The young woman who brought Sydney to a standstill by blocking a major road and chaining herself to her steering wheel once pursued a career as a glamorous teenage model.
Daily Mail Australia can reveal Mali Poppy Cooper, 22, was once a budding catwalk star in her mid-teens and was on the books of a top model agency until it went bust five years ago.
She appeared in several advertising campaigns and fashion photoshoots and was even in a pop video before becoming an eco-extremist.
But on Monday, far from starring as a pin-up, Cooper was instead pinned down by police after allegedly bringing Sydney’s traffic to a grinding halt during rush hour.
The woman at the centre of Sydney’s roadblock chaos is former teen model Mali Cooper whose stunning looks stopped traffic and brought the city to a standstill
Cooper is accused of parking a white rental hatchback diagonally across the entrance to the busy Sydney Harbour Tunnel, causing a queue of traffic that stretched for 20 kilometres and promoted widespread fury in the Harbour City.
She even livestreamed her Blockade Australia protest from her phone in the car as furious commuters screamed abuse at her over the peak hour delays she caused.
In a video, Cooper could be seen with a heavy duty bicycle lock around her neck which was looped through the steering wheel to stop police attempts from easily removing her from the front of the tunnel.
Specialists from the Police Rescue unit eventually had to cut her free before she was dragged from the car and held face down on the tarmac as she was arrested before she taken to a cell along with five other women and four male protesters.
Cooper, 22, appeared in Central Local Court via video link on Tuesday where she was given liberty under strict conditions that she return to her home near Lismore, northern NSW, and abide by a curfew between 10pm and 6am.
She was one of 10 Blockade Australia activists charged with multiple obstruction and disruption offences in Sydney’s central business district on Monday. A further 11 were arrested during similar protests on Tuesday.
In court, Cooper’s lawyer Mark Davis acknowledged her alleged offending was more serious than others in the group. But he said that she had strong family support with her grandmother and aunt present in court, and no prior criminal history.
Mr Davis said the condition – she will have report to police three times a week, not enter Sydney’s CBD or contact her co-accused – would be enough to cause her to ‘re-think activities of protest’.
Just six years ago, gangly 1.78m Cooper was a fresh faced teenager hoping her distinctive looks could crack the cut-throat world of fashion modelling.
Mali Poppy Cooper, 22, was a budding catwalk star in her mid-teens and was on the books of a top Sydney model agency until it went bust in 2016
On Monday, she turned her back on life as a pin up – and was pinned down by police instead after allegedly bringing the city centre to a grinding halt at rush hour
Cooper now lives in flood-ravaged Lismore, in Australia’s alternative lifestyle heartland in northern NSW.
She was talent spotted by agency boss Jaz Daly at a Skye Ferreira concert who had high hopes for the youngster who was a football fanatic and skilled circus performer.
Her model agency sold her looks as ‘a pillowy pout, finely freckled complexion, and uniquely idiosyncratic nose.’
‘This rap and grime music fan has been juggling her studies while modelling part time,’ said her agency at the time.
‘Mali has an effortless elegance that is an undeniable asset to her fledgling career. Agile, artistic, and seemingly sensitive, Mali is sure to have fashion tumbling for her.’
Her fresh-faced looks – which often appeared with barely a speck of make-up, or deliberately made up to look natural – let her stand out from her airbrush-styled rivals.
In one fashion shoot, Mali Cooper appeared to be wearing an elaborate Japanese kimono while lying on the ground staring back at the camera
Another shoot saw Mali Cooper wearing outrageous oversize earrings, coupled with a perm in a stunning high fashion style
In one photoshoot she showcased avant-garde corrugated vinyl clothes and traditional bucket hats and oversized woollen jerseys.
‘She has a pillowy pout, finely freckled complexion, and uniquely idiosyncratic nose
Modelling agency promotional material
In another she appeared to be wearing an elaborate Japanese kimono while lying on the ground staring back at the camera.
Another shoot saw her wearing outrageous oversized earrings, coupled with a perm in a stunning high fashion style.
She also appeared as an extra in a pop video in 2015 for a track called Oh Mercy by an artist called Sandy, where she danced as one of several tall blondes.
The white hatchback was parked sideways over two lanes of traffic – causing chaos for the thousands of people who use the tunnel every hour
Mali allegedly began to livestream the protest on Monday when an angry driver walked up to her window and began to verbally abuse her with a string of swear words before storming off.
Mali Cooper began to livestream the protest when an angry driver walked up to her window and began to verbally abuse her before storming off
‘You’re f***ing everyone’s day up,’ he yells. ‘Get the f*** out of the way!’
An unfazed Mali continued to look at the camera before she responded: ‘To this man I would say I stand with you. It is for you, it is for your family that we do this.’
She staged her alleged protest as dozens of Blockade Australia demonstrators marched through the streets in the CBD, disrupting traffic and clashing with police.
One fed-up driver was filmed edging their car through the crowd forcing people to jump out of its way with one protestor banging on the hood of the car as they were pushed backwards.
Mali, who moaned about climate destruction in her livestream, then sipped water from a plastic water bottle as she continued her protest on the other side of the city.
‘The police are here,’ she said into the camera. ‘Not sure if you can see. Thank you everyone who has listened.
‘I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to be able to hold this phone and hold this space. It’s a big day ahead.’
She then looked out the window to check on the police officers circling her car before the angered commuter walked back up to her car.
The commuter screamed at her that she was ‘f***ing selfish’, then yelled a phrase at her about ‘jail’ that is so obscene it cannot be published.
An outraged commuter erupted at climate activist Mali cooper after she chained herself to the steering wheel of her car and blocked traffic outside the Sydney Harbour Tunnel
Mali continued to look away at her phone and tried to ignore the commuter hurling insults at her.
The commuter then walked away before Mali urged her viewers to join her cause.
‘Come and stand in solidarity. Find your voice,’ she said.
A police officer then walked up to her window and politely asks her for identification, before the video ended.
Further protests broke out in Sydney on Tuesday with 11 arrested, but the disruptions are unlikely to continue on Wednesday.
A message posted to the Blockade Australia Telegram channel late on Tuesday evening said: ‘We have made the call for tomorrow to be a day off.
‘We want people to have a chance to rest, regroup and support one another as well as connect with those who share our common purpose of resisting climate destruction’.
Police officers surrounded the white hatchback as blocked traffic backed up for several kilometres