Nambucca Shire's Paula Flack is the 2019 Allen Strom Hall of Fame awardee

The prestigious accolade from the NSW Nature Conservation Council, that saw North Arm's Paula Flack accepted into the Allen Strom Hall of Fame last month, seems somewhat unreal to the busy campaigner from her verandah desk up the valley.

"I was so surprised when they invited me to the event because I didn't even know I'd been nominated ... and then when I got the call that I'd won, I nearly fell of my chair," Paula laughs.

"I really couldn't believe it because there are so many hardworking people across NSW, never for a minute did I think I'd win."

The award acknowledges "long-standing service and commitment to the conservation movement and also the courage to challenge government and non-government decision makers" ... qualities that certainly apply to the long-time member of the Nambucca Valley Conservation Association.

"As a young person I spent many hours riding my horse in the Adelaide Hills so I was very aware of the natural world around me ... over time I started noticing the damage sheep did to river beds, the bush that was being gobbled up by urban sprawl, the pollution, the rubbish."

An avid reader of Grass Roots magazines and so on in the 1970s, Paula did not actually get active until 1982 when logging planned for Crooked Top Mountain in the Nambucca Valley gave her a 'NIMBY' moment and forced her to act.

"This country was so steep and we knew it had koala habitat. In the past I'd avoided full-on activism as I found the destruction so distressing and that was my initial reaction this time too.

"I rang the NVCA and Lyn Orrego answered - she told me the organisation was a volunteer one and they could give me guidance to challenge what was planned."

It was a turning point for Paula - she waded in and started learning how to be effective.

"Lyn taught me about staying patient, in control, persistent, about not getting angry or despondent ... I learnt the need to keep a diary of names and phone calls and not to let myself be fobbed off ... it is all about chipping away.

"It was a wonderful lesson in empowerment and it is now one of the things I enjoy most, empowering others ... it is so important to the success of campaigns."

That particular campaign was not won but "we were a very unwelcome thorn in the side of State Forests and there were improved environmental outcomes because of our scrutiny".

Other campaigns followed, including the Killiecrankie blockade in 1992, that saw allied environment group NEFA (North East Forest Alliance) take NSW State Forests to court after 90,000 tonnes of soil was dumped into the Kalang and Bellinger River headwaters following a logging operation.

That campaign resulted in the landmark court ruling that still stands today, prohibiting logging on slopes over 30 degrees.

"That was a significant win ... more often our little steps forward get wound back, which is what we are seeing now in NSW.

"The Native Vegetation and Threatened Species Acts are gone - the new Biodiversity Act just facilitates more harm with more impunity - these are scary times and it is difficult not to be despondent."

Paula says if there is one thing she hopes comes out of the ongoing fire emergencies, it is that it will push the climate change debate to a new level.

"We have this perfect storm of drought, dryness and lightning, we also have CSIRO scientists, the Bureau of Meteorology and fire chiefs all saying the fire risk is affected by climate change.

"Maybe this will force governments to wake up and start taking climate change seriously - the population are!"

Returning to the award, Paula says the accolade is not hers alone.

"This is shared with the NVCA team and my partner Mark Suttor - he's always had my back, he's always been there supporting me, caring for the kids when they were little and I was out doing forest surveys and camps and back of house strategies for campaigns.

"I am forever grateful for that."

Also making the news: