Dr Emma Lee (The William Jonas Award) Citation

Dr Emma Lee’s important contributions to Indigenous geographies and to Australian Geography throughout her career make her a very deserving nominee for the William Jonas Award which celebrates and remembers the discipline’s first Indigenous PhD and a leading national geographer whose teaching, research and public administrative service created an important and lasting legacy.

Dr Lee is a trawlwulwuy woman of tebrakunna Country in north-east Tasmania. She is currently Aboriginal and Torres Strait Research Fellow at Centre for Social Impact, Swinburne University of Technology.

Dr Lee’s PhD was awarded in December 2017 (University of Tasmania). Her PhD was instrumental in establishing the first joint management plan for a Tasmanian protected area, namely the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, and provided a leadership role for Aboriginal Tasmanians to engage and participate in a range of cultural, economic and conservation functions of management and governance. She was the first Aboriginal Tasmanian to be a recipient of an Indigenous Fellowship under the Australian Government’s Endeavour Awards.

Over more than twenty-five years, Dr Lee has built an outstanding record in research and practice leadership in Indigenous affairs, land and sea management, policy and governance of Australian regulatory environments. Her work has encouraged the development of policy frameworks and programs that increase collaboration between government, business stakeholders and Indigenous people taking love, respect and recognition as the foundation that might transform colonised and deeply flawed relationships, practices and systems.

From 2014, she was a driving force in negotiations to reset the relationship between Aboriginal Tasmanians and the State in Tasmania, culminating in 2016’s constitutional recognition and whole-of-government reforms that has transformed opportunity for deep decolonisation in Tasmania by building foundations for kinship, belonging and shared futures by reclaiming:

our name and place, our identity and future, away from extinction and towards a vibrant pride in our status as First Peoples and traditional owners. No longer will we have to defend against the horrors of extermination; we exist and have the same rights to equality as other Tasmanians.1

Dr Lee has integrated research leadership, innovative professional practice and courageous community service in exceptional and significant ways. Her work is widely published in Geography (Antipode, Cultural Geographies, Regional Studies), Indigenous Studies (Australian Aboriginal Studies, Indigenous Law Review), Conservation and Biological Sciences (Ambio, Parks Journal, Biological Reviews), and interdisciplinary studies (Annals of Tourism Research). She holds appointments to state, national and international advisory roles and has been awarded prizes, scholarships, fellowships and grants for her work and publications.

In her journey, Dr Lee has responded with love and respect to the leadership of her Ancestors. Her extraordinary work for constitutional recognition in Tasmania built on the leadership of Mannalargenna, who in 1831 in trebakunna Country – the traditional lands of the trawlwulwuy people – negotiated what was called “the promise.” In that document, Mannalargenna agreed with George Augustus Robinson that if Aboriginal people acknowledged the rights of the settlers to be there, they could hunt, fish and walk across the country unrestricted when things got safer. In building on Mannalargenna’s legacy, Dr Lee has demonstrated wisdom, leadership and challenge that invites response. She has been an exemplary and inspiring Indigenous geographer, inviting conversation, action and transformation, and nurturing kinship, belonging and respect, that resets relationships towards shared futures.

We are delighted to nominate Dr Lee for the William Jonas Award of the Institute of Australian Geographers

Dr Warwick Fort, Curtin University
Dr Sandy Potter, Australian National University
Dr Naama Blatman-Thomas, University of Sydney
A Prof. Sandie Suchet-Pearson, Macquarie University
Prof. Jason Byrne, University of Tasmania
Emeritus Prof. Richard Howitt, Macquarie University


1. Emma Lee, 2019 Decolonising government through Indigenous ‘love-bombing’: a Tasmanian example. OXFAM Blogs https://oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/decolonising-government-through-indigenous-love-bombing-a-tasmanian-example/

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