The Waubra Foundation was registered as an Association in March, 2010 by Mr Peter Mitchell, AM and subsequently became a company limited by guarantee.
Why was the Waubra Foundation formed?
Peter Mitchell had a long history of being involved in medical research organisations through the National Stroke Foundation and the National Stroke Research Institute. Peter formed the Waubra Foundation when he saw first-hand increasing evidence that wind turbines were creating health problems for a number of people living adjacent to wind energy projects in Victoria, near where he lived. Realising that there was a lack of knowledge about reported health problems and no research available, he established the Foundation primarily to advocate for such research.
When were the health problems first reported in Australia?
In Victoria, Dr David Iser, a general practitioner in Gippsland, found many of his patients presenting with similar new symptoms. He conducted a confidential survey of patients and found that the symptoms started after the Toora wind project was commissioned. In 2004 Dr. Iser presented his findings to the local council and also advised the Victorian Ministers for Health & Planning, and the State Premier of his findings. His concerns were ignored.
Kathy Russell, one of our current directors, had been actively supporting sick and desperate people living near wind projects in Australia since 2008, and was instrumental in educating Peter initially about the existence of these serious health problems.
Are wind turbines the sole focus of the Foundation?
Around the same time, Peter became aware that other sources of low frequency noise could also harm the health of nearby residents even in urban areas in seemingly identical ways, so he understood there was potentially a broader applicability for this multidisciplinary research than solely wind turbines.
Accordingly the Foundation’s objectives were deliberately worded from the beginning to include other sources of noise. Over time, individuals affected by other sources of noise have learnt of our work and approached us for help and information, which we have provided as requested, and to the extent our limited resources have permitted at the time.
Why was the name “Waubra” chosen?
The name “Waubra Disease” Foundation was initially chosen as the large industrial turbine wind project at Waubra near Ballarat, Victoria was causing a surprising number of health problems, and the local media were referring to the symptoms as “the Waubra Disease”. The name was subsequently shortened to just “The Waubra Foundation”.
The selection of this name both identified a problem location, and gave support to that wind project’s courageous neighbours who, after bravely speaking out publicly, were being vilified in some of the media reports and in their community by some vocal supporters of wind energy who found the reported illnesses a very unwelcome and inconvenient truth.
When did the Foundation become active?
The Waubra Foundation became active some four months later in July 2010, when Sarah was asked by Peter to help build the Foundation, after he had been made aware of her growing interest in this field. Sarah was initially reluctant to take the suggested title of Chief Executive Officer, as she had no relevant experience in that role. The compromise title of Medical Director was chosen initially by her, but her position was subsequently renamed as Chief Executive Officer to more accurately reflect her real role.
Initially, Sarah spent her time quietly listening carefully to residents who had said they wished to speak with her, trying to better understand the range of symptoms they were reporting, their correlation with exposure to operating wind turbines and trying to understand the possible clinical reasons for those symptoms. She learnt a lot from Australian acousticians such as Professor Colin Hansen and Dr Bob Thorne, who generously shared their knowledge of the problems from an acoustician’s perspective. Sarah also spent time listening to some of the medical practitioners who were providing care to these people, including Dr David Iser, who was the first Australian doctor to study these problems in his own patients at Toora in 2004.
Sarah continued to review the currently available relevant literature and tried to interest researchers in this subject, and to raise awareness amongst responsible authorities and elected officials. Despite the contentious and universally unpopular nature of the subject matter amongst these individuals who were in a position to help progress the research, there were a few public servants and researchers who did provide early help and advice, for which the Foundation is extremely grateful. We respect their wish to remain unidentified, and understand the reasons why.
When did the community education start?
Sarah was asked to share her growing knowledge of the reported health problems and the existing scientific literature at a community meeting at Port Pirie in South Australia, and at Evansford, near Waubra, in September 2010. These initial public speaking engagements have now expanded to include public and private community meetings, radio and TV interviews and Skype presentations both in Australia and internationally. Sarah was also invited to speak at a workshop held at the Farmer’s Health Conference in Hamilton in 2012.
When did the international collaboration start?
Sarah’s neighbours and family funded her attendance at the first International Symposium addressing the adverse health impacts of industrial wind turbines, organised by the Society for Wind Vigilance, in Ontario, in October 2010. Sarah also had the opportunity to meet with Canadian residents affected by wind developments, and to listen to presentations by the leading researchers working in this field internationally, and formed immediate and close working relationships with those she met. She also met with other concerned Canadian health professionals after the symposium including epidemiologist Associate Professor Jeffrey Aramini and public health physician Dr Hazel Lynn.
Returning to Australia, Sarah set about slowly building and expanding an international network of sick residents, health practitioners, acousticians and researchers for the Foundation’s ongoing work.
When did the Foundation’s board members join?
The Foundation was delighted to formally announce the involvement of the following directors in April 2011, just after the Waubra Foundation’s presentation to the first Australian Federal Senate Inquiry into the Social and Economic Impact of Rural Wind Farms. The directors include economist Ms Kathy Russell, former Supreme Court Judge Justice Clive Tadgell, AO, former Federal Health Minister The Hon Michael Wooldridge and retired businessman and corporate leader Mr Tony Hodgson, AM.
All these directors continue their pro bono work with the Foundation, and we greatly value each of their contributions.
What other sources of sound energy cause problems?
The Foundation has responded to requests for help and information from a wide variety of individuals and organisations both locally and internationally ever since its inception. We have provided information to people in Australia and internationally on their request, who report their health has been negatively impacted by sound and vibration energy from the following sources:
- Large (industrial) wind turbines, as distinct from much smaller domestic water pumping wind “mills” or old tiny power generating wind turbines used on rural properties in Australia before mains power was connected, known as “Dunlites”
- Gas fired power stations (Uranquinty, NSW and Port Campbell, Victoria)
- Open cut coal mining (upper Hunter region, NSW)
- Open cut gold mining (Western Australia, NSW near Orange)
- Field compressors used in coal seam gas (CSG) extraction operations (QLD, and multiple sites in the USA)
- Large industrial scale refrigeration units (Parkville, Melbourne VIC)
- Swimming pool compressor (apartment block, Brisbane, QLD)
- Construction noise and vibration (inner city Sydney apartment, NSW)
- Urban industrial low frequency noise (Maitland, NSW)
The Waubra Foundation’s expanding role
Community education continues to be an important and growing part of the Foundation’s work, which has expanded to now include giving evidence in court and tribunal proceedings, planning panels, and to providing written and sometimes oral evidence to parliamentary inquiries and Health Boards or their equivalent in Australia and internationally.
Australia has had two Federal Parliamentary Inquiries relating to wind turbines and their noise, and consequent effects on rural communities, since 2010. The Waubra Foundation has given evidence to both inquiries, as have acoustic and health experts and sick residents. Further information about those senate inquiries can be found in our resources section, under individual names of contributors, or in the Hansard section for access to the inquiry transcript for oral evidence, or directly from the relevant Australian Federal Parliament Senate completed inquiries weblink.