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Recap: The Di Gribble Argument 2021

Read Monday, 19 Apr 2021
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On 28 March, the Wheeler Centre was proud to host The Di Gribble Argument 2021 at the Malthouse Outdoor Stage. Honouring the late Di Gribble, an extraordinary powerhouse of Australian public life, The Di Gribble Argument provides an indelible addition to the national debate.

Climate change and First Nations’ perspectives

This year, The Di Gribble Argument consisted of a full day of events featuring a broad range of First Nations speakers discussing and reflecting on issues of climate change, environment and connection to Country. Focussed on the radical act of listening this year, rather than a debate, The Di Gribble Argument 2021 encouraged multi-generational public dialogue to empower individuals to engage with environmental action, while asserting the importance of prioritising First Nations knowledge.

Three generations, three writers

Each event responded to one of  three commissioned essays by First Nations writers of different generations – Bruce Pascoe (author of Loving Country: A Guide to Sacred Australia, Dark Emu, Young Dark Emu), Victor Steffensen (author of Fire Country: How Indigenous Fire Management Could Help Save Australia), and Teila Watson (aka Ancestress).

Gheran-Yarraman Steel. Photo by TJ Garvie Photography

Brave Old World: Victor Steffensen on The Present

A Welcome to Country by Gheran-Yarraman Steel (Briggs) was followed by a lively discussion with Victor Steffensen sparked by his essay, The Planet is Us. Victor was joined by host Tony Birch (The White Girl/Ghost River/Blood), alongside artist, fire management expert and cultural advisor Tammy Gilson; and CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) Jill Gallagher.

Steffensen’s argument that our environment is inextricably linked to our personal and collective health stems from his passion for developing a greater understanding of the link between nature and ourselves: “If we start to read landscape,” Steffensen said, “we can see how sick Country is, and what she’s telling us to do. If we’re healing her, we’ll also be healing ourselves.”

“The only solution is to start the process of healing one job at a time, no matter how big or small.”

Tammy Gilson echoed Victor’s sentiments, emphasising the need for Indigenous people to connect to Country: ‘Throughout history, non-Indigenous people have been deprived of the knowledge of the land.’ Jill Gallagher concurred and spoke of the way VACCHO worked with communities to respond to the public health threat of Covid-19 last year, and the way thatlockdown restrictions made it much more difficult for First Nations people to get out on Country.

“If we start to read landscape, we can see how sick Country is, and what she’s telling us to do. If we’re healing her, we’ll also be healing ourselves.”

Jill Gallagher concurred and highlighted the ways in which lockdown restrictions made it much more difficult for First Nations people to get out on Country. Gallagher spoke of the importance of the practice of birthing on Country as an example of the deep connection between community and Country. She also outlined VACCHO’s coordinated and streamlined response to the pandemic; tailored to the needs of First Nations people, VACCHO’s strategy included public health messaging, outreach, and even Zoom lessons for elders to ensure that infection rates were kept outstandingly low in Indigenous communities.The only solution is to start the process of healing, one job at a time,” she concluded. No matter how big or how small.”

Read Victor Steffensen’s Essay.

Brave Old World: Bruce Pascoe on The Future

Hosted by poet and Overland co-editor Evelyn Araluen (Dropbear), Bruce Pascoe discussed his bold vision for the future of agriculture as outlined in his essay, Brave Old World. He was joined on the panel by his son, Jack Pascoe, who specialises in science-based conservation in the Victorian Otways region, and writer and researcher Zena Cumpston.

Together, they outlined the essential need to prioritise First Nations knowledge systems when it comes to caring for Country, a new approach to land ownership and the seeds of hope that have germinated in the fires of 2019 and 2020.

Both Jack Pascoe and Zena Cumpston spoke about the great potential Australian agriculture has in a more sustainable world. As a researcher with a background in ecological research and conservation land management, Jack Pascoe spoke about the benefits of traditional food growing processes that care for Country: “We’re trying to show that the Aboriginal foods are better for Country; they’re highly nutritious, they grow well, and they are perennial.”

Both Zena and Jack emphasised the need to include First Nations leaders, knowledge, and perspectives: “We all need to think about when we want to include Aboriginal perspective and people,” Zena Cumpston said. “It’s about reciprocity. Don’t just give them a seat at the table, let them set the menu.”

Bruce Pascoe emphasised the need for current and future generations to have difficult conversations about climate change in order to change things for the better, saying: “Tipping our hat at the environment is not enough; we need to become actively involved. We can make change, but we can’t afford to have that change hijacked by big organisations.”

Read Bruce Pascoe’s Essay.

Teila Watson on What’s Not in the Past

What are the connections and causes of genocide and ecocide in so called “australia”? This is one of the pressing questions raised in Teila Watson’s essay The Intrinsic Connections between Ecocide and Genocide.

Unfortunately due to last minute Covid-19-related travel restrictions, Teila Watson was unable to travel to Melbourne for her event. In lieu of Teila’s attendance, Evelyn Araluen performed a reading of Teila Watson’s essay, and encouraged attendees to share the meaningful essay with friends and family.

Read Teila Watson’s Essay

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Acknowledgment of Country

The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land on which we work. We pay our respects to the people of the Kulin Nation and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, past and present.