Since coming together in November 2002, the Wentworth Group has been the catalyst for a series of land and water reforms across Australia.
The Wentworth Group was founded in October 2002, during Australia’s Millennium Drought.
Faced with catastrophe in the bush, and severe water restrictions in the cities, some of the nations most distinguished scientists and business figures came together to discuss a plan of action.
Among those gathered was revered environmental scientist Peter Cullen, who recalled the scene in his 2004 speech Turning The Tide:
At about 7.00 pm we adjourned into an adjacent room for dinner, where we were joined by three invited journalists, Nick Grimm from the ABC AM program, Anthony Hoy from the Bulletin and Asa Wahlquist from the Australian.
Asa Wahlquist described the dinner in an article in the Weekend Australian Magazine of May 31 2003:
“Desert eaten, the discussion continued to take many energetic, if undisciplined turns. The evening was threatening to collapse under the weight of so many fine ideas, when one of the journalists present banged the table. “What are you going to do about it?” he demanded.”
This was a sobering challenge. Scientists enjoy the tussle of ideas, and spend most of their time arguing about the contestable parts of their knowledge. This challenge meant we had to return to the core things we all agreed upon, rather than continuing to push the boundaries of our knowledge. It was not difficult, and in 15 minutes we had agreed the five-point plan that was the foundation of the Wentworth Group’s Blueprint for a Living Continent.
I read the statement straight from the computer screen, since we had no printer handy. It was recorded by Nick Grimm, and went to air next morning on AM. As Asa Wahlquist reports…“The statement hit the media like a drought-breaking storm.” Nick Grimm subsequently won a Eureka Prize for Environmental Journalism for the report and was commended in the Walkley Press Awards.
The right people saying the right things at the right time. The Wentworth Group’s statement, Blueprint for a Living Continent, sets out what it believed were the key changes that needed to be made to deliver a sustainable future for Australia’s continent and its people.
The scientists were able to have an immediate impact on the national conversation. And the message was simple – Australians must adapt to living in a dry, harsh climate and develop sustainable, science-based methods of living on the land.
The group took the name The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists after the venue of that first meeting – Sydney’s Wentworth Hotel. By happy coincidence, Wentworth is also the small NSW town where the Murray and Darling Rivers converge.
More than fifteen years on, and as the effects of climate change and global heating become apparent across Australia, the Wentworth Group has a crucial role in promoting independent, science-based, policy that conserves and protects our unique ecosystems.