South-west philanthropists-cum-progressive farmers Eve Kantor and Mark Wootton have been recognised for their contribution to climate awareness, and various philanthropic causes including nuclear disarmament, becoming Officers of the Order of Australia (AO) in the 2022 Australia Day honours.
For 30 years the couple have balanced sustainable farming on their 3,400 hectare property north of Hamilton with philanthropic efforts that founded Australia's first climate think tank, promoted Indigenous rights, and launched the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which received the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.
Despite their impressive list of achievements, Ms Kantor and Mr Wootton said they were "shocked" at receiving the award.
"We were a bit embarrassed to be honest," Mr Wootton said.
"A bit embarrassed but a bit chuffed," Ms Kantor added.
"We feel like we must be getting a bit old if we're considered to have done enough to warrant getting this."
The couple met in high school and their 40-year partnership, with four grown children, is as much of an achievement as anything else they've managed. And it was settling down to have a family that launched them on their current path.
"We both trained as secondary school teachers. Eve taught English and I taught geography," Mr Wootton said.
The couple lived in Gippsland where Mr Wootton also ran a farm, before moving overseas to volunteer in Africa. When they moved back to Australia in the early 1990s to settle down and "start procreating" they chose Western Victoria because it was cheap.
"We never would have been able to create what we have in Gippsland, it was too expensive," he said.
What they created was Jigsaw Farms, a large scale example of regenerative agriculture, with 20,000 sheep, 20,000 lambs and 550 cows run across several properties.
"It's our life work really," Mr Wootton said.
Nearly 20 per cent of the 3,400 hectares is dedicated to agroforestry or other regenerative environmental purposes, with another 65 hectares reserved for wetlands. It is a pioneering example of farming techniques that are only just beginning to gain popular traction in a changing climate.
It was also in the early 1990s, as the couple began Jigsaw Farms, that Ms Kantor received a large endowment from her family, who are prominent philanthropists themselves.
Both were adamant the money shouldn't go to their children, worried that it would change them for the worse.
"We wanted their lives to be pretty normal," Ms Kantor said.
"We decided they needed to earn their own living."
The couple opted to give the money away, but they wanted to be smart and purposeful about it.
"At the beginning of the process we went to some smart and well-known public figures and asked them 'what they would do if you had a large amount of money to give away, but you can't give it to your own organisation?'" Mr Wootton said.
Both were quick to admit that not all the investments produced philanthropic fruit, but plenty did.
One of the key organisations they helped launch was the Climate Institute, which was established in 2005 and pushed progressive climate action long before it became mainstream.
"We were the first climate organisation in Australia and now there are zillions, so we are pretty proud of that," Mr Wootton said.
The other organisation both were particularly proud to have been involved with was ICAN, which has advocated for the abolition of nuclear weapons for over 15 years.
"We were the sole funders, people came to us and said 'how about doing that, you're interested in peace funding', so we did, and it ended up getting the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017," Mr Wootton said.
"A Nobel Peace Prize is a pretty good result."
But both are quick to downplay their personal roles.
"The people we backed were all pretty smart, good partners," Mr Wootton said.
"We developed good trusting relationships with them," Ms Kantor added.
"Things happened not because of our great brilliance or insight, a lot of it was happenstance.
"We've been very lucky."
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