Active voice –  how a human geographer speaks up with First Nations people

Lana 2
Lana Hartwig. Photo: Tom Rayner


Author: Laura Griffiths

Emergent is a five-part blog series that takes a fresh look at ARI’s early career researchers – a group of driven, passionate people with a shared sense of responsibility about our changing world. These emerging scholars are developing skills and applying them to real world issues.  Some are even taking opportunities to fulfil their life-long ambitions and dreams.

Today, we focus on Lana Hartwig, a human geographer whose passion for justice and equality has led her to become an active voice with First Nations people. Lana started her PhD at ARI in 2015 and is soon due to finish. Lana’s research on human geography looks at Aboriginal peoples’ struggles for water access and ownership in the New South Wales portion of the Murray-Darling Basin. She is a qualitative researcher, who collects data through interviews and from documentation like legislation, policy, and inquiry submissions.

What is your favourite aspect about your research?

It is truly humbling and rewarding to have people from all walks of life open up and share their stories, experiences, passions, heartaches and successes with me.

Why does your work matter?

Over the past 40 years in Australia, some (though limited) land has been returned to Aboriginal peoples as redress and compensation for their historic dispossession and the subsequent ongoing unjust legacies.

However, Aboriginal water rights and interests have received comparatively little attention, only first being recognised in National water policy in 2004 … yet still today, there are no meaningful mechanisms to ensure the improved water access, ownership and control that Australian First Nations people seek.

The work I do now is helping Aboriginal people to make their case for greater recognition and access to water and water places in their country on their own terms.

Where do you get your inspiration?

My inspiration comes from many of the people I have had the great fortune of learning from during my PhD interviews – the First Nations peoples who have fought for many, many years to have their access to country, including both land AND water, recognised and facilitated.

Despite the many structural, financial, and other setbacks they have faced, many have fought for decades. Their tireless and never-ending efforts help to make this project worth it.

Additionally, my 95-year-old Grandma’s lifelong passion for learning also encourages and inspires me each day.

Where do you see your career taking you or where would you like to be in 5 years?

I’m not quite sure where my career will take me, but I hope that whether I end up in research, government, non-government, or private consulting, that I will be in a role that is hands-on and people-focused.

I hope that wherever I am in 5 years’ time, I will be helping others and shedding light on persisting barriers that obscure peoples’ pursuits for fairness and justice.

What are the main issues you see need addressing in your field?

First Nations are affected by most environmental and natural resource related research, and the work I do sits at the overlap of many different fields.

However, many researchers and many disciplines see First Nations related matters as “too difficult” or “someone else’s responsibility”. There are great complementary opportunities and outcomes that can be generated from listening to, respecting and working with First Nations peoples, and that’s something I hope will expand into the future.

I would encourage PhD students to look for opportunities to translate their research and findings into useful and practical outcomes that can be taken up and understood by stakeholders and policymakers.

What would you say to inspire other HDR?

I would encourage PhD students to look for opportunities to translate their research and findings into useful and practical outcomes that can be taken up and understood by stakeholders and policymakers.

Engaging with stakeholders that work in the hands-on, practical and policy development spaces that relate to your work at the beginning of your project and listening to what they see as issues and points of concerns can help you not just develop useful and relevant research, but also to demonstrate how your work is significant as you progress.

Then, make sure you communicate the findings of that work – not just in academic journals, but also again through connecting with stakeholders and/or contributing to government inquiries. This can help your research findings be translated into highly relevant and useful outcomes.

The feelings and sense of accomplishment that come with producing practical and relevant research is very rewarding and drives you to want to do more.

Lana Hartwig.  Photo: Tom Rayner

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