Mollymook environmental activist and community campaigner Monica Mudge has been named a finalist in the New South Wales Community Hero category of the 2024 Women of the Year Awards.
The Treading Lightly founder and yoga teacher was chosen from a record 420 nominations and has been described by Member for South Coast Liza Butler as “the visionary behind the not-for-profit organisation that stands at the forefront of environmental advocacy in the Yuin region of NSW”.
“She has transformed the organisation into a beacon of hope, dedicated to ‘Caring for Earth, Connecting Community’, particularly since the 2019-2020 bushfires,” Ms Butler said.
“In this volunteer role, Monica embodies the essence of environmental stewardship, fostering a sense of hope and grassroots change.”
Mrs Mudge said she was “very grateful for the nomination and recognition on behalf of so many strong women that make up Treading Lightly and women in our community”.
“I’m a little overwhelmed and much prefer quietly doing my thing without all the attention, to be honest,” she added.
Following the Black Summer bushfires, Mrs Mudge and her team tapped into their grassroots knowledge and connections, and rallied passionate volunteers into action because “in moments like these, the community needs immediate support”.
“The fires hit close to home, affecting us profoundly. We couldn’t just watch – we had to act,” she said.
“Since the birth of Treading Lightly in 2016, we’ve nurtured strong bonds within our community. That made it natural for us to step up when larger agencies faced limitations.
“We mobilised a fantastic group of volunteers, of all ages, all with diverse abilities, something we’re incredibly proud of.
“It was this collective effort that made a real impact on the community’s ability to heal and recover.
“I’m so grateful for the chance to provide that support, thanks to the teams of people around me and our organisation, and to have been a part of the community’s journey towards resilience.”
A wife, mother of two strong young women, and a yoga teacher, Mrs Mudge holds a special connection to Country and her community and has been instrumental in setting up trauma-related programs for people of all ages, and environmental initiatives including Take3 for the Sea.
“Community is a place that supports our young ones, but also deeply respects the wisdom of our elders, creating a space where everyone, regardless of age or background, plays a vital role,” she said.
“To me, community is more than just a place – it’s about connection, an understanding that goes beyond surface level, and a mutual respect that forms the foundation of our village and makes everyone feel like they belong.
“In our community, I like to believe there’s a beautiful trust that we have everything we need right here, fostering a self-sufficiency that empowers us. It’s about being regenerative, nurturing a lively village where each small individual action, when woven together, creates a tapestry of monumental change.
“Instead of waiting for change from the top down, it’s about realising the power we hold at the grassroots level. Every act of kindness, every effort to understand and support one another, contributes to the vibrancy of our community.
“It’s a bottom-up approach, where collective action emerges from the sum of our individual efforts.”
Conjola Park bushfire survivor Katrina Walsh said Mrs Mudge was an “amazing steadying force supporting community, focusing on our small communities even before bushfires were a problem”.
“When the bushfires hit Conjola and surrounding areas, she was a driving force of support and was a direct influence on how well our family reacted and recovered from the fires,” she said.
“I feel Monica’s nomination is so well deserved; she has an incredible ability to see past the usual and consider and reflect on contributing factors at a deep level of concern.
“Monica’s impact on Take3 for the Sea, Treading Lightly, her yoga inclusion classes and ability to be such an easy person to speak with are proof that she is already a winner in so many people’s eyes in our community.
“Her practical problem-solving and troubleshooting went a long way to support people in their recovery journey and ability to survive such impacting trauma.
“She is the best community hero I have seen.”
Bushfire Recovery Centre coordinator Michelle Babington said Mrs Mudge was instrumental in organising supplies to be distributed to Conjola during the emergency.
“Monica is a community-driven powerhouse,” she added.
Mrs Mudge said she was inspired by her daughters and young people “with their care for the future and potential for positive change” as well as the “courage, creativity, strength and compassion of so many women in our community”.
“I guess my inspiration stems from the value I place on rest and time to reflect on all these things so we can be quick to act when we need to, in a way that fosters thoughtfulness and community care.”
She said the evolution of Treading Lightly was fuelled by the community’s unwavering support and trust.
“I see it as a lasting legacy – an avenue for our youth and environmental enthusiasts to practise active hope and drive meaningful, positive change in our world.”
The NSW Women of the Year Awards recipients will be revealed at a ceremony on Thursday, 7 March, at the International Convention Centre, Sydney.