From fighting for Indigenous rights in WA to becoming CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific, David Ritter’s mission has always been to promote justice and sustainability. His adult journey began at The University of Western Australia (UWA); an experience that spurred him on with new ideas and inspirations to seek monumental change.
“UWA was enormously influential to me. Whether it was the Perth International Arts Festival. Whether it was Prosh, whether it was just that sense of being connected to a thousand year old conversation within the institution of the university about what it means to be human.”
“But above all it was the teaching. As a student, UWA opened me up to some of the most wonderful teaching and the most extraordinary minds, senior academics like Richard Bosworth, Rob Stewart, Richard Bartlett and Phillipa Madden who were incredibly influential.”
“Like so many UWA students, I also met great people and forged friendships that are still going strong 25 years later.”
After graduating with Honours in both history and law, David spent a year as an associate to Justice Robert French, another notable UWA alumni who went on to become Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia. At the time, he was part of the Federal Court and the Native Title Tribunal. After a few years in private practice, David moved to become Principal Legal Officer of the Yamatji Marlpa Land Council, where he worked on some of the largest native title deals in the history of Australia and wrote a couple of books along the way.
“As much as possible I want to put my life in the service of my values Ultimately Indigenous rights and the work Greenpeace does, campaigning to secure a world capable of nurturing life in all its diversity, are complementary because justice and sustainability are mutually reinforcing.”
After teaching in both Arts and Law at UWA and other universities, David moved to the London where he joined Greenpeace. “it was a big shift from being a lawyer to becoming a campaigner. I had been a financial supporter of Greenpeace for years because of its moral courage, creativity and strategic acumen, so was really thrilled to find myself working at an organisation I had long admired’.
After five years in London campaigning on oceans, rainforests and climate change, David was recruited back to his home country in 2012 to become CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific.
“The mission is global warming and the preservation of other systems that support life on earth. I will not be walking away from that task at any time. I am very happy being in the job I’m in at Greenpeace, and I deeply love the organisation. I love its independence from government and businesses, the excitement of the place, the discipline of its strategies and I love the passion of the people with whom I work. I’m like a kid, I kind of skip to work every morning like a 10-year-old. But that enthusiasm is tempered because we know these are vital years for the planet. Right now there are terrible impacts occurring on people and nature driven by climate change – although there are also incredible moments of breakthroughs and hope.”
David believes strongly in the power of people working together, to create positive change in the world we live in.
“If we want change, we must challenge power together. In particular we must break the power of the fossil fuel industry if we are to keep global warming to less than two degrees.”
My faith in Australian people doesn’t shift. Let’s not forget, it was in my lifetime, that we ended commercial whaling in the state of Western Australia – an activity that would be unthinkable today. Albany was the last commercial whaling station; Albany is also the birthplace of Greenpeace in Australia.”
Although he was never a full time academic, David Ritter loved the time he spent teaching at UWA. He’s also always found the time to write, with a lengthy back catalogue of articles, op eds and book reviews.
“Writing can be a way of refining what you think and giving discipline to your ideas. It was while at UWA that I really learned to love the craft because I had teachers who saw writing well as a serious duty.”
“I would always encourage people to take themselves seriously. I would encourage people to invest in what they are really interested in and care about.”
The connections David made as a student at UWA, and the discussions that took place on the great Oak Lawn that helped shape the views on justice and power that have guided David’s life so far.
“There is a golden thread that connects the trees of the Oak Lawn and the great grotto opposite the Reid Library to the trees in the Amazon or the Congo Basin that I have campaigned to to keep standing. The same preoccupations with liberty, equality, fraternity, sorority and sustainability which were nurtured on the Oak Lawn continue to sustain me through life."
“So think. Join. Act. Close your eyes and remember how powerful you are, how many people you know, how you can affect all your own circles of influence. There has never been a more important time to be alive and to make your contribution.”
David Ritter is using his UWA degree to bring to life his vision of a better future; leading the way for change in Australia and around the world. His story proves that through hard work, dedication and organisation, any one person can make a positive impact on the world we live in.
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