A storied life


In life, journalist Neroli Colvin was passionate about the environment and social justice. But it was her decision to leave a bequest to the Greens that will have significant, far-reaching impacts for generations to come.

By Joana Partyka

In life, Neroli Colvin was a storyteller.

In many ways the journalist, journalism trainer and rare disease advocate dedicated her life to the pursuit of a good story, guided by deep passions that spanned the environment, arts, politics and beyond.

Sadly, Neroli passed away in 2018. But it’s her commitment to these passions that have allowed her to make a significant impact on the world around her – well beyond the length of her life.

One of the ways Neroli’s legacy lives on is thanks to a generous bequest she made to the Australian Greens.

She recognised that a financial contribution to the Greens in her will was one of the most meaningful actions she could take to help secure the future for all of us in her own absence.

Layers of stories

In 2005, Neroli moved on from journalism practice – mostly at Fairfax newspapers – and into journalism training as a Fairfax training editor. She then went on to run the journalism cadetship program at SBS as a much-admired contractor, training the next generation of storytellers.

Towards the end of her life, Neroli told her ultimate story by completing a PhD that focused on diversity in regional areas.

But Neroli’s story itself would be incomplete without a key underlying factor: the rare bone disease she was diagnosed with as a child and lived with for the rest of her life.

It helped shape her outlook on the world – as well as the impact she left on it after her passing, according to her partner Jock Cheetham, a senior lecturer in journalism at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst. They met as sub-editors at The Sydney Morning Herald in the early 2000s.

“She was interested in and had involvement in and wanted to have her legacy support issues relating to rare diseases,” Jock said.

The Green connection

Neroli was a strong supporter of the Greens during her life, drawn to the movement’s focus on socially progressive politics as well as the environmental aspect.

“Neroli also had a profound respect for Bob Brown – that was definitely a key characteristic of her support for the Greens,” Jock said.

Neroli was a long-term Greens member and Jock remembers her commitment to the party and its cause, having volunteered on a number of occasions on election day.

It was her deep commitment to Greens principles and the environment itself that drove Neroli to leave the party a gift in her will.

“Neroli strongly believed that not enough is done in Australia and the world to conserve the natural environment and so she wanted to do more; she wanted more to be done,” Jock said.

“As an individual, she appreciated nature but she also supported political expressions that drove that.”

Neroli recognised the power of the Greens movement as one of the most impactful places she could contribute financially after her death.

“She saw the Greens as a strong and organised voice and system for promoting environmental conservation, and for promoting better environmental outcomes for Australia and the world,” Jock said.

“When we both wrote our wills, we both gave certain amounts to various causes – the percentage Neroli gave [to the Greens] was her choice to apply her environmental commitment.”

Looking forward

Jock says Neroli was hopeful for the future both in Australia and abroad.

“Probably her two biggest hopes were for a more progressive, tolerant world and specifically better environmental and climate change policy right now,” Jock said.

“She was hoping for real and significant commitment to action on climate change.”

But like many Greens supporters, Neroli was dismayed by the government’s inaction and, in many cases, outright denial of the crisis – and the nefarious reasons behind this inaction.

“She believed there was too much obfuscation and lying and self-interest and delay and greed involved in climate change policy in Australia and around the world,” Jock said.

“She was very globally aware but I think she was most concerned with Australians acting to do what we can do, whether that be locally or nationally.”

It’s that very sentiment – to think globally and act locally – that clearly informed Neroli’s decision to leave the Greens a gift in her will.

A lasting legacy

Since her passing, Neroli’s passion for storytelling continues.

Her legacy is kept alive by Jock, who is working faithfully with the help of generous donors to establish the Neroli Colvin Storytelling Foundation.

The foundation aims to fund storytelling projects and events centred around Neroli’s three big passions: cultural diversity, the environment and advocacy for rare diseases.

Funded via a GoFundMe campaign, Jock is working on a range of plans.

“When we talked about her legacy and continuing her work on multiculturalism, Neroli specifically wanted me to also focus on the environment and rare diseases. After Neroli passed away, we started collecting money and have begun to use those funds,” Jock said.

“If she had lived she would have done that through consulting and various festival ideas and activities that she had started to work on – and I’m now picking it up as part of supporting her wishes.

“It’s already manifested itself in the Bathurst Multicultural Storytelling Festival, which launched in 2019 and will run again this year.”

When it comes to the environmental side of Neroli’s legacy, Jock isn’t yet sure how the funds raised through the foundation will be used.

What is certain, however, is that Neroli’s decision to leave a bequest to the Greens will have significant, far-reaching impacts for generations to come.

Joana Partyka is the Australian Greens' National Communications Officer.

Hero image: Jock Cheetham.

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