In Aboriginal Traditions and Policy

In Aboriginal Traditions and Policy, the presentation group that I was part of consisted of Ashleigh, Tam, Jy, Lana, Khoi and myself. We chose Gertrude Street (a.k.a “The Dirty Mile”) to be our chosen site to research. Gertrude Street belonged to the Woiworung Tribe and was Melbourne’s first suburb after being separated from Melbourne City in 1858 (Fitzroy History Society 2018). It was known as ‘The Dirty Mile’ or ‘The Black Mile’, as it “was home to some legendary black pubs, and later, the Aboriginal community’s own health, housing and legal organisations.” (Allam 2010). Our group used the Fitzroy Aboriginal Heritage Walking Trail brochure, created by the City of Yarra, as a guide which took us to the many places in Gertrude Street which had been, or still are essential places for the Aboriginal Community. Our presentation focuses on the locations in the brochure that are also located on Gertrude Street; this includes The Aboriginal Boarding House of Victoria, The Koori Club, Builder Arms Hotel, Atherton Gardens Housing Estate, The Koori Information Centre, The Aboriginal Health Service, The Community Youth Club and Charcoal Lane. I believe we worked well together besides a few communication issues and distance issues that we had to work around.
The Aboriginal Boarding House of Victoria was Established by the Aboriginal community in 1981 and was originally located in Collingwood before moving to Fitzroy (City of Yarra 2002). During the 1940’s and onwards, boarding houses were prevalent and usually involved overcrowding due to high rates of eviction and homelessness, so it is understandable that more than one family would share a home instead of living on the streets, especially when they have children. The Koori club was established by Lin Onus during the 1960’s and was created to be a meeting point for young Aboriginal communities as well as being a social club and a place to discuss politics and political movements. It was influenced by the ‘Black Power’ movement and had an ‘Aboriginal Only’ policy, so only those who were Aboriginal had access. Although it sadly did not last long. However, it most certainly remains as a significant part of history, as it did bring interest to other Aboriginal people in different areas, and gave the Fitzroy community a haven and a way to connect with their community without fear. When you think about the value of the building, it makes you feel disappointed that it didn’t last a long time, but Reko Rennie-Gwaybilla expresses the reasons for its failure of surviving as “The cops were against it, the local council was against it, everyone was against it, except us. It really didn’t get off the ground we tried but we just couldn’t get people involved to come along and plus Kooris didn’t like to travel a lot at night on their own, to and from Places” “the Dr. Bruce Mac Interview”, www.kooriweb.org/bbm (City of Yarra 2002).
The Builder Arms Hotel was established in 1853, it also was created to be a social area for the entire Aboriginal community and was nicknamed the ‘Black Pub of Melbourne’ as it was a trendy place of interest for Aboriginal communities to have gatherings. Although its culture and history has now more or less been removed with the building now being more modernised and now is a Chinese restaurant; as with most of the locations we visited, there is a plaque on the outside wall stating the importance and history of the building. Although so much of the street’s history has been taken from it, the plaques at least show recognition of most of the sites significances, and could give us visitors a better insight to what they used to be.
The Atherton Gardens Housing Estate was previously a neighbourhood in the inner suburbs of Fitzroy, made up of eight streets, that contained hundreds of homes and businesses, forcing many locals to relocate further north, although their strong bond with the Fitzroy area remained. A few of those who were displaced later became residents of the new high-rise estate. The housing estate was named after one of the eight streets that had been bulldozed (Atherton Street). The area was chosen as it was considered a ‘slum’ area by authorities, although not all parts of the neighbourhood were as ‘squalid and overcrowded’ (Oxford Dictionary 2010) as suggested, but more in need of repairs. Four concrete buildings were built on the land, each is twenty storeys high and accommodates 200 flats. These four buildings are what we refer to as the Atherton Gardens Housing Estate today. Although decreasing problems was one of the purposes for developing the estate; many residents in the estate still experience social difficulties such as poverty, unemployment and illness. Despite this, Atherton Gardens became a beloved home for many, it is one of the most frequented locations by the Aboriginal community in Fitzroy and is also a temporary residence for many Aboriginal people who don’t have a permanent home. The gardens are a beautiful part especially with viewing the youtube video Aboriginal History of Fitzroy Project Launch in Atherton Gardens, Victoria (2010) which recognises the importance and welcomeness of the gardens past and present.
In the 1980s, the Koori Information Centre was established due to a growth of community interest about Indigenous issues. This began during the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games as hundreds of Indigenous people participated in a massive demonstration and were arrested under unjust Queensland Government laws. The Koori Information Centre was initially a program of the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service and later developed into an independent organisation led by Robbie Thorpe. It was an excellent thing for the Aboriginal population as it brought awareness to those who weren’t a part of the Indigenous community.
The Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS) was established in 1973 to attend to the specific health needs of Victorian indigenous communities. VAHS clients are travelling up to 2 hours one way to access services located in Fitzroy and Preston. Eighty-five percent of the VAHS customers have more than one chronic condition, with the top chronic diseases most common for those of Aboriginal heritage being respiratory diseases (such as Asthma), heart and circulatory diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney diseases and some cancers (Health Info Net n.d). Thankfully VAHS is still in operation to this day.
I was blown away when I first saw Charcoal Lane; the more I think of the effort and time that must’ve gone into it, the more I admire it. From the many famous/historical persons, the van with the two flags “Sovereignty” and “Deadly Future”, to the beautiful representation of The Dreaming, symbolised by Bunjil and Waa and a few other spiritual beings. Taking in the incredible sight, you feel and see the emotions put into it, and thankfully, due to the unit we have been completing, I can understand the meanings of the display rather than just viewing it as art alone.
This presentation gave me a new experience and a more in-depth understanding of Gertrude Street, and I am happy to have done so. It has opened my eyes to how much even a simple street could change immensely and how history can still be explored, not physically but mentally. I am glad to have worked with the people in the group I was in, as teamwork was a significant part of our work.

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