Carolyn Ingvarson from the Electrify Boroondara Expo

It seems there is so much going on in sustainability in Melbourne even the locals can’t keep up.

On Sunday a massive 1000 or so people attended Electrify Boroondara’s expo, held Hawthorn Arts Centre in Melbourne’s leafy eastern suburbs, to find out how to get off gas.

Yet for many people, even in Melbourne’s sustainability world, which The Fifth Estate tapped into this week to cover the (amazing) Building 4.0 CRC annual conference this week the event has flown under the radar.

But not with the local community.

Along with the throng of audience and visitors who checked in for the range of speakers and an expo on how to get off gas were leaders from all the major parties.

These included state opposition leader John Pesutto who, along with his fellow pollies at the event, endorsed bringing gas to a speedy end – despite official policy from his party to reverse the state’s ban on gas should it win the next state election.

A key address at the event was delivered by economic commentator Alan Kohler – who doesn’t hold back on his quips about the urgency of climate action during his reports on financial matters, including on national television. 

Tim Forcey also attended as one of the experts with whom the audience members were able to book a 20 minute one-one-one free advice session on how to transform their own homes.

Forcey, as our readers will know only too well, is the powerhouse behind the enormously successful Facebook group My Efficient Electric Home now up to 100,000 followers and, we understand, the impending author of a new recently commissioned book with Murdoch books (though you didn’t hear it from us, OK?).

In addition, were stalls for nearly 50 businesses that spruiked their products educating people on their options for an energy transformation in the meantime.

A key organiser of the event was Carolyn Ingvarson, clearly a powerhouse of a woman, who’s in her 80s, and shows no sign of slowing down. 

In a phone call on Monday, Ingvarson who turns out to be the sister of sustainability guru Professor Peter Newman, said she embarked on her advocacy career after retiring as a biology teacher at 60. 

The event sprang from a group called Lighter Footprints that she took part in forming about 16 years ago landing on the urgency of climate action after being inspired by the Al Gore’s advocacy.

The Electrify Boroondara group shaped up from those beginnings at the start of this year.

Along the way Ingvarson and her group have managed to collect an army of support.

It includes teal federal member of parliament Monique Ryan who holds the blue-ribbon seat of Kooyong, previously held by former Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, and around 100 volunteers for the event.

The Boroondara local government area encompasses this upper crust federal seat “but it also cuts across several other electorates”. And the group’s members are certainly not the “the usual suspects” Ingvarson said.

Attendees flocked to Electrify Boroondara Expo 2023 to learn how to get off gas

So how do you get from a small community group to an event for 1000 people?

Well, it started small and modest, Ingvarson said, but as momentum built it was decided to expand the initial concept to an expo.

The first idea was to work with the local council, but this turned out to be a “bit tricky”. It was taking time to build. So, the group moved to roping in local representatives at local state and federal government.

“It just happened to cut across the parties as well,” she said. With the exception of the Greens which don’t have a representative in the area but which joined as volunteers, as part of a more general green movement rather than political.

But the organisers soon realised was that it could not be dominated by any one political group – it needed to be apolitical.

“The more we talked together, the more it became apparent that if it was going to involve community, they did not want a political smell to it, that it belonged to any of the politicians.

“But the politicians wanted to be part of something that community was doing. So that’s where we said, let us run it, and you can contribute, you can support it.”

Pesutto could hardly afford not to be there, given the level of community support.

“So we had a very broad base of support. That took many, many months of building as you could imagine. Then we pulled together a management committee from the community based groups.”

The steering committee was broader – Rotarians, schools, churches and a wide range of different community groups.

A big leap forward came with the involvement of Sophie Torney who previously stood as a federal independent for Kew.

“She didn’t get in, but she got to feel what her community wanted,” Ingvarson said.

“She’s picked up forests and she’s picked up the whole business of climate and how to get some actual practical action going.”

“It meant that Sophie had an insight into [these issues] and she’s a very, very competent organiser.”

Her background is in IT and running companies. She could run the country, Ingvarson quips.

Driving the sentiment of the original Lighter Footprints was the overwhelming feeling among some of its “diehard” members that they “just had to do something a bit different.

“We’re not just climate change focused lobbyists, or whatever you want to call us. We are much broader here.”

With this kind of impact, politicians still supporting gas and fossil fuels are on notice.

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