Australia as a Risk Society:

Hope and fears of the past, the present and the future

29 March - 1 April 2021



Dany Adone

University of Cologne

Dany Adone is Professor of Linguistics in the English Department, University of Cologne, Germany. She is also codirector of the Centre of Australian Studies, University of Cologne, Adjunct Professor at Charles Darwin University, Australia. and honorary Professor at the University of Seychelles.

She has written or edited several articles/books on Creole and sign languages in Mauritius, Seychelles, Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. She is currently working in close collaboration with Indigenous communities and scholars in Northern and Western Australia and in the Seychelles on language documentation focusing on decolonising methodologies.

Keynote speech

Decolonising Linguistic Research

Most discussion on including Indigenous Knowledge into a Western research and education paradigm comes from cultural and literary studies (e.g. Kovach 2012, Smith 2012, Neumeier and Schaffer 2013). Conversations and discussions with Indigenous scholars have long started, but these conversations are still rare in Linguistics. In this speech I discuss what Contact Linguistics offers in the discussion of Indigenous engagement and especially in the development of Indigenous research frameworks. Contact Linguistics deals with, among others, the study of mixed languages, Indigenised Englishes and Creole languages. In this speech I will explore factors to be addressed when developing a ‘two-way research methodology’. The urgent need for research to be defined by Indigenous voices, i.e. action research based on the needs of the communities involved should be a priority. Another important factor is the recognition of Indigenous Knowledges as a valid approach in research. The often ‘dualistic constructs’ used in European cultures do not allow space for the holistic nature of Indigenous worldviews and give rise to conflict between Indigenous and Western research approaches. The triangulation between Land, People and Language, another central component of Indigenous Knowledge, has to be given more weight. ‘Place’ being responsible for giving identity is theoretically acknowledged but the distinction of languages that relies on locally based knowledge is rarely taken into account.


University of New South Wales

Bill Ashcroft

Bill Ashcroft is a renowned critic and theorist, founding exponent of postcolonial theory, co-author of The Empire Writes Back, the first text to offer a systematic examination of the field of postcolonial studies. He is author and co-author of twenty-one books and over 200 articles and chapters, variously translated into six languages, and he is on the editorial boards of ten international journals. His latest work is Utopianism in Postcolonial Literatures. He is Emeritus Professor at the University of NSW and is a fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

Keynote speech

Australia and Postcolonial Risk

Australia has experienced forms of risk that arise directly from its origin as a colony and its subsequent descent into nationalism. An actual risk stems from its relationship with the environment and an invented risk arises from the xenophobia that has led to its bordering practices. The overwhelming and obvious environmental risk is that of climate change, which has resulted in a multi-year drought and unprecedented bushfires. The confected risk is that arising from the panic concerning asylum seekers and refugees. Launching from a discussion of Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu this speech considers the extent to which colonial agricultural practices have led to environmental degradation and how the example of the indigenous relationship with the land might offer a different way of being in place. The invented risk of invasion by strangers and the hysterical expressions of xenophobia have resulted in draconian bordering practices. The speech considers the extent to which literature might open up forms of possibility that understand, cope with and see beyond the risks with which Australia is afflicted.


Behrouz Boochani

Independent writer, journalist and activist

Behrouz Boochani is Adjunct Associate Professor of Social Sciences at UNSW and Senior Adjunct Research Fellow with the Ngāi Tahu Research Centre, University of Canterbury (New Zealand). His book No Friend but the Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison (Picador 2018) has won numerous awards including the 2019 Victorian Prize for Literature. He is also non-resident Visiting Scholar at the Sydney Asia Pacific Migration Centre (SAPMiC), University of Sydney; Visiting Professor at Birkbeck, University of London; member of Border Criminologies, University of Oxford; Honorary (Principal Fellow) within Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne; Honorary Member of PEN International; and winner of an Amnesty International Australia 2017 Media Award, the Diaspora Symposium Social Justice Award, the Liberty Victoria 2018 Empty Chair Award, and the Anna Politkovskaya award for journalism. Boochani is also co-director (with Arash Kamali Sarvestani) of the 2017 feature-length film Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time.


Omid Tofighian

University of Sydney

Omid Tofighian is an award-winning lecturer, researcher and community advocate, combining philosophy with interests in citizen media, popular culture, displacement and discrimination. He is Adjunct Lecturer in the School of the Arts and Media, UNSW; Honorary Research Associate for the Department of Philosophy, University of Sydney; member of Border Criminologies, University of Oxford; faculty at Iran Academia; and campaign manager for Why Is My Curriculum White? - Australasia. His published works include Myth and Philosophy in Platonic Dialogues (Palgrave 2016); he is the translator of Behouz Boochani's multi-award winning book No Friend but the Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison (Picador 2018); and co-editor of 'Refugee Filmmaking', Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media (2019).

Keynote speech

Manus Prison Narratives: Displacement, Exile and Knowledge

Literature, films, artworks, and journalism are used to offer unique insight into the lived experience and endurance of people subject to racialized government policies, intersectional discrimination, and systemic exclusion. They introduce unique philosophical standpoints and act as critical interlocutors in debates pertaining to border politics. This discussion between Behrouz Boochani and Omid Tofighian focuses on the experiences and knowledge produced under conditions of displacement and exile and addresses the complexity of these experiences when they intersect with imprisonment in state-run refugee detention centers - particularly the phenomenon of indefinite detention. The discussion introduces narratives and critical perspectives often discussed, analyzed, and criticized but rarely prioritized in public discourse and silenced by prominent media platforms. The dialogue provides insight into the book No Friend but the Mountains: Writings From Manus Prison (Picador 2018, translated by Tofighian) written by Boochani who was held in indefinite detention on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea from 2013 to 2019 as part of the Australian government’s policies on refugees. Boochani and Tofighian discuss how this work presents an extraordinary aesthetic, philosophical, and political challenge to think through and interrogate the mechanics of detention within a framework of colonial dispossession and the neo-colonial strategies that maintain and reinforce border violence.


University of New South Wales

Anne Brewster

Associate Professor Anne Brewster is based at the University of New South Wales. Her research interests include Australian Indigenous literatures, Women’s literatures, minoritised women’s literatures, critical race and whiteness studies, violence studies, cross-racial research methodologies and explorative critical writing methodologies. Her books include Giving This Country a Memory: Contemporary Aboriginal Voices of Australia, (2015), Literary Formations: Postcoloniality, Nationalism, Globalism (1996), Reading Aboriginal Women's Autobiography (1995, 2015), Towards a Semiotic of Post-colonial Discourse: University Writing in Singapore and Malaysia 1949-1964 (1988) and, with Sue Kossew, Rethinking the Victim. Gender, Violence and Contemporary Australian Women’s Writing (2019). She is the series editor for Australian Studies: Interdisciplinary Perspectives Peter Lang Ltd.

Keynote speech

Indigenous Futurity: Two Apocalypses in Claire G. Coleman's The Old Lie

Although Zizek suggests that apocalyptic narratives can work to normalise crises, many Indigenous cultural producers argue that Indigenous people across the globe inhabit worlds which their ancestors would have considered dystopian/apocalyptic (Whyte). They suggest that apocalypse is a powerful metaphor for genocide and the anthropogenic environmental damage inflicted on Indigenous peoples. They demonstrate that Indigenous futurism provides a strategy both to ‘move forward’ and to affirm survival and healing within the present (Dillon 2016). This paper focuses on Claire G Coleman’s novel The Old Lie (2020), to suggest that Coleman, like many Indigenous writers, embeds her vision of Indigenous futurity within Indigenous history. It argues that her treatment of apocalypse is therefore necessarily contingent and localised, an argument pursued through a textual and paratextual examination of the apocalyptic trope of revelation in the central narrative of war which undergirds the novel. Extending this discussion of revelation in another direction, the paper then considers the possibility of ‘white apocalypse’ in an analysis of the cross-cultural ‘contract’ of reading.  

The last section of the paper addresses the issue of Indigenous agency in the face of the (catastrophic) ruins of (inter)planetary imperialism. It returns to an analysis of the theme of war to consider Coleman’s decolonial deployment of the technocultural aesthetics of space opera. If, within the canons of both high and popular literature, futurity has traditionally been considered the exclusive property and prerogative of whiteness, then The Old Lie redresses this situation by enabling the future to be occupied by Indigenous gendered imaginaries. This section explores how Coleman’s Indigenous futurism figures Indigenous mobility in the interplanetary multiverse. It examines the novel’s vision of a democratic intergalactic imaginary by analysing (1) its decolonial cosmopolitanism and (2) its gendered Indigenous sovereign erotics. 

Gerhard Leitner

Free University Berlin


Gerhard Leitner, a professor of English linguistics at the Free University Berlin, has studied a range of topics on Australia for over nearly forty years. He spent about three years there as a visiting professor, a speaker, a lecturer, a researcher. He published widely (e.g. Australia' Many Voices, two volumes (2004), The Habitat of Australia's Aboriginal Languages, co-edited with Ian Malcolm (2007), Short Stories of the Australian Experience (2011), Die Aborigines Australiens (2016, third edition), Die Geschichte Australiens (2016)). He has been inspirator of the now defunction Australian Institute at the University of Potsdam and co-founder of the German Association of Australian Studies, convenor of several international conferences related to Australia, etc. He supervised many BA and MA theses and several PhDs.

Having started in the 1980s with the study of Indian English, he made South and Southeast Asia a second large region of his interest with many assignment as a visiting and teaching professor and with numerous publications (Communicating with Asia, co-edited with Azirah Hashim and Hans-Georg Wolf, 2016; English in Southeast Asia and ASEAN, second author with Azirah Hashim, 2021). That region could easily be linked with Australia's shifting geo-political space in Asia.

Keynote speech

Australian Studies in Tertiary and Secondary Education

The other day I got a call from a film production company who was planning a documentary on Australia for public service TV. Can you tell us, one lady asked, something about snake hunting by Aborigines? Not offhand, I replied, but I can investigate. Snakes in dreaming stories, snake hunting and its techniques, the role of women and men, snakes as food, literature, etc. A range of topics…unfamiliar to me. At another time I was asked about a Germany ship that transported migrants, another in the ship “Emden” that was sunk by the Australian marine near Singapore. What is Australian Studies and what can be its role in education? If such questions belong to Australian Studies, it must be an agglomeration of topics studied in a variety of disciplines. There would be no unity and no overarching frame of thought. But there can be if one replaces snakes by Australian fauna, or studies Australian languages, religious of philosophical beliefs, communities and their place in society, etc. Of course, the place of AS may, indeed will, differ between school education and the universities. And yet, academics must be open to school-like basic questions like snake hunting or ships.

In my talk, I will explore Australian Studies from a language point of view and illustrate its possible links to other disciplines – typologies of languages, communication techniques and esp. intercultural ones, literatures, societies, history, socio-psychology, anthropology, archaeology, religion, and the like. I will show how such issues can benefit from Australian Studies and how it can contribute to developing the fields it can contribute to. I will draw on my work in Australian linguistics, Aboriginal studies and history.