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The good oil ongreen politics

Taelor PeluseyBusselton Dunsborough Times
Michael Baldock at Meelup Regional Park.
Camera IconMichael Baldock at Meelup Regional Park. Credit: Taelor Pelusey

Working more than 100-hour weeks on an offshore rig, hovering 800m above the seabed kilometres from land, was once the norm for Michael Baldock.

But the isolated life of an oil and gas engineer never sat well with Michael, eventually prompting a return to his South West roots and a head-first leap into the community he grew up in.

Michael was raised in Yallingup but despite its beauty and thriving surf culture, growing up on “the hill” was often lonely.

“There were very few permanent residents living there at the time and no other kids … so when we moved to the farm closer to town, it was great,” he said.

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Michael eventually left the family farm, where some of the region’s first vineyards were planted, to further his education at the University of Western Australia.

During his degree in human movement, Michael learnt his interests lay in biomechanics and were best explored with an engineering degree.

But rather than transfer undergraduate degrees, the ambitious student completed both.

Michael’s efforts were eventually rewarded with an oil-and-gas company scholarship, which led to him working on projects based in Singapore, China and Italy. “It was great at the time but I went straight from high school into university, then straight into work,” he said.

“I was working really long hours and doing some interesting stuff … but it’s a funny environment.

“It’s almost a celebration when you crack that 100-hour mark, and looking back now I see it was completely dominating my life.”

Michael’s time in the oil and gas industry involved working on “interesting projects” in “unique locations”, but the drive to return home soon became too strong.

“For me it was a case of where you want to raise a family,” he said.

After moving back to the region and becoming a father, Michael became involved with the Dunsborough Primary School.

He was P and C president for seven years and has been chairman of the school board for the past four.

Michael’s engineering background helped guide the design and development of several major school projects. He has also been involved in grassroots projects, including a move towards nature-based play and the planting of a vegetable patch.

His passion for infrastructure and grassroots action extends out of the school environment and into the political arena.

Earlier this decade Michael began campaigning against the redevelopment of Busselton’s hospital at its existing site, becoming aligned with the WA Greens.

“That was my first real foray into politics,” he said.

“I suppose one of my concerns was I could see that business and lobby groups understood the political system and could get outcomes that suited them ... and people at the grassroots became side players.”

In 2014, Michael ran for the seat of Vasse and two years ago established the Busselton-Dunsborough Greens — the first WA Greens local group.

Next year he will stand for the seat of Bunbury, where he will push for the South West to reclaim its future as an energy supplier by encouraging development of large-scale renewable energy projects.

Though much of his life is dedicated to the community, Michael still appreciates his alone time and finds solace in running.

These days he mostly runs the coastal trails in Meelup Regional Park, or in the occasional local “adventure race”.

But Michael, a former ultra-marathoner, has run 100km tracks in Sydney and Melbourne, and went on to represent Australia in the UK and Belgium.

Closer to home, Michael has tackled the 130km Cape-to-Cape tour in one day with fellow Dunsborough-based ultra-marathoner Andrew Cohen.

“Though not competitively — for fun,” he said.

While the seasoned distance runner enjoyed the extreme challenges of ultra-marathons, his future runs are likely to be sub-100km.

“It puts a lot of pressure on the body so I probably won’t do that any more ... but I’ll always enjoy running,” he said.

“It’s that time where no one can phone you; you just put your shoes on and go.”

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