31 Aug 2022


Derek Robertson, sits on WWF-Australia's advisory Board of Governors. After a lifetime of involvement in the environment, he has hope that the tides are turning. It’s one of the reasons he’s made the important decision to include charities like WWF in his Will, after his family and loved ones are provided for.

We asked him about his life in conservation science, and where it all began.

“I was a farm kid from up on the tablelands. Most people will tell you there’s something special about farming. We remember things about the land. We have a connection to the land; we want to make sure it isn’t degraded."

“My background is in geology; however, I became involved in the environment movement when I moved to South Australia in 1970. At this time, my commitment to First Peoples was beginning to grow, my anxiety about species extinction was very much alive, and I was disgusted at the way that South Australia (the Murray Mallee in particular) had been completely deforested."

“If you drive through the Murray Mallee, you’ll pass a fringe of trees which is elevated about twenty centimeters above the surrounding fields. That’s due to 150 years of wind erosion blowing the Murray Mallee into the Great Southern Ocean. Those sorts of sights give you a jolt—wake you up."

Dry creek bed with mallee trees and the Painted Hills in the background. South Australia, Australia
© WWF-Australia / Stephen Browne – stock.adobe.com

“I was very much concerned about land management and tree preservation, and of course species preservation—the occupants of the trees. By 1971, I had joined the Nature Conservation Society. South Australia had (in my opinion) a succession of inadequate governments for about 25 years. I joined the organisation because they were instrumental in bringing nature to the attention of parliamentarians. A few years in I volunteered, and successfully ran, for election for Adelaide council."

“When I left Parliament, I was picked up by the first Minister of the Environment in Indonesia. We lived in Jakarta for 16 years while I ran a project to prepare an environmental report on 15 economic sectors in the Indonesian economy. After my contract ended, I moved back to Australia and began working for UNESCO, before moving into science education."

“I first heard of WWF internationally; I was drawn to their broadscale. WWF looks not just at preserving all native animals but also preserving the habitat for them. I expressed my interest to WWF-Australia's CEO Dermot O’Gorman and took on a Governorship role in 2014. I’m happy to be involved and offer guidance."

“What really gives me hope is generational change."

“Nothing happens unless you can win over the population. It’s a matter of readiness. There’s been so much media recently picking up on these issues and enlarging on them. People are drawn into what seems to be important, and the new government is opening doors that people are now quite happy to open."

“The recognition of First Peoples is an important first step on this journey. If I could, I would purchase the farms my father owned, and I would return them to their original owners.”

Derek is grateful to have a voice through WWF-Australia. He hopes to continue to support the organisation to prioritise the most urgent issues during his lifetime, and that his future legacy will halt species extinction, preserve habitat and drive sustainable energy to control carbon and methane emissions.

If you hold similar hopes for the future, why not consider making nature a part of your Legacy to the world. Find out more about how to include a gift in your will to WWF-Australia.