Charlie Pahlman, 1960-2005

February 16, 2005

Paul Oboohov, Canberra

Activists in Canberra were shocked to learn of the January 19 death of Charlie Pahlman due to a snorkelling accident in Samoa. Charlie was deputy director of the ACT Council for Social Services (ACTCOSS), an ACT Greens election candidate and an activist.

Charlie emigrated from Sweden at age 10 and obtained an agriculture degree from the University of Western Sydney. For 10 years he worked with local communities in Thailand and Laos as a country coordinator for Community Aid Abroad (CAA), to support appropriate economic and social development. He helped people struggling to protect their livelihoods, cultures and natural resources against environmentally and socially destructive dams promoted by the Asian Development Bank in the Mekong River region. He developed a passion for the importance of healthy watersheds and rivers.

Settling in Canberra in 1996, Charlie worked on social justice campaigns, Indigenous rights and reconciliation, environmental issues, East Timor and Palestine solidarity, and the Jubilee 2000 Third World debt relief campaign. He was CAA's Canberra community campaigner for five years, and continued campaigning for accountability of Australian aid funds to the Asian Development Bank. His later work with ACTCOSS deepened his interest in mental health, housing and disability services. He assisted community groups to better serve their constituents and to more effectively advocate on their behalf to the government. He had a passion for bringing people and organisations with similar interests together on matters important to disadvantaged people.

As an ACT Greens candidate in the 2004 ACT election, Charlie advocated "a fairer world, and a commitment to working in partnership with people to build a better Canberra. I want to build on the work of the ACT Greens to foster a dynamic and equitable community. I believe that the small size, educated population and relative wealth of Canberra should allow us to do better in terms of social justice and environmental sustainability — if we can't get it right here, then where?"

Charlie played a leading role in revising Greens policies and election platforms on water, community and disability services, Indigenous issues and mental health matters, promoting these along with Greens transport policies. He was an active supporter of the other Greens candidates and significantly contributed to the election of Deb Foskey to the Legislative Assembly. His post-election work for the ACT Greens focused on global issues.

Foskey told Green Left Weekly: "The world, and Canberra in particular, is the poorer for the loss of Charlie. Anyone who knew him had a meeting lined up with him when he returned, to further one of his many projects for social justice. He was a fantastic person to do politics with and I have never enjoyed an election campaign so much."

Charlie was often seen at anti-war and pro-refugee rallies, as well as Save the Ridge protests against the bulldozing of inner-city bushland for a road. His friends remember his boundless energy and a "can-do" attitude to any task, no matter how daunting. He had endless patience in listening to co-workers, fellow Greens, and opponents alike, while putting his arguments. He is survived by his mother, father, partner Pam and daughters.

In this dark period of Australian history, the loss of an activist such as Charlie is terrible. Charlie's activist life will inspire more people to follow his example. Tributes to Charlie Pahlman can be posted at <>.

From Green Left Weekly, February 16, 2005.
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