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

Updated: Jul 1, 2022

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.)