Whether you are a Byron resident or have just passed through our little town, chances are you’ve seen Adam Shostak. The problem, with which Adam battles every single working day, is that, though you might have seen him, you haven’t really seen him. Adam is a tin-rattler, a change collector, an asker of funds and, whether we care to admit it or not, we are all guilty at turning blind eyes to such admirable citizens.
Adam Shostak is the fundraising co-ordinator of Byron Shire’s chapter of Sea Shepherd. He spends his entirely voluntary days collecting money on street corners and at markets and peddling the distinct, black and white, Jolly Roger-adorned Sea Shepherd merchandise. Not a single cent goes into his pocket and rarely an ounce of praise comes his way. Nevertheless, Adam is at it from sun up to sun down, rain or shine, gleaning funds for the charity for which he is so passionate.
The son of Polish parents, Adam emigrated to Australia in the late 1940s. Working hard to gain a foothold in Australia’s economy, Mr and Mrs Shostak established a chain of milk bars, a modest empire which Adam was to inherit. But it wasn’t the life he had chosen. Selling up and semi retiring on the small profits, he migrated north to the Shire and developed a passion for activism.
“I got into the environmental movement, rain forests at first, then sand mining and that sort of stuff,” Adam reflects. “I tried to do other things, like Coal Seam Gas, state forest conservation…there’s so many issues going on around here that I found my energies were dissipated too much. I decided that I’d stick to one thing. Then the whales called me and I’ve been working for Sea Shepherd ever since, protecting the defenceless whales from the harpoons. This is about the tenth year now and this will be my sixth year on the streets in direct action, fund raising to keep the ships fuelled, fed, equipped and so on.”
Working in this area has obviously given him a close connection with the ocean and an attachment to the wealth of marine life, including humpback whales and dolphins, that we are so blessed with. But Adam has also found the people to be exceptional in assisting his work:
“I think the Byron Bubble is unique to Australia, with so many alternative-thinking people living around here, and they support us with their hard-earned cash, which is amazing. Hopefully it will spread from here, become infectious, viral, and people will start standing up for the ocean and understanding the plight of the oceans and the need for every single person to do a little bit. There’s still the people who live in denial and they don’t understand what’s happening in the oceans. But, generally speaking, one out of ten people are open and support us.
“Unlike some other organizations who take your money and you hardly see any work for it, you can see Sea Shepherd actually going out and interfering with the whole process of killing these defenceless, voiceless beings.”
But despite Byron being ‘easy pickings’ and, by his own admission, one of the easiest places to raise funds and awareness through its conscientious population and steady stream of holiday makers, Adam’s job is hard yakka. Three or four eight-hour days a week on the streets or at the regional markets, two or three counting stock, placing orders, counting, bagging and banking the masses of change he receives and catching up on emails and Facebook posts leave very little downtime for Adam. It’s no wonder his hair’s gone grey!
Although Adam has helped resupplying Sea Shepherd’s humble fleet, he is, at 74 years young, beyond weeks and months afloat: “I’ve supplied ships and helped with this and that, but I’m too old to be a sea person and I don’t want to get in the way. So it’s much better for young people to take my place there, which I’m quite happy about. I do get onboard whenever I can and it’s always amazing meeting the crew. They’re the most wonderful people you could ever meet. They give up their lives, they’re prepared to die for their cause – they’re extraordinary people to be amongst and I always come out really enlightened and uplifted from their presence.”
With three children and seven grandchildren, Adam has plenty of family to represent him and carry the mantle where his aging, yet sprightly, limbs may not carry him. But with the expansion of Sea Shepherd ever increasing, it’s possible that he may not be needed on his street corners and market stalls for too many more years.
“Hopefully in the next couple of years, we won’t need to be out begging people for money. We’re trying to get a direct-action campaign established where people sign up and donate monthly, so hopefully that will take care of the money situation.
“But, until that happens, I’ll be here until the day I die…”
The next time you hear a ringing in your ears, reach into your pocket. It might not be the unwelcome return of your tinnitus problem, but Adam and his amazing troupe of volunteers offering you a chance to make a change with your change.
For more information on the fantastic work done by Sea Shepherd, visit www.seashepherd.org.au
– This article first appeared on Common Ground Australia on Sep 25, 2013
Opening Portrait: ©Kirra Pendergast