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COVID-19 represents Australia’s single biggest health crisis of the past 100 years. It has provided a myriad of complex, previously untested challenges for governments, businesses and communities to manage and negotiate. One of the most difficult challenges has been in communicating important, potentially life-saving information to a broad range of communities, each with their own needs and special challenges.

In this first in a series of articles on Humanities for Times of Crisis, we speak to Academy Fellow Ingrid Piller, Distinguished Professor of Applied Linguistics at Macquarie University, about the barriers facing multicultural Australia during COVID-19 and the role of humanities expertise in overcoming these challenges.

Award-winning Australian writer and historian, Dr Billy Griffiths – whose latest book Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia (2018) has been described as ‘the freshest, most important book about our past in years’ – is the recipient of the Australian Academy of the Humanities’ 2020 Max Crawford Medal. The Medal is Australia’s most prestigious award for outstanding achievement and promise in the humanities by an Australia-based early-career scholar.

2020 has been a record year for challenges: catastrophic bushfires, a brutal global pandemic, the shutdown of our cultural and creative sectors, unemployment shooting up the charts, and a massive fee hike for those wanting to study humanities, arts and social science courses at university.

The Australian Academy of the Humanities today expressed deep concern about the Government’s changes to university fee structures, which disproportionally affect the humanities and call into question the very role of the 21st-century university.

The first quarter of 2020 can best be summed up in one word – ‘unprecedented’. From severe drought, to calamitous bushfires, and now COVID-19, every element of our lives has been touched in some way. The Australian Academy of the Humanities offers its deepest sympathies to those experiencing loss, illness, isolation and financial strain at this extraordinary time. The Academy champions the contribution humanities, arts and culture make to our national life, and recognises the severe impact the current pandemic is having on all areas of society.

With Australia’s bushfire recovery efforts only just underway, our collective attention has now turned to the broad and deep impacts of COVID-19.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Australian Academy of the Humanities recognises Australia’s First Nations Peoples as the traditional owners and custodians of this land, and their continuous connection to country, community and culture.