FWF2020 Q&A: Alice Robinson

Alice Robinson speaks on Ecofeminism, as a part of our FWFTalks podcast series.
Her debut novel, Anchor Point, was long-listed for the Stella Prize and the Indie Book Awards. The Glad Shout was shortlisted for an Aurealis Award and The Colin Roderick Literary Award and won the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction.

Is there a moment you recall that shaped your own idea of feminism?

My mother tells a story about me as a teenager, which I will wildly paraphrase here. She said, ‘Why do you keep telling everyone that I’m a feminist, Alice?’ She wasn’t discrediting the notion that she was a feminist, only wondering at my interpretation of her character and beliefs. She said: ‘And you go, “Mum, it’s because you always privilege opportunities for girls and women — so I know that’s what you care about most.”‘ So, I suppose I was raised by a feminist.

That’s one answer.

But the truth is that I don’t think I understood my own feminism until I had children. At that point, I suddenly observed a clear and obvious differential in the structural freedom, power, support and visibility available to me and to other women, as compared to men. It was the first time that I really understood in practice what I already understood in theory — and I knew then that the ideas I had read about, which I had previously felt relatively untouched by, also applied to me.

What do you think about when you talk about Ecofeminism?

When I think about ecofeminism, I think about, firstly, the idea of the earth as a sustaining and nurturing entity — a mother, a home. I think about the very obvious but powerful idea that if we destroy the thing that sustains our lives, we destroy ourselves. Women have a real stake in the environmental movement because often they are the ones who are tasked with raising children— they have a reason to ensure that the future is a place where humans can live and want to live. But also, domestic spaces and the way our lives function in them often fall within the purview of women. Climate change is coming about largely because of the way we live — our use of resources, for example — and so it seems clear to me that environmental destruction of this kind is an issue that concerns and resonates with women. Ecofeminism, to me, is about appraising the way we live and our connection to the planet; it addresses the balance of power not only in terms of gender, but in terms of our relationships to the nonhuman world, and the intersections in and between these purviews.

In the FWFtalks Ecofeminism podcast you talk of Australian settler writing holding an uneasy mix of belonging and longing and fear — can you tell us a bit about that?

Settler Australians live on stolen land, which sets up a particular relationship to place and country. I think there is a strong tradition in settler culture of writing about the bush, and the landscape, and often this is attempted in loving and wonderous terms. But the fundamental (and often unarticulated) fact of Indigenous sovereignty sits underneath the narratives we tell about our home places and lands. In the settler tradition, you see recurrent tropes around women and children disappearing into the bush; natural disasters; the harsh, unforgiving terrain. There is often a note of fear or uncertainty in settler writing about Australian landscapes — particularly about rights to settler ownership and belonging. It has been my assertion in the past that until we reconcile meaningfully and legally with Indigenous peoples and with the legacy of invasion and its consequences, settler Australians will always be unsettled on the land — and that this will be apparent in our writing about place, and in the ways we respond to and treat Australian lands.

Where does hope sit in your reading and writing of eco-fiction?

Hope is interesting in the context of fiction that tries to grapple with environmental destruction (which is the kind of writing I have been doing for the last decade or so) because it is a necessary craft element, more so than an intellectual or emotional or thematic choice or concern. What I mean by that is that you need an element of hope in order to propel a story forward, to create a compelling narrative arc in which the characters still have something to gain and / or lose; a reason to go on striving and living.

That said, until this year, I’ve felt pretty hopeless about our capacity (in the real world) to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. It just seemed as though so little progress, or will, existed in the mainstream culture. Curiously, this coronavirus year has been sort of healing for me. I feel buoyed by the quick societal changes we have been able to enact (sometimes under duress) to protect ourselves. Maybe we can see this year as a bellwether for further constructive shifts in the way we live, so that we never realise climate change’s worst impacts. I hope so.

Some book recommendations from Alice and a feature she wrote for FWF, ‘It’s Already Here’: On Women Writing the Future.
The Mother Fault, Kate Mildenhall
The End We Start From, Megan Hunter
Wolfe Island, Lucy Treloar

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