By Helen (from the Only Olivia newsletter in 1995)
Olivia is often quoted as first becoming interested in the environment when her daughter Chloe was born. In fact she has always loved animals and the outdoors (her favourite pastimes are riding her horses and walking her dogs). Even at the young age of seven she confronted a man who was whipping his horse and in 1978 she and Helen Reddy threatened to cancel a tour of Japan unless fishermen stopped slaughtering dolphins caught in their nets. Remarkably they did so! This love of animals was the start of her awareness of "green" issues.
In 1981 she recorded two songs on her Physical album about environmental issues. The first was Silvery Rain written by Hank Marvin. The video of this song, featured in the official Physical video release, vividly shows the harm that pollution can do to our planet and Olivia is filmed in a setting of what looks like the aftermath of nuclear fallout. The second song on the album, The Promise (The Dolphin Song), is written by Olivia herself. This touching song and gorgeous accompanying video pleads with human beings to look after these wonderful, intelligent creatures. Olivia made sure this song reached the masses by putting it on the B side of her huge hit Physical and featuring its lyrics very prominently in the programme of her sell-out 1982 Physical tour. It features the lines "If I can only make one man aware, one person care, then I'll have done what I promised you". I know quite a few Olivia fans who have been "made aware" so Olivia's promise to the dolphins has been fulfilled.
However, the birth of Chloe in 1986 reaffirmed and strengthened Olivia's commitment to the environment. She said in an interview in 1994 that she had always been concerned about animals but the birth of her daughter made her realise that children were also very important - "they are our future". Her 1988 album The Rumour had several songs written by herself. One was called "Let's Talk About Tomorrow" about looking after the earth so that it will still be there in the future. She said at the time "I'm also concerned about ecology because I want Chloe to grow up with the beauty of animals, forests - a natural environment still intact". On the album there are also songs about AIDS, working women and divorce showing that Olivia is concerned with more than saving trees. Many would argue that concern for the environment encompasses all of these issues.
Olivia's next album in 1989 was Warm and Tender - an album written for her daughter containing lullabies and love songs. She recognised that many people felt powerless to do anything to "clean up our mess" so in the album's sleeve notes she put together a list of things anybody could do in their own home. She argued that if lots of people followed her ten tips then the world would be "green and clean". They are summarised below and I urge everyone to do their bit!
Recycle glass, cans, paper, and vegetable waste for the compost heap. Take your own reusable bags to the shops with you. Use biodegradable products to protect our water supply. Use cloth diapers (nappies) or biodegradable ones. Avoid CFCs in aerosols and buy pump action sprays (NB Since Olivia wrote this CFCs are being phased out of household products). Try to buy organic fruit and vegetables. Don't eat tuna until fishermen agree to release the dolphins that get caught in their tuna nets instead of letting them die unnecessarily. (NB progress has been made on this issue too, it is possible to buy "dolphin friendly" tuna - read the can or write to the manufacturer). Don't wear real fur, fake fur looks just as good without hurting or endangering any animals. Plant trees for oxygen! Reduce meat consumption. Two-thirds of Central Americans rainforests have been cleared to raise cattle.
Olivia ends with the impassioned plea "We are all part of the same family - we, the trees, the plants and the animals all live under the same sky - let's take care of our home!"
The cover of this album features her daughter Chloe and Chloe's best friend Colette Chuda. In 1991 Colette tragically died of a rare form of childhood cancer. This was a very painful time for both Olivia and her daughter. This event led to Olivia and Colette's mother, Nancy Chuda, to set up the Colette Chuda Environmental Fund to investigate the link between pollution and childhood cancer. Olivia donated to this fund the proceeds from the children's book "A Pig Tale" (Simon & Schuster, USA, 1993) that she had co-written. The book itself has an environmental message and is printed on recycled paper. This was the first time the publishers, at Olivia's specific request, had done this.
In 1989 Olivia was involved, along with many other celebrities, in a project called Spirit of the Forest which was set up to help save the rainforests. She said at the time that "I used to think I could go to a remote farm in Australia and be safe. But the wind blows, the smog and pollution catch up with the world. We all end up in the same boat."
In 1990 Olivia officially became a UN goodwill ambassador for the environment. She said at the time "I am not a scientist, but I can tell people that they can make a difference". As UN goodwill ambassador for the environment she went on a trip to the Amazon in Brazil to find out for herself the problems facing us all with the rapidly disappearing rainforests there. In 1990, she also shot fundraising advertisements for the Australian Koala Foundation. Koalas, the symbol of Australia, are an endangered species.
In 1992 Olivia learnt that she had breast cancer. Thankfully, she pulled through and learnt from this experience. She decided to cut down on her commitments, get "back to nature" and spend more time with Chloe. However, Olivia still finds time to campaign for a better environment and released her self-penned album Gaia in 1994. On this album she sings about respecting other peoples' beliefs, spirituality and love for humankind. Included, of course, are songs about saving the planet, one of the most powerful being "Don't Cut Me down" about preserving our trees and forests.
Olivia practises what she preaches. Her house in New South Wales, Australia, has special recycling units around the house and she has planted thousands of trees on her land.
Olivia has been involved in so many projects to help make the world a better place that they couldn't possibly all be listed here.. However, one of her most recent projects is hosting an environmental series for TV called Human Nature which was aired across the globe.
In the past few years Olivia has had to contend with many stressful and upsetting events in her life. She faced them head on, managed to learn from them and carried on campaigning for a better world for everybody. Olivia remains an example to us all!