We have lost a warrior. On 11 January Vivian Malo Podesser tragically passed away after a long battle with cancer.
Viv—a Gooniyandi woman from the Kimberley who lived, worked and fought furiously for justice on the lands of the Kulin Nations in Naarm (Melbourne)—was a force of nature. Her searing denunciations of the racist Australian state and capitalist injustice regularly rang out from rally platforms, making the crowd sit up and listen.
Many of us first met Viv at the Occupy Melbourne protests against corporate greed, for social justice and genuine democracy in October 2011. She would go on to play a prominent role in numerous struggles over the subsequent decade. Viv was of course central to the struggle for Aboriginal liberation, from the annual 26 January Invasion Day marches, to the fight against Indigenous community closures in 2015, to protests against Black deaths in custody. She also travelled the country to participate in Aboriginal rights protests, including, in 2018, against the Commonwealth Games in Queensland.
Viv worked to build the bonds of solidarity between Indigenous struggles on this continent and those of other oppressed peoples across the globe. She was always willing to speak at protests in solidarity with the fight for West Papuan freedom, for the Palestinians, against Islamophobia and racism in all its forms and for climate justice. Many of these struggles featured on her long running 3CR community radio program The Black Block.
In 2013, Viv wrote an article for Red Flag, in the form of a letter to “the System” in which she spelled out her desire for revolutionary change. “Just one last thing, System”, she wrote, “since it is my house you’ve been living in for the last 225 years (rent free) I am giving you notice to vacate. You’ve trashed the furniture and put holes in all the walls in the short time that you’ve been here. And it turns out the neighbours you were hating on and kept me from with your lies are actually on my side. Funny that—I’ll be coming back with them in a little while to make sure you’ve left the house.”
“If you’re still there when I come back, we’re gonna bust you up so you can’t hurt anyone any more. And don’t bother cleaning up your garbage; I’m thinking about redesigning the place anyway. Goodbye System.”
Around this time Viv and her partner in life and activism Robbie Thorpe founded the group First Nations Liberation (FNL). You can hear her radicalism and righteous hatred of capitalism in the FNL “call to action”, which Viv penned in the lead-up to the “March in March” protests against then prime minister Tony Abbott in 2014. “Let’s tell them it’s not enough”, she wrote, “to shuffle the ‘leaders’ around in a system where profit and money is god. It’s the game, not the players”.
“No true sense of freedom can ever be attained for anyone without liberating us first from this out of control invader system. This always was and always will be a free peoples’ land, and the 220+ years of darkness will end when we see justice for the crimes against our humanity and land, and when the structures of oppression are toppled.”
Viv always spoke her mind, even if it meant challenging people on our side. At the “Bust the Budget” protest in 2014, Viv took to the stage to object to the constant talk of what a “lucky country” Australia had been historically. “This is an intervention”, she began, “Australia isn’t a lucky country if you're Black, especially not if you're Black and poor". She ended her speech with these powerful words: "You won't have your freedom without ours".
An example of Viv’s courage was her response to the sizeable right-wing anti-vax protests in the wake of the attack on the CFMEU offices in September 2021. She went along as a lone counter-protester, live-streaming as she challenged the far right, and was interviewed about her experience and reasons for doing this in the mainstream press.
She was verbally abused by many participants in the anti-vax rally. Viv, however, was never one for backing down. “I’m pro-vaccine and I’m not afraid to say that because I don’t want to see Aboriginal communities get hammered by this”, she told the reporter.
Viv’s preparedness to take a public stand at a time when many others were watching on with horror from the safety of their homes was important. She made it clear our horror and disgust at these developments wasn’t enough, and that the far-right and the anti-vax movement needed to be actively challenged.
One of the last times many of us saw Viv was at the 20 November anti-fascist protest organised by the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (CARF). Despite being increasingly physically frail she nonetheless took it to every anti-vaxxer or member of the far right that dared harass our protest.
Writing about the CARF action on Facebook she urged the Indigenous community to take up the fight against fascism. “What a crying shame”, she wrote, “so many been convinced by right wing agendas. I marched proudly with the Left today, as I've always done ... WILLIAM COOPER marched against fascism in 1938, when no one did! THAT’S THE SPIRIT WE NEED, not diluting black struggle for the likes of Craig Kelly and his mates FFS!!”
It’s a tragedy that Viv has been taken from us so soon. Her enormous heart, her anger at the system and her relentlessness and fearlessness in fighting for a better world—even when she was in enormous pain—have inspired so many people to take up the struggle themselves. Her example will keep on fuelling the fires of resistance.
Our solidarity and love go out to Viv’s family, friends and comrades who knew her best. Rest in Power Viv.
Viv’s name and image are used with the permission of her family.