Dr Deb Foskey, a decades-long fighter for the environment and long-time member of the Greens in the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria, died on May 1, after a 12-month struggle with cancer. She was 70 years old.
Foskey was born in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria. In the 1970s and '80s, she was instrumental in the formation of several national parks protecting old growth forests through her work in the Concerned Residents of East Gippsland. She had moved to the area in the 1970s, and later transferred to the ACT for her children’s education.
Foskey studied a Bachelor of Arts in English and philosophy and a Diploma of Education, and worked as a primary and secondary school teacher. In 1994, she completed a Masters of Letters in human ecology at the Australian National University (ANU), looking at Canberra’s development through a political and ecological lens.
In 2003, she completed a doctorate analysing the role of community movements in the framing of the Program of Action for the United Nations Conference on Population and Development.
She was elected to the ACT Legislative Assembly for the seat of Molonglo in 2004. She was the sole Greens member at that time. In late 2008, Foskey returned to Cabanandra in East Gippsland where she worked as a consultant for the Centre for Rural Communities from 2009 and at the Tubbut Neighbourhood House from 2011.
Foskey ran as an independent candidate in the 2018 Victorian election for the seat of East Gippsland, and for the Victorian Greens in Gippsland in the 2019 federal election. She had previously stood in the local council elections in the East Gippsland region.
ACT Greens leader Shane Rattenbury and Greens MP for Murrumbidgee Caroline Le Couteur praised Foskey for her “fierce intellect” and for having committed her life to sustainability, compassion and community.
“It is a very sad day for the ACT Greens, and the Australian Greens, but we can all be proud of her achievements — both in the assembly, for the Greens, and in our communities — over her lifetime.”
Foskey was the former partner of my brother Bob McIlroy. I knew her since the early 1970s, when they — along with our mother Cecily and sister Fiona — moved to far East Gippsland to set up a co-operative — Cabanandra — in a bid to establish a sustainable and self-sufficient way of life away from the urban, capitalist jungle.
Foskey and McIlroy suffered a tragic loss in 1986 when their son Brandon lost his life in a boating incident in a river near Canberra.
Despite many challenges, Cabanandra remains a haven in the midst of a national park. For some years Foskey continued to live in her picturesque A-frame house. After surviving a massive bushfire in 2014, which burnt a number of properties around hers, Foskey’s home tragically burnt down in an accidental house fire last July while she was away.
She moved to Orbost to live with her younger daughter Eleni last year, while receiving treatment for cancer at the regional hospital in Bairnsdale. Recently, she had been in good spirits for the future, until a sudden relapse took her away suddenly.
In an interview with her friend Shelly Nundra in 2010, Deb said: “It might be too late to change the world, but it’s a way of life for me. At the broad scale, I am pessimistic about the future of our planet and the well being of its creatures, including us. But I am heartened to see small groups of people everywhere making a difference, taking their local futures into their own hands.”
Foskey was a passionate and determined campaigner for the forests, community action, and the environment. Her life and work will be well remembered by her devoted daughters, her wider family and her many friends and colleagues in the Greens and ecology movement in the ACT, East Gippsland and beyond.