South African-born Mike Clarke campaigned to protect the environment in the apartheid-era at a time when security police targeted activists and infiltrated student groups. He protested against the construction of a nuclear power station north west of Cape Town and joined a group whose founding member was later revealed to have been a police spy.
Clarke grew up in a gold mining region south of Johannesburg. He attended a prestigious school in Grahamstown, in the Eastern Cape, before completing degrees in electrical engineering, physics, computer and environmental science at the University of Cape Town.
It was there that he heard a lecture by the visiting American economist, Milton Friedman, the Nobel prize-winner noted for his support for free markets and a smaller government. Concerns over the influential economists views, he says, had a big impact on his determination to protect the environment.
‘After the speech I turned to my environmental science lecturer and said if we had free market economics like that … the environment’s stuffed,’ Clarke says.
His lecturer agreed and, ‘ever since then I’ve been a total greenie’.
He has lived in the Dandenong Ranges since migrating to Australia in the early 1980s, built a home in Selby, worked at Telstra for 10 years and is now a consult to NBN Co. He has been active in campaigning against McDonald’s 24-hour take-away in Tecoma and says he was appalled by VCAT’s disregard for local opinion. He is treasurer of the Southern Dandenongs Landcare group formed in 2007 to protect the local vegetation.
One of his two sons, Simon, is a professional cyclist who has competed in some of the world’s most prestigious cycling tours. He says he believes there should be more focus in the medical industry to highlight the importance of preventative health. He is keen to encourage people to take advantage of the recreational cycling and hiking opportunities in the area.