What Makes An Activist Tick?


Activist, medico, educator, broadcaster and writer Dr Helen Caldicott began her career as a physician in Adelaide. She is a passionate advocate of citizen action and has campaigned on nuclear and environmental issues around the world for the last 38 years.

In Australia, Helen played a major role in Australia’s opposition to French atmospheric nuclear testing in the Pacific and has since been one of the country’s leading anti-nuclear campaigners and educators.

She was the founding president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, a US-based organisation of doctors dedicated to educating their colleagues about the dangers of nuclear power, nuclear weapons and nuclear war. She is also the Founder of Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament and the Nuclear Policy Research Institute.

Her work has been published across the globe and she is the author of seven books, most recently If You Love This Planet (2009). Helen is the host of the weekly radio show by the same name which is broadcast on the Pacifica network across the US, Canada and Australia.

1. What’s the headline you’d most like to see on the front page of a daily newspaper?
Obama and Medvedev agree to take their nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert and to abolish their nuclear arsenals within the next 5 years.

2. If you could oblige everyone in Australia to click through to one webpage, which one would it be?
This one: the People for a Nuclear-Free Australia homepage.

3. What is one thing you’ve always wondered about economics but were too afraid to ask?
I don’t understand how the financial world can be based on a system of gambling with the world’s resources, human resources and future non-existent markets.

4. When did you last eat a meat pie?
Over three years ago — before I got a diagnosis of heart disease.

5. What’s the oldest thing in your fridge?
Some deteriorating coriander.

6. Has anyone got a climate change policy you agree with? Who?
James Hansen — except for his recent conversion to the promotion of generation 1V reactors.

7. When was the first time you changed your mind on something important?
I was determined to be a school teacher until the age of 11 when I decided to become a doctor.

8. What’s the household chore you relish the most?

9. What sort of shoes do you wear to work?
I work at home so I am shoeless in the summer and wear Ugg boots in the winter.

10. What campaigning tactic do you most want to see in this year’s federal election?
Policies to phase out the mining and export of coal, to cease uranium mining, and to fund and establish a robust multi-factorial renewable national energy industry.

11. Nominate a new public holiday.
A national day devoted to learning from and to honouring the wisdom of the traditional owners of the Australian continent.

12. If you could go tomorrow anywhere in Australia for a holiday, where would you go?
To Lake Eyre, to see the wildflowers and the birds when it floods.

13. What’s your favourite YouTube video?
The Piano Cat.

14. If you were given $5 million, what would you spend it on?
A massive public campaign to educate Generations X, Y and Z about the medical and ecological dangers of nuclear power and the ongoing ever-present threat of nuclear war.

15. Who would you most like to sit next to on a long haul flight?
Jonathan Schell.

16. What trivia question will you beat everyone else in the pub to
the buzzer on?

What is a generation 1V nuclear reactor?

17. Complete this sentence. I’d like to hear Kevin Rudd say …
"We have decided to cease uranium mining."

18. Name someone in Australian public life who deserves a promotion.
Bob Brown for Prime Minister.

19. In 10 words or less, summarise your food philosophy.
I love experiencing exotic new flavours from the world’s cultures.

20. What question should we ask our next interviewee?
Can we evolve psychologically and spiritually fast enough to save ourselves from ecological destruction, or are we an evolutionary aberrant?

BONUS QUESTION (from our last interviewee):
Australia is occupied by a foreign power and you join the resistance. Where would you draw the line between name-calling and suicide-bombing?

Name-calling and/or suicide-bombing would achieve nothing to remove an occupying power.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.