Water warrior

Photo of James Hitchcock, by Joanne Saad

James Hitchcock, by Joanne Saad

In summary: 
  • Research student, James Hitckcock, is an environmental activist who recently received a UTS Human Rights Award
  • Hitchcock's research is focused on water management and civic responsibility  

James Hitchcock wants to put the fun back into protesting. Environmental activism has been a part of his life since high school but now he’s branching out, combining this passion with his latent musical talents to put some heart, and soul, back into activism.

“I’ve started playing the bass drum in a marching band. We’re all still learning but it really is a lot of fun.

“Protesting about environmental issues can leave you a bit jaded and this really restores the balance; you’re still interacting in a public space. Hopefully people will respond positively to the music and, as a full-time science research student, I get to use a different part of my brain.”

It’s a great release for Hitchcock, who graduated from UTS in 2006 with an environmental science degree. In 2008 he co-founded The Third Degree, an environmental justice program on 2ser.

In recognition of their work, last month, Hitchcock and the team received the UTS Human Rights Awards’ Creative Media Social Justice Award.

Now the PhD student is diving head-first into water research, specifically, Australia’s degraded river systems, to contribute to understanding how vital river and estuarine ecosystems work.

“I’m motivated by a sense of civic responsibility. Australia is the driest inhabited continent yet we have the highest per capita water use of any nation and have driven many of our aquatic ecosystems to the point of collapse.

“Rivers are quite special, always changing and in flux. The interactions between everything ranges from scales of hundreds of kilometres to the microscopic. I think rivers really teach you a lot about the world but there is still so much we don’t know.”

Hitchcock’s research comes at a crucial point in Australian water management. Earlier this year he was awarded the Peter Cullen Postgraduate Scholarship, established by the NSW Government to honour the memory of renowned water scientist, Professor Peter Cullen. The freshwater ecologist had a significant impact on Australian water resource management and (much like his latest scholarship recipient) was as a passionate advocate for Australia’s natural waterways.

“Professor Cullen was a founding member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, advising governments on how to address a dwindling water supply and ongoing drought. The Wentworth group have been instrumental in shaping the Murray Darling Basin Authority Plan, which will be released this month. It’s tipped to be the greatest shake-up in water management in Australian history. It aims to return water to the environment to restore the health of the Murray River and its parched estuary, the Coorong.”

It’s fitting then that under the mantle of this scholarship, and at such a critical time for water-sharing plans and river management, Hitchcock will be conducting his research into the estuarine inflows in the Bega and Clyde Rivers, in southern NSW.

“An aspect of the scholarship which I’m really looking forward to is the mentoring program run by the Wentworth group.

“It’s a chance to be able to chat with leading thinkers and learn a completely different set of skills because eventually I want to work in water policy and management, to draw the link between science and how it can be applied.

“It’s an enormous privilege to win this award and a fantastic opportunity for a young scientist;” and for a young activist hoping to hone his skills in the field and on the drums.

Horay for creative, non-violent protesting!!