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February 26, 2021

Farewell to a genuine Australian hero, Bill Ryan 1922-2019

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Always showing up until now, when he no longer can. Bill Ryan, a bloody fair-dinkum, outright legendary hero. Photo Tree Faerie

David Lowe

One of Australia’s foremost environmental activists, Bill Ryan, has died in Sydney at the age of 97.

Bill was a part of the legendary Kokoda campaign during World War II, in which Australian troops finally stopped the southward advance of the Japanese army in appalling, mountainous conditions. Wounded in action in 1942, Bill later returned to fight in New Britain.

After the war he worked for the PMG, along with his son, Colin. They were both involved in the struggle to improve workers’ rights at Telstra.

Bill and Colin Ryan at BIll’s home in 2019. Photo Tree Faerie.

After he retired, Bill’s beloved wife Joyce died, and Bill’s life temporarily lost all meaning. But concern for his grandchildren (and then great-grandchildren) motivated him to become an environmental activist, undaunted by the fact that he was almost blind and had trouble walking.

‘What sort of a world are we leaving for them?’ he wondered.

Using a specially modified computer, Bill was able to stay on top of the latest science of global warming. He wrote letters and lobbied politicians. When that got nowhere, he joined civil disobedience campaigns to actively do something about the climate emergency, putting his own frail body on the line. His ever-supportive son (and expert sign painter) Colin was frequently arrested alongside him.

Bill came to particular prominence during the struggle to save the Leard Forest from coal mining, but he was also tossed into the Hunter River alongside Josh Fox while supporting the Pacific Climate Warriors, marched with the Knitting Nannas in Narrabri, blocked railway tracks carrying coal trains, went to Parliament House in Canberra to educate politicians, blockaded Adani subsidiary Downer, and took the long train ride into Martin Place week after week to highlight the insanity of Santos’s Narrabri gas project, where he became a familiar sight on his walker, educating Sydney-siders one on one.

Bill Ryan stretching his legs after a long morning at the Gloucester AGL campaign in 2015. Photo Tree Faerie.

I got to known him in the fights to save Gloucester from gas and coal, and to stop Santos in the Pilliga, but Bill was an integral part of innumerable campaigns, most of which came under the banner of climate change. He couldn’t remember how many times he’d been arrested. His concern for environmental and social justice powered all that he did.

His gentle humour, integrity and passion moved all who met him.

As Bill put it, ‘People who are producing these fossil fuels and having them burnt throughout the world, they’re the enemy.’

In 2018 Bill won the John Davis Climate Award, which was presented at Parliament House in Sydney, and two months ago he shared the inaugural John Kaye Memorial Award for Social Justice and Environmental Protection, alongside fellow activist legend Jack Mundey.

Vale Bill Ryan, a true Australian patriot whose courage and smile will be long-remembered.

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  1. Oh. It’s very sad. What an amazing generous man he was. Inspiring like no other. I remember he was the first to lock the gates at Downer in the middle of the night. What a role model. Incredible. ❤️

  2. Bill Ryan served Australia better and more truly than any government MP or corporate boss ever has. He was a true patriot who had the courage to act on his convictions and who repeatedly put his safety and health on the line for the greater good. A humble man who stood tall in a world that worships pygmies. RIP.

  3. I’ll never forget Bill and his comrade Bob Walshe, at the tribute to them both a few years back at the Gymea Tradies. The Knitting Nannas of Sutherland Shire presented these two heroes with scarves and other items, symbolic of their lifelong commitments to the causes they championed. Now they are gone, mates in arms, but their memories will live on. Vale Bill Ryan …

  4. Bill really was someone we could look up to – he was an inspiration, setting an example of how we can all fight for a better future. I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to meet Bill and tell him in person what a true hero he was to me. Vale Bill

  5. A fitting tribute to Bill who will be greatly missed. A genuine warrior for environmental justice and an incredible example to all who care about our fragile planet as also is his son Colin. May Bill Rest In Peace


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