Nathalia teacher on mission

May 12, 2018

Denise Boyle during a session of the UN Human Rights Council, Geneva.

It’s a long time since I was in touch with the Shepparton News.

During the 15 years I lived in the convent of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood (FMDM) in Nathalia, Victoria, reading the Shepp News was an important means of keeping up to date with local happenings.

On arrival in Victoria fresh out of college in August, 1974, I taught in St Mary of the Angels Secondary School.

After eight years, I moved out of St Marys to work with the Religious Education Staff across the secondary campuses of the Sandhurst Diocese.

After three years. I returned to St Marys as the principal until December, 1989, when I bade a sad au revoir to the staff, students, parents and dear friends, to begin the long journey to Zimbabwe.

Africa proved to be challenging and exciting.

In Zimbabwe, I moved into human rights education, which quickly developed into advocacy work at a national level, with a particular emphasis on the rights of women and the girl child.

Mid-2000 I returned home to Ireland, which has remained my base since then.

Currently I am working with Mercy International Association, co-ordinating their Global Action or Justice Program. This entails some travel, which is why in October, 2015, with my colleague Sr Aine O’Connor, we visited members of the Mercy Family and saw their work for justice in Queensland.

At the invitation of community leader Shay Dougall we travelled to Chinchilla in the Hopeland area of the Western Downs, to hear firsthand the concerns and challenges the residents were facing, related to the unconventional mining or fracking of coal seam gas (CSG).

Listening to the residents’ concerns about the environment, including water pollution, also the health and social consequences suffered by those living close to the gas wells, many sited on rich, agricultural land, it became obvious that it was a human rights issue.

The detrimental impact on the health of the children in the Hopeland area was particularly worrying.

We heard about the community’s extraordinary efforts to protect the air, land and water from the permanent damage CSG mining is causing.

On hearing this, we brainstormed with Shay and her group, plus some key activists, on how these critical issues could be addressed.

Attempts to effect change through dialogue with the mining companies and the Queensland Government appeared to have fallen on deaf ears.

One suggestion the group took up was the possibility of gaining international attention for their situation through participation in a Permanent Peoples Tribunal.

The PPT, based in Rome, is an internationally recognised tribunal of Civil Society that focuses on hearing public opinion on specific issues.

It functions independently of state authorities, thereby guaranteeing everyone involved freedom of expression.

The PPT is a descendant of the 1967 Bertrand Russell-Jean Paul Sartre Vietnam War Crimes Tribunal, designed to hear cases where prima facie evidence indicates a violation of the basic rights of ordinary people.

Furnished with all the details about the PPT process, Shay Dougall and a hardworking group of activists went to work.

Linking with activists across Australia, now nearly three years later all is in place for the upcoming session of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal on Human Rights, Fracking and Climate Change to be held May 14-18.

It will be co-hosted through the Spring Creek Project at Oregon State University, where for the first time in its 40-year history, the proceedings will be hosted completely online.

The session will have an international focus and in addition to focusing on the rights of people, this PPT hearing will include arguments for the rights of nature.

To read more, visit

— Denise Boyle

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