Aussie Aspiring "Legal Beagle" Sonya McKay Runs Fridays 4 Future Online

Updated: Jul 1




Images courtesy Fridays 4 Future Online

Sonya McKay, in NSW Australia, top, interviews prominent climate scientist Prof. Michael E. Mann of Penn State University, above, at his home in State College PA USA, on Friday 28 August 2020.


By Alfred Robert Hogan


Growing up as a girl in the southeastern Australian state of New South Wales (NSW), in the 1970s and 1980s, Sonya McKay learned to love nature—and beautiful butterflies in particular. She now infuses that spirit into her Fridays 4 Future Online activism, and its monthly “Protect Our Future From Fossil Fuels” educational-activist series of Internet events.


“We were brought up in a nature-oriented area that transitioned over time. We had so much development, it took nature away from the suburbs. We really need nature and open space for our well-being,” said McKay, who was born in Sydney’s western suburbs in mid-1970. (In discussing her past, McKay hesitated about providing an exact birth date, emphasizing that, “We are so much more than a number which should not define who we are or how we interact with each other. We need to unite beyond age, gender, race, religion, culture, and who we choose to love, to rise to the current and future existential challenges that include climate change, conflict, as well as food, water, and energy insecurity.”)


Now, McKay lives in the Newcastle area, ironically the center of Australia’s still-robust coal industry, mainly located in New South Wales. The city of Newcastle, Australia, is indeed the namesake successor of sorts to England’s longtime coal capital of Newcastle (the famous UK adage references the futility of “carrying coals to Newcastle”), and its once coal-centric near-neighbor-land of Wales (memorably depicted in the 1941 film “How Green Was My Valley,” which won the Best Picture Oscar).



Images courtesy BACEF

Sonya McKay, top, criticizing noisy pollution caused by jet-fueled airplanes, circa 1998. The debut issue in September 1998 of this activist newsletter, above, focused on curtailing Bankstown airplane noise,


As an undergraduate, back while attending NSW’s Wollongong University, McKay organized efforts to oppose aircraft noise pollution. That noise was generated by both the nearby busy virtually 24-7 Sydney International Airport, one of the world’s oldest, whose first flight took place in November 1919, and by the 24-7 Bankstown Airport, which dates from 1940). The noise was disrupting studying and sleeping routines for “uni” students, and others. She and other community members also opposed the then-proposed Badgerys Creek Airport, which was to add a third airport in the Sydney area. (That Western Sydney Airport, formally the Western Sydney International Nancy-Bird Walton Airport, and informally the Badgerys Creek Airport, was approved by Australia’s federal government in April 2014, after decades of debates. It is due to open in December 2026—and it too will operate 24-7.) One eco group that McKay coordinated, called the Bankstown Airport Community and Environment Forum, published a half-dozen informational newsletters, in 1998 and 1999, and held multiple rallies. But she and others “encountered resistance, a lack of acceptance, as we have with climate action,” she recalled. “That is one reason I want to promote electric aircraft, to help reduce the noise, as well as avoiding emissions that damage both our climate and human health.”


From Wollongong University, McKay earned her bachelor’s degree, with a double major in politics and psychology, and then her LLB law degree, with an associated graduate certificate in legal practice, the latter two by about 2000. McKay is now close to finishing her master’s degree in environmental law at Newcastle University, where she also just earned a graduate certificate in disaster risk reduction in June 2022. Although McKay does not currently work as a legal professional providing legal advice, she aspires to work toward advocating legally for nature’s rights—and thereby, also for human rights. Reflecting on returning to “uni” as a graduate student, after a few years away, McKay said, “Girls and women, and everyone, should believe in themselves and realize they can strive to achieve a better world. They can participate in the community on key issues, such as climate change, in a genuinely constructive way. Whether you want to become a leader, an astronaut, lawyer, writer, painter, or actor, or anything, you can make a difference, as FFF founder Greta Thunberg has often observed.”


In the mid-2000s, McKay led activists trying to protect Killalea State Park, a former NSW dairy farm and a 265-hectare Pacific coastal enclave named after former owner Edward Killalea, which had been set aside back in 1984. McKay successfully organized the Save Killalea Alliance against building a proposed 200-plus “holiday cabins…in the park’s most visual, well-loved areas that included ‘The Farm’,” she noted, along with shoehorning in other new major tourist facilities, such as a tennis court, swimming pool, restaurant/cafe, and multi-function center. “The developers eventually withdrew,” McKay said. (The new mayor of the small coastal community of Shellharbor, Chris Homer, a surfer, had belonged to the Save Killalea Alliance. He was elected mayor on Saturday 4 December 2021.)





Photo courtesy Sonya McKay

In November 2006, Sonya McKay, at left carrying her young son Calum, partookwith others in the Wollongong NSW Walk Against Warming.

Image courtesy ICEC News

Student Ms. Jess Moore, then president of the progressive Wollongong University Socialist Alliance, addressed the 2006 Walk Against Warming, in this sound bite from McKay’s video report on the event.


McKay soon connected with the early climate movement too. “I’ve known about climate change for some time,” recalled McKay, who participated in the Wollongong NSW event for the global Walk Against Warming, back on Saturday 4 November 2006. She not only took part, but also covered the walk for the environmental video news outlet she initiated with ICEC News. (Over the years, McKay has been an activist with various green groups, including coordinating the Illawarra Community and Environment Connection (ICEC), and participating now in NSW’s Gas Free Hunter Alliance, newly formed in May 2021.) Future Sooner, as well as interacting with Nature Conservation Council, founded in 1955, and more. McKay, who had worked with signwriter and surfer Gary Blaschke decades ago in Bankstown, recently reconnected with him as a fellow activist, in The Hunter region of NSW. Blaschke now lives in NSW’s Central Coast suburbs, which suffer higher-than-state-average cancer rates surrounding the Vales Point coal-fired power station. That plant’s emissions have been linked to heightened childhood asthma cases and adult cancers. McKay allies with Blaschke, now dealing with his own cancer battle, in his efforts to have coal-fueled childhood asthma and cancer rates investigated, and to have that coal plant closed.


Photo courtesy Student Strike 4 Climate Newcastle Facebook page

Sonya McKay, in upper right corner, attends a Student Strike 4 Climate Meeting in Newcastle in 2019.


Pre-COVID-19 pandemic, McKay attended several in-person climate protests over the years, in Wollongong, in Newcastle, and even in Sydney (home of the world-famous iconic Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge). She helped support local School Strike 4 Climate activists, especially through her video shooting and editing efforts.


And back years ago, McKay had also used another tactic, by standing as a parliamentary candidate more than once, seeking a greater voice for communities afflicted with weak environmental protections. In the Australian national election held on Saturday 10 November 2001. she was the Australian Green Party candidate for the lower House of the Australian Parliament, from the Division of Blaxland in NSW. Operating with just a shoestring budget, McKay finished 5th in a nine-candidate field, earning 1,839 votes, or 2.62 percent. Incumbent Labor candidate Michael Hatton won re-election, logging 54.13 percent. (All 150 seats in the House were in contention then, as were 40 of the 76 Senate seats. The lower chamber is nicknamed the “bearpit,” because of the few-holds-barred ferocity of its politics and debates.)

Then, on Saturday 22 March 2003, McKay again represented the Australian Greens, this time in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly election for East Hills. She campaigned on opposition to the Holsworthy airport proposal, opposition to privatizing and expanding Bankstown airport, preventing overdevelopment, and increasing funding for health and public education. She came in 3rd of nine candidates, winning 2,570 votes, or 6.3 percent. However, that fell well short of enough votes to win a seat, even in the proportional representation voting system. Incumbent Labor candidate Alan Ashton won, with 55.2 percent.


On Saturday 24 March 2007, having moved, she ran again as the Australian Green Party candidate to represent the electoral district of Shellharbour, again in the lower house of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, garnering 3,242 votes, or 7.58 percent, coming in 4th place among five candidates. The new Labor Party candidate, Lylea A. McMahon, won, with 57.82 percent.


As McKay, who left politics behind long ago, reflected, “The aim was to underline the issues, not dwell on numbers, particularly given our having lesser resources,” she said. “Much has changed since those days.” She was pleased, for example, that some people, at least, understood the dire climate crisis in the most recent Australian national election. Climate proved a prime driver for about 10 percent of the turnout in that election. On Saturday 21 May 2022, climate-focused voters delivered enough limited wins for Green Party and progressive independent women contenders to become a pivotal, needed block in the new Labor-led coalition government. “As [FFF founder] Greta Thunberg has often said, every election is a climate election, and her message is finally starting to really get through,” McKay said. ‘Maybe it’s time for greater possibilities for women to do great things in a parliamentary system that drives respectful and logical dialogue,’ McKay reflected.


In mid-April 2020, in the early weeks of the COVID-19 global pandemic, McKay initiated the idea for Fridays 4 Future Online. Monthly online events since mid-2020 have been offered on the last Saturday of each month. She often employs computer virtual backgrounds, such as “Stop Adani,” “No Gas In Murray-Darling Basin,” and “Protect Our Future Not Gas.” Topics covered have ranged from understanding the climate crisis, examining the impacts of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas), viable solutions beyond fossil fuels, and the case for ethical veganism to the history and future of electric cars and electric airplanes to the high human health and environmental costs wrought because of the political power wielded by the coal, oil, and “natural” gas industries. For the ambitious F4FO daylong online program on Saturday 26 June 2021, McKay interviewed climate scientists and activists live from six continents, all but Antarctica. Over the months, among the guests on the monthly series: scientist-activist Prof. Stefan Sommer of Northern Arizona University in the USA, scientist-activist Prof. Patricia Eichler of Brazil, engineer-activist Janine O’Keeffe of Sweden, lawyer-activist Chase Iron Eyes of the Lakota Sioux tribe in the Dakotas in the USA, and scientist-journalist-activist Melissa Jimenez Gomez-Tagle of Mexico and Germany.


McKay, who is a vegetarian striving to transition to be vegan, now lives with two black-and-white border-collie-kelpie mixed dogs named Bessy and Panda, each about 12 years old, who can on occasion be rather voluble. Outside her home, she maintains a small garden, featuring blueberry bushes and cute dwarf apple, lemon, orange, and mandarin trees to supplement her food supply into the future. When post-pandemic conditions permit, she hopes to continue flying lessons in a small electric airplane, and ideally upgrade to driving an electric car. McKay has also supported anti-incinerator activism, and she provided multi-hour technical support for several ConscienceLAND SustainaFESTs featuring Canadian activist Philip “SustainaClaus” McMaster in 2021.


Meantime, as McKay laments in frustration, “Usually, something drastic has to happen before anyone does anything. But we must all finally accept the science, and take on board the United Nations advice to accelerate climate action before it’s too late. We also need to understand global vulnerabilities and strengths on a united unprecedented scale to take the needed actions. Ultimately, we need to make sure necessities are provided globally to all: sustainable food, water, shelter, and energy, so that ‘no one is left behind.’ That is something agreed to by United Nations countries, through its Agenda 2030, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, adopted back in September 2015.”


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To follow or connect with Sonya McKay on:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sonya.mckay1/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SonyaMcKay13


Join the free monthly F4F Online Protect Our Future From Fossil Fuels programs—the next one will take place at 2000 AEST/1000 GMT on Saturday 30 July 2022, including the special guest, Australian-born electronics engineer and expatriate climate activist in Sweden, Janine O’Keeffe, who will discuss climate “tipping points” and also the new FFF effort, TwiFF (Twitter For Future). You may either watch F4FO programs live or via posted recordings on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Fridays4FutureOnline


Additional resources:

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