The Wheeler Centre
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Black and Green: Environmentalists and Indigenous Australia
When the environmental movement emerged in Australia in the 1970s, many saw an obvious alliance between activists and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. There seemed to be broad agreement on one major principle: the natural environment should not be subject to thoughtless destruction.
But these relationships have also often played out with tension – complicated by disagreements on issues from fire management to mining sites and the contested idea of ‘wilderness’. In her 2012 Boyer Lecture, Indigenous writer and anthropologist Marcia Langton denounced ‘the refusal among the romantics, leftists and worshippers of nature to admit that Aboriginal people, like other humans, have an economic life … and have economic rights’.
A new book, Unstable Relations, explores the past and present of this sometimes tense, often constructive and always evolving relationship. Join its co-editor, anthropologist Eve Vincent, Indigenous organiser and strategist Karrina Nolan and contributor Jon Altman in conversation with host Tony Birch.
Presented in partnership with Yirramboi.
Tony Birch is the author of three novels: the bestselling The White Girl, winner of the 2020 NSW Premier's Award for Indigenous Writing, and shortlisted for the 2020 Miles Franklin Literary Prize; Ghost River, winner of the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing, and Blood, which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 2012. He is also the author of Shadowboxing, and three short story collections – Father’s Day, The Promise and Common People.
In 2017 Tony was awarded the Patrick White Literary Award. In 2021 he will release two new books, a poetry collection, Whisper Songs, and a new short story collection, Dark as Last Night. Tony Birch is also an activist, historian and essayist.
Karrina Nolan is of mixed heritage from Yorta Yorta nation in Victoria. She’s worked as an organiser, strategist, campaigner, facilitator, lobbyist and hip-hop wrangler alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, young people and communities for 20 years. She’s led programs and campaigns on women’s rights, globalisation and environmental justice with a focus on First Nations peoples.
Most recently, Karrina has been working as Seed’s Strategist and Community Facilitator. She has also been building power among communities protecting country – supporting communities in the Northern Territory to fight fracking and other resource extraction like mining Borroloola, and in Queensland alongside the Wangan and Jagalingou people. She is also a singer with the Mission Songs project, rejuvenating songs not heard in over 60 years from the mission days.
Jon Altman is a research professor at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University, and an Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University.
One of Australia's most engaged public intellectuals, Jon also frequently writes for a broader audience on Aboriginal economic issues in Inside Story, Crikey, Arena, and New Matilda.
Eve Vincent is a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at Macquarie University. She is the co-editor, with Timothy Neale, of Unstable Relations: Indigenous people and environmentalism in contemporary Australia (UWAP, 2016).