Thirty years ago Ronda Cook protested against high rises along the Hervey Bay foreshore.
Thirty years ago Ronda Cook protested against high rises along the Hervey Bay foreshore.

Hervey Bay’s fierce protector, conservationist Ronda Cook

THE Hervey Bay foreshore would look different today had it not been for a fiery conservationist named Ronda Cook.

Dozens of fierce advocates of the Keep Hervey Bay Natural brigade fought the good fight in the eighties but none was more ardent than Ronda.

She moved to Hervey Bay in the 1950s with her husband Keith and their growing family, farming pineapples at Urraween before moving to Gatakers Bay.

Previous owners of their property had started to hand feed rainbow lorikeets daily and the Cooks continued this tradition and it soon became a very popular tourist attraction.

The couple ran the Parraweena Bird Sanctuary at Gatakers Bay in the days when the villages of Hervey Bay were advocating home rule from the Burrum Shire Council.

As Ronda's family of six grew, her interests extended outside the home.

The Hervey Bay Town Council, soon to be the Hervey Bay City Council, was dominated by real estate agents and prone to push through development-at-any-cost commercial precinct and residential estates.

The new city was polarised by the pro-development phalanx and the ardent conservationists led by Ronda and Shirley Jones.

Ronda was fearless in her crusade to stop high rise on the foreshore and development, or clearing, of the foreshore. She carried banners, challenged development applications, sat in front of bulldozers and climbed trees to prevent them from being felled.

She won a seat on the council and carried the conservative banner high from 1976 to 1982. Few council meetings were free of acrid clashes - usually Ronda against the rest. Passions ran high - at one stage Ronda tipped a jug of water over the head of the town clerk Tom Farr.

She lost more battles than she won but she made a big enough impact to sway a solid portion of the people of the fledgling city into believing the Bay should fight to retain its natural feel.

She was caustic and unpopular, aggressively confronting foreshore campers whom she believed might be snipping trees to improve their views, but revered by many as a champion of nature and natural Hervey Bay.

Her friend Bev Cornwell describes her as an "outspoken lady who stood up for all she believed in, be it the down trodden, the environment or any cause that she cared deeply about.

Bev describes Ronda as "Hervey Bay's one and only true blue greenie" who stood in front of trees to protect them from tractors.

When Ronda said "over my dead body" she literally meant it, recalls another friend, John Sinclair, with whom she helped found Fraser Island Defenders Organisation.

"She climbed some of those trees and sat there until the threat of the bulldozers was removed," he said.

"Ronda Cook, Mary Hansen and Freda Goodsell were incredible stalwarts who never wavered in the face of the formidable opposition. However, Ronda managed to do this while occupied with family and her dedication to Aboriginal advancement. She was a stalwart for the Butchulla as well."

In 1982, Ronda and Freda Goodsell - both grandmothers - decided they shouldn't sit in Hervey Bay while the Franklin River in Tasmania was at imminent risk of flooding.

They went to Tasmania, where they endured incredible discomfort until they were arrested for supporting the blockade on the Gordon River. But they were proven right and played their part in letting the Franklin remain free.

She was also a leader of the Wide Bay Burnett Conservation Council.

The ardent activist was also involved in the campaign to stop the Traveston Dam.

"In 1983 I got thrown in prison for four days when I travelled to Tasmania to protest against the building of the Franklin dam on the Gordon River. They arrested me for trespassing on a national park. I didn't sit down quietly then and I'm certainly going to do all I can now to stop the Traveston dam going ahead.," the-then 77-year-old commented to the Fraser Coast Chronicle as she ran the last leg of the Get Up torch run on September 7, 2008, which aimed to highlight environmental sustainability, and spoke of her own experiences as an environmental protester.

She will be remembered as one of the Fraser Coast's most passionate and colourful characters, and a tireless campaigner for environmental causes.

Ronda Cook was born to Harold and Rona Gehrig on December 30, 1929, at Albury, NSW, she died on April 11 aged 84, at Kirami, Point Vernon.

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