Friends, family and activists were gutted to hear that First Nations activist and warrior Vivian Podesser Malo passed away on January 11, after her cancer returned.
A Gooniyandi woman from the Kimberley, Viv was born in 1973 and raised in Victoria. She was a 3CR Community Radio presenter for many years, contributing to a number of programs. In her regular show, The Black Block, she often focussed on discussions about capitalism and colonialism.
I met Viv during Occupy Melbourne, when we occupied City Square for a week. She was committed to fighting the colonial capitalist system, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sovereignty and against Black deaths in custody. She played an active role in Invasion Day protests, helping organise them from 2012–14.
I last saw Viv at a December protest against the death in custody of an Aboriginal woman. She told me her cancer had returned and that it was untreatable. She nevertheless felt she had to attend to speak out about the crime of First Nations peoples being killed in custody.
Viv spoke out at the 2015 protests against the Tony Abbott government’s attempt to close down remote Aboriginal communities. But she was concerned about the whole oppressive system: she saw how First Nations battles are linked to other struggles against oppression. She was asked to speak at rallies supporting refugees, West Papuans and Palestinians, among others.
Viv helped mobilise First Nations’ people for the 2014 March in March protests against the Abbott government’s ruthless budget cuts. She supported the campaign for public housing, for climate action as well as big union rallies.
Viv was absolutely fearless in standing up against injustice — including challenging fascists. A healthcare worker, Viv was incensed by the right-wing anti-vaxxers spreading misinformation about vaccines. She worried for those parts of the community who were influenced by the propaganda and then caught COVID-19.
When they attacked the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union’s office and then staged daily protests for a week, Viv confronted them, by herself.
As she told The Age that she “wanted [the anti-vaxxers] to think about why they were there”. Speaking about the rise of the right wing and “the privilege and self-righteousness of this group” she said: “I don’t want to encroach on anyone’s right to protest, but we’re in unprecedented times, and we need to think differently for the time being,” she said.
“I am pro-vaccine and I’m not afraid to say that because I don’t want to see Aboriginal communities get hammered by this. My family is from a remote community in West Australia, where there’s a lot of hesitancy because of the misinformation online,” she said.
Viv was a huge inspiration for thousands of people. Her passing will leave a huge hole. But we will mourn Viv by marching in her footsteps.
Our love, support and condolences go to Viv’s family and friends, especially her life partner Robert Thorpe.
I’ll leave the final word to Viv, who wrote her goodbye message on New Year’s Day on her Facebook page: “Not sure if knowing when your time is up or not is a good thing but it is what it is, out of my hands and I accept my fate. Be kind to each other (said the angry black woman) at the end of the day it’s your family, dear friends and those that Love you that truly matter. Enjoy this time in the Sun with yours.”