A provocative call to action by five Griffith research institutes culminated in the inaugural Absent Voices Interdisciplinary lightning talks on Tuesday 2 August at the Ship Inn, Southbank. 17 speakers on 17 diverse topics provoked institutions and those in positions of power, to listen to, understand and most importantly act in response to the voices absent from the cacophony of modern life.  

Associate Professor Chris Wilson, Director Indigenous (Arts, Education and Law), opened with an acknowledgement to country in Ngarrindjeri and asked the group to deepen this process of acknowledgement, through listening and understanding the concepts embedded in Indigenous languages.  

Dr Fiona Foley from the Creative Arts Research Institute (CARI) commenced the day’s provocations by having us reflect upon the colonial legacy of Griffith University, and its founder Sir Samuel Griffith. Dr Foley reminded the congregation that “silence is complicity” and that colonial politicians were “enablers of massacres.”   

Dr Foley proposed a new name for Griffith University as Dundali University. Dundali was an Indigenous lawman and freedom fighter who lived around Southbank in the 19th century, at the time the university was being founded.  

“Dundali University sounds pretty good to me,” she remarked. 

Accessibility and listening were key themes of the day. Griffith Institute for Educational Research (GIER) members Dr Michelle Ronksley-Pavia and Dr Sakinah Alhadad spoke about the COVID-19 pandemic and people living with disability. 1 in 6 people in Australia are living with a disability. Peri-pandemic saw the inadvertent inclusion of many people living with a disability, caregivers and parents, with more equitable access to employment.  

They asked the audience to consider how we can critically include those who have been marginalised, by maintaining access, participation and dignity within the workplace going forth.  

Dr Ronksley-Pavia said: 

“The writing is on the wall…Exclusion has become the new COVID normal for many people with disability – a sharp contrast to the potential of inclusion that we all experienced over the first two years of the pandemic. Equitable opportunities are overshadowed, yet again, by the elusive desires for ‘normality’ at the overt exclusion – not just absence – of voices of people living with disability.” 

Many of the presenters reminded the audience of the importance of talking ‘with’ rather than ‘about’ people, and this was the provocation provided to researchers: “Who am I in this research and why am I doing it?”  

Vulnerable conversations are required between researchers and participants in how we hold those we do research about, how we can acknowledge the ethics of practice and listen to subject matter. 

Dr Natalie Lazaroo (GIER) and Dr Sophiaan Bin Subhan (Arts, Education and Law) closed the day by speaking about their community archive project. This seeks to provide inclusive and meaningful ways for young people in Singapore’s social housing communities to explore perceptions of self and belonging. 

This project, recently successful in the 2022 AEL Research Grant Schemes, will use community and participatory archiving to allow alternative options for community bonding, civic activism and speaking truth to power. A great reminder to us all about the need for inclusion.  

Allyship was another key theme of the day.  The role of researchers and research institutions in making space for these voices to be heard – not just performative allyship – but going a step further to act. 

Who are the absent voices?
Immigrants. Refugees. Prisoners. Children. Women. People living with disabilities.  

Silence does not exist. As soon as we stop and listen to the ‘nothing’ ness, it becomes full of ‘something’ ness.  

The ‘something’ ness is an interlocked, interconnected, intersectional process. It requires those who care about justice and equity to step across borders and boundaries, to maintain acts of defiance against oppression and marginalisation.