Vivian Malo: A warrior woman whose legacy will long inspire

Viv spoke at many ISJA rallies. This one, held 12 May 2012, demanded justice for sistagirl, Veronica Baxter.
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The Aboriginal movement, the Left and all who fight for justice lost a tenacious freedom fighter when Vivian Podesser (Malo) died way too young on 11 January 2022. News of her passing, aged 48, sparked an outpouring of social media tributes and heartfelt solidarity for her partner, Robbie Thorpe, as well as her children. The two words that were repeated over and over were “inspirational” and “warrior.” Viv was indeed a force to be reckoned with.

Viv, a Gooniyandi woman and mother from the Kimberly, was well respected for how she lived her life. Viv was consistent in her values, a fierce opponent of the far right and a strong voice who provided immense clarity. She used that voice to good effect as a powerful rally speaker and a radio presenter.

On the streets, Viv spoke with passion, harnessing her lived experience as a First Nations woman to call out injustice and demand solutions. On air, she reached a wide audience from the studios of community radio 3CR with her critique of all that is wrong with the system. She conducted many powerful interviews with a multi-racial array of guests, encouraging them to tell their stories while boldly advocating a different kind of world. Viv’s program, The Black Block, which she hosted in recent times with Meriki Onus, is proudly anti-capitalist. It sees capitalism as a system in terminal decline and seeks to empower listeners to be conscious and active participants in the process of creating a new world.

A relaxed debrief after presenting a mass petition to a government Minister as part of the 2017 Stop Failing Our Kids campaign.

I worked alongside Viv, for over a decade, in the movement to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody. She was unwavering in her solidarity with the families. Viv turned out for rallies both big and small, often speaking or leading chants on the megaphone. She strongly supported the work of the Indigenous Social Justice Association – Melbourne (ISJA) and regularly promoted its campaigns on The Black Block. She called out the issue — from racist over-policing, to unjust laws and lack of duty of care. Her focus was on holding police and prison authorities accountable and ending the killings.

Viv was no single-issue activist. She knew that the same system, which treats First Nations so harshly, refuses to recognise the sovereignty of Palestinians and West Papuans. She consistently made this connection. Viv marched on International Women’s Day, stood in solidarity with workers, demanded freedom for refugees and protested the theft of Aboriginal land and the devastating capitalist disregard for the environment.

The far right found a foe in Viv. What made her such a powerful adversary was her clarity. She held no illusion that the state would stop fascists or other rightwing types, knowing that we must build a strong and united movement to counter them. She attracted headlines in The Age last year when she challenged the mistaken views of anti-lockdown protestors. Viv worked as a health worker and was a passionate advocate of vaccination, who mounted a strong challenge to community members influenced by anti-vax conspiracy theories.

Viv was also generous, kind and fun to be around. ISJA organisers developed a tradition of convening post-rally debriefs over coffee. These gatherings are dubbed the Congress of Freedom Fighters Encouraging Equality (COFFEE). Occasions when Viv joined “the congress” will remain treasured memories.

Viv fought her breast cancer in a public fashion typical of her optimism and determination. Her wide circle of movement friends celebrated as she recovered from surgery and treatment in 2018. When the disease returned in October last year, the news generated outpourings of solidarity. Photos of Viv speaking at a snap action responding to the tragic death of Ms Calgaret on 3 December say so much about who Viv was. Despite being so unwell, it was important to her to be there! Viv inspired so many, as is evidenced by the messages amongst the tributes — many from young First Nations people — pledging to honour Viv’s memory by continuing the struggle.

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