Samantha Morris is one of those incredible ladies. You know, those multi-talented, passionate, boundlessly energetic women, who just ooze enthusiasm and a spirit of complete goodness. She has an unrelenting vigour for the stuff she is into: like the land and environment, building sustainable communities, the beach, the Gold Coast music scene and her son.
I follow Sam on Facebook and watch in in amazement as she takes on project after project, leading, inspiring, galvanizing. She ignites. And she leaves us mere mortals smouldering in her wake.
Gillian: Sam, tell me about how you got started as an environmental and sustainability advocate and capacity builder. What drives you to continue this work today?
Sam: That’s an interesting story in itself – I was studying a Bachelor of Mathematics. Can you imagine? And I realised that one day maybe I’d have to find a job working in that space and the idea filled me with dread. So I wondered what kind of job would make me really happy and I decided working with people to protect the environment would be ideal. I switched degrees and then scored a volunteer position answering the phones with Greening Australia.
I very quickly realised that I was learning much more on the phones in that job than I was in my degree and soon after I had a paid position which kind of launched my entry into the workforce and into this passion for the environment. (For the record, I spent 10 years at uni and ended up with a BA in sociology – a far cry from the Bachelor of Mathematics I started in 1992).
What drives me to continue? I could be clichéd and say my son, but he’s such a new addition, I’m not sure that would be true. I do get a buzz out of setting some campaign goal and achieving it. We do see outcomes from a lot of environmental work – changes to policy, changes to people’s awareness or behaviour – these little wins add up to be pretty big motivators for people like me who’ve been working in the space for 20 years.
Gillian: We live in difficult times for environmental causes. Are there ever days when you just want to throw in the towel?
Sam: It’s actually really hard sometimes – it’s hardest when young people come into the movement full of energy and boundless ideas and you just know that those ideas have been tried before without success and that presents a challenge to balance that motivation and energy with a realism around what will and won’t make a difference to the environment.
I worked with Wildlife Queensland recently who celebrated their 50th anniversary, and one of the campaigns which launched the organisation was around protecting the Great Barrier Reef. And now it’s fifty years on and we’re still having those same conversations around what is and isn’t appropriate for such a sensitive environment. That sucks and it drains a lot of energy. On the flipside, my nephew learnt about dune systems in his year 2 class. That’s pretty cool.
Gillian: I love what you’ve been doing recently with the Blank Gold Coast street press. Can you tell me about it and where the idea came from?
Sam: I love the Gold Coast. I grew up here and have an amazing lifestyle. But many of our neighbours (yes, I’m looking at you Brisbane) just seem to think we’re a one-dimensional type of place. Nothing could be further from the truth. So a bunch of us decided to go about presenting to both our own community and those visiting, a different side of the Gold Coast – the GC that we love and live in. It has nothing to do with fast cars or schoolies or theme parks. But it has a lot to do with live music, a thriving cultural scene, beaches for miles, a glistening hinterland with World Heritage rainforest and a really diverse group of people making great things happen.
Blank is a street press style magazine, we go to print every three weeks and we have a team of 20 volunteer writers contributing stories – we focus on music – about half the magazine covers local artists or musicians visiting the Coast. The rest of the content focuses on the environment, food and drink, culture, theatre, art, literature and basically whatever cool things are happening at any given time.
We raised $10,000 through crowd funding to cover the costs of the first three editions and we’ve just published our fifth magazine and managed to cover costs through advertising. It’s been a sh*tload of work but we have had such positive feedback from everyone who’s read the magazine that we think we’re going to be here for the long term.
Gillian: Who inspires you?
Sam: I can’t actually reel off a list of names. All sorts of every day people you’d have never heard of inspire me. The women who write articles for this blog inspire me because they’re really creative people. Anyone I see jogging – especially with a pram – inspires me. Musicians, mothers, recovering addicts, people who build bridges, farmers, politicians, activists, anyone that can do a handstand, those people at festivals who have to clean the port-a-loos – they’re all inspiring.
If I had to name one person though, I guess it’d be my mother. She had a brain tumour at 50, basically lost her career, her independence, ability to drive, her home because she could no longer work. Since then she’s also battled several cancers including breast cancer where she had to undergo chemotherapy and have a mastectomy. Now that I’m 40 I see how young she was as that all happened. I was her carer for a long time until she got back onto her feet. She’s 68 now and because I’m a single mum, she basically spends a third of every week helping me raise my one year old son. She backpacked around South East Asia with me for three months before I got pregnant. She walks as her primary mode of transport. And she’s quite mad. She’s inspirational and then some.
Gillian: You lead an incredibly busy life. How do you maintain a balance and make sure you are looking after you?
Sam: I always program time into my week to take care of myself – at the moment that’s through yoga. I make sure I do at least two classes in the studio – doesn’t matter how busy I am. And I eat great food – I mean clean, wholesome, mostly organic, locally grown food – some of which I grow myself.
My baby is only 14 months old and is a terrible sleeper so I haven’t slept more than a few hours in any stretch for a year. So I’ve cut my work back to as little as I can and I go to bed most nights at 6.30pm when my baby does. I’m not afraid to ask for help and every now and then my mum and bub have more quality time together and I check into a hotel for 24 hours to sit by a pool, read my book and just doze.
Gillian: I remember a post on Facebook where you said you didn’t think you could have children, tell me about your son and how he has changed your life.
Sam: I wasn’t supposed to be able to have kids, so when I found out I was pregnant at 38 I was totally floored. Becoming a mother has completely changed my outlook on life, the way I judge other people, and my respect for any single parent.
To say Marley has changed my life is a complete understatement. I’d always heard women say things like that and never understood the gravity of that statement. I guess no-one ever does until they become a mother themselves. I’ve gone from having no obligations, a bottomless pit of time and energy and a social life I’d dreamed about. Lying on the beach for hours at a time reading a book or going out on a boat with friends just because there wasn’t anything better to do. Leaving dishes pile up for two days because I could, doing laundry once a week, camping on a whim, partying ‘til all hours and then getting up to fly to other cities for meetings or festivals. Piece of cake. Now, holy moly, it’s baby, work, baby, work, baby-friendly social commitment, baby, work, baby. LOL! I can honestly say motherhood is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But I’m already pretty happy with the outcome.
Gillian: Where and when you most enjoy a glass of champagne?
Sam: I most enjoy a glass of champagne anywhere with a group of mates. The last particularly special glass was on one of those aforementioned 24-hour breaks in a hotel. I’d planned to lay by the pool and read a book. But a storm came over. I sat in the spa – bubbles in the glass, bubbles in the tub – and promptly fell asleep. Bliss!