the nation reviewed After her arrest, published an article describing Cooke as a “chill activist grandma”. The article was shared around the world. Cooke’s friends and family in Hong Kong saw photos of her pop up on WeChat. “The reason I looked so ‘chill’,” she says, making bunny ears around the word chill, “is because I was meditating. I was not stressed at all. That action, we were on our feet for 24 hours.” When we think of activists, we usually think of young people. Of marches, protests, social media and radical millennials. In reality, retirees make up the majority of the volunteer base for many environmental organisations. But not every retiree activist has a rap sheet. Cooke only became involved in activism after her husband died in 2011. Daily exercise and meditation – the same meditation that would help her withstand hours in the brutal Queensland sun – helped her move through the pain. After 18 months, she faced a new reality. “I became healthier,” she says. “I gained an altruistic outlook: how can I be better use to others?” Cooke had space to throw herself into causes she cared about. She joined the community group Grandmothers Against Detention of Refugee Children and then, after reading about the Adani mine and the Great Barrier Reef online, signed up to a local environmental group. “Probably Mr Adani has my picture on his dartboard,” she cackles. Cooke was born in Singapore, one of seven children. Her father worked for the British Army and was an Anglophile. He sent Cooke and her siblings to English-speaking schools, where they ate ham-andcheese sandwiches with Western Star butter. The only Cantonese spoken at home was to her mother, and only ever about the kitchen or cooking. “I grew up in a time when women should be seen and not heard,” she says. Singapore was too hot, too stifling. She wanted to see the world – really see it, not as a tourist but as a local. She applied for accounting courses in Britain and Australia. Melbourne responded first, and she packed her bags. It was there that she met her husband, had two children and settled into a teaching career. She took a role at a progressive school out past Dandenong, where she taught VCE Accounting and Information Technology. Her intuitive knack for computers meant that the school put her in charge of their computer technology, too. She loved her work and took on extra whenever she could, then came home and cooked dinner for her children. To her family back in Singapore, she was a rebel. Mother, teacher, accountant may not be the usual trademarks of a rebel. But earning the label when she was young made it easier for Cooke to see herself as an activist later. She was used to her family’s disapproval. “I’m normally a reserved person, a private person.” It’s easy to take Cooke at her word, that she’s just your average granny who cares about her grandchildren’s future. On the other hand, she’s better with technology than most 24-year-olds think they are. She scoffs at the idea of reading a manual, preferring to dive right in. In her spare time, she reads scientific reports on things like renewable technology, nanotechnology and quantum physics. When she needs a break from environmental activism, she goes on paranormal investigations with a group of researchers from Monash University. Her selfdescribed “naughty hobby” isn’t about ghost tours, she says. “There are a lot of things we don’t understand, and science can have the answers.” During a speech in 2012, complex systems engineer Brad Werner told a room of fellow scientists that, given the imminence and significance of climate change, the only scientific thing to do is to revolt. “At 72 years old,” says Cooke, “I’m in a hurry. So I’m doing as much as I can to help.” Junkee “I find Twitter a useful means to get my thoughts out there. And I troll people like Matt Canavan.” “Bill Ryan, he inspires me,” Cooke says. “He’s in his nineties and still going. So at 72 I’m a newbie. I’m young – compared to him.” Her laugh is manic, cheeky, but mostly cheerful. Her eye contact is intense, focused. Bill Ryan is an environmental activist and Kokoda war veteran. He’s been arrested six times in anti-Adani protests. Like Bill, Cooke is unafraid of being arrested – as she puts it. She hadn’t planned to chain herself up. She’d only wanted to see the proposed site of the world’s biggest coalmine, but once she was there she was unstoppable. Still, she’s hesitant to talk about non-violent direct actions – the kind that can get you arrested – for fear that it’s alienating. “You don’t have to chain yourself to a mine,” she is careful to remind me. “You can join a community group, call your politician, talk to neighbours, spread the word.” More likely, you’ll see her handing out flyers on a street corner, knocking on doors or sharing articles on social media. “I find Twitter a useful means to get my thoughts out there.” She leans towards me, lowering her voice. “And I troll people like Matt Canavan.” anything for the movement, M 21
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