been named the ACT’s Young Australian of the Year and started her own successful community group. Trash Gather, formerly known as Trash Mob, is a group that meets once a month to clean up public spaces in Canberra to help save the environment. Madeline never lets an opportunity to spread her message go to waste, and made quite a splash at the Australian of the Year Awards, arriving with the words “Climate Justice” painted on her chest.
Q: How did your passion for climate justice begin?
A: It was after I finished school. I went to primary school and high school in Yass, and then I went to college in Canberra. In Yass, nobody was talking about climate change. I don’t even remember the first time I heard the term climate change, but it definitely wasn’t that young, which is a bit concerning considering it’s been happening since before I was born. So I went to Gungahlin College and kind of heard about it but didn’t really have any activism going on in school like they do now. After I finished school was when I started actually reading the news and keeping up with things happening in the world and paying attention to politics.
That’s when I realised it was actually really serious, it wasn’t just this thing that was happening in the background and there’s nothing you can do about it. I realised if humans are doing this, we can just stop doing it. But I thought I couldn’t do anything, I thought it’s such a big problem, I don’t know anything about it, what could I possibly do? Then I moved to Adelaide for a while and didn’t have a job there, so I decided I wanted to volunteer and do something productive with my time. I thought well climate change seems like the biggest problem we need to deal with. That’s what I’m going to focus on.
I guess I always had environmentally friendly tendencies like I tried not to use too much plastic and I picked up rubbish and things like that, but it wasn’t a full-on passion. So I actually googled environmental activism Adelaide and the first thing that came up was AYCC which is the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. I went to one meeting and I was sold. That was my passion and purpose from that point on. That’s where it really started, working alongside all these young people. That’s where I learned about things like the term climate justice, what it means, and how it’s more than just climate action.
Q: How did you get started with Trash Gather?
A: That was after I had been volunteering with AYCC for just a few months. I was feeling extremely empowered from that, before that I was quite hopeless about climate change. I thought it was going to get us all and there was nothing we could do about it. But after getting more active about it, I realised I can do whatever I want. I can do good things and nobody can stop me. I was always aware of the issue of littering and plastic pollution because I always did Clean Up Australia Day when I was a kid and my mum would pick up rubbish on the way to the bus in the morning, which I thought was lame at the time, but it’s cool now.
I’m a bit of an entrepreneurial type, I’d rather do my own thing than being told what to do in any scenario. So I decided to start a group. I made a Facebook page and put up an event and just waited to see what happened. It was really just an experiment. I wasn’t attached to the idea of it working out, but it’s been two and a half years and it’s definitely worked out and I’m really happy about it.
Q: How did you react when you found out you were nominated for Young Australian of the Year?
A: I honestly didn’t know much about the awards before it all happened. I knew that I was nominated for ACT Young Australian of the Year, but I didn’t think I would win that and I didn’t think that would make me a candidate for Young Australian of the Year. So I went through all of these stages of learning about the process and being really surprised every time. Like when I got ACT Young Australian I thought oh that’s nice. Then someone said “yeah you’re going to go to this big awards ceremony, it’s going to be on TV, you’re going to have to get all these outfits and go to all these events”, and I said “what are you talking about?’. The whole process was just continuous surprises for a good few months, but it was really fun.
Q: What made you decide to wear your message to the awards?
A: I don’t know when it came to me but pretty much as soon as I found out that there was going to be a live broadcast of the awards on TV. I think it was when I heard the words red carpet, I thought ooh that’s an opportunity. I’d seen Montaigne the singer go to the ARIA‘s a couple of times with similar messages written on her body. She had Stop Adani across her cheeks one year, and something else across her chest another year. It caused such a stir and it was such a good way to put forward a message without being aggressive or disruptive, but you can’t not see it. I felt like that’s a really powerful opportunity, and I thought if it was any other young climate activist I don’t think they would let this opportunity slip away. I don’t think they would just go to this big party and enjoy themselves when we’re in a climate crisis.
I felt like I had to do it, to seize the opportunity and get the message out. I also wanted to show other young people what they are capable of. Some times in situations we feel like we can’t say and do certain things because of our age. It can feel that older people have authority over us, and we don’t want to rebel or get in trouble or anything. But I think when it comes down to issues like climate change which is our future on the line, you don’t have to do what you’re told all the time and be nice. Sometimes you have to say no, this isn’t good enough and take a stand. It doesn’t have to be rude, it doesn’t have to be violent, it doesn’t have to be anything negative but you can still bend the rules a bit if you just get creative. I guess I just really wanted to show other young people they don’t have to play by the rules, they can do what they want to do.
Q: What was the reaction to your peaceful protest?
A: When I first got to the event people were staring at me with really shocked expressions. I had these moments of doubt but I realised that I was already there and there was nothing I could do except roll with it and enjoy myself. People were a bit sceptical of me, and one of the staff from the awards actually came over and said “Scott Morrison’s security team are really nervous that you’re going to pull some stunt. Do you have anything else planned?” I said, “no but that’s hilarious”.
So then all the awards happened and we were all sitting in the audience and people were tweeting throughout the whole thing and I had no idea because I don’t have my phone. Some journalist had tweeted a picture of me and by the time the awards were over it was everywhere and there were articles about it and everything. I was being interviewed on the night, and people were coming up to me saying they thought it was awesome and being really supportive. Especially older people were coming up to me and I thought that was really nice, them validating me and not looking down on me or acting like I ruined the event. As the night went on it just got better and better, everyone is really supportive.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of what you do?
A: I can’t imagine myself doing anything else but being an activist because there’s so much work to be done in the world. I guess the most rewarding thing is I feel really purposeful knowing that I’m contributing to that. It really helps to keep away the despair and the hopelessness that you can sometimes get trapped in. It makes me feel like I’m making a difference, I’m contributing, I’m doing the best I can and I can sleep at night knowing I did everything I could regardless of the result.