Arts recognise local Aboriginal history

This month a collection of indigenous performers and artists are coming together for Smith Street Dreaming as part of the annual Leaps and Bound Music festival.

Smith Street Dreaming 2017 is the biggest street celebration of the iconic thoroughfare’s Koorie history. The festival brings diverse groups of people to the suburbs of Collingwood and Fitzroy to recognise indigenous culture, the local Wurundjeri people, and its aboriginal community.

The free event will host some of the country’s best indigenous talent featuring live performances from Frank Yamma, Emma Donovan, Yung Warriors, Indigenous Hip Hop Projects, traditional dancers  Jindi Worabak and MC Shelley Ware.

The project is part of the Smith Street Working Group that, according to organisers, aims to build and celebrate better relationships between Yarra Council residents, workers and visitors to Smith Street by fostering understanding, respect and peace between all.

Members of the Smith Street Working Group include Aboriginal elders, indigenous community members, Victoria’s Neighbourhood Justice Centre (NJC), Yarra City Council, Victoria Police, the Salvation Army, Co-Health, Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee, Smith Street Business Association, Eastern Health, Melbourne Aboriginal Youth Sport and Recreation Co-Operative (MAYSAR) and restaurant Charcoal Lane.

The event was initiated when The Neighbourhood Justice Centre collaborated with Aboriginal elders, police and traders to discuss the complex issues of social inclusion, cultural respect, safety and diversity, which eventually lead to the formation of the Smith Street working group. Members of the working group realised they all wanted the same thing, and the indigenous music festival was born.

On the Smith Street Dreaming report NJC project officer, Maree Foelz, describes Smith Street Dreaming as “a fantastic event which helped build better relationships between the various communities that visit, live, work and gather on and around Smith Street,” which also encouraged her, personally, to “embrace the opportunity to learn from being part of the Smith Street Working Group.”

Rebecca Langley, lead activist in the community’s  Everything Advisory Group, this year is working with MAYSAR on a project for Smith Street Dreaming. With the focus of the event being reconciliation, respect and fairness, she believes that this will help show the broader community the importance of indigenous history to the area and the ability to connect with it.

To Amnesty International, she said: “I believe that Reconciliation Action Plans are a great opportunity to decolonise our work spaces by acknowledging and acting to change the part we play in the ongoing oppression of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

Smith Street Dreaming aims to bring together indigenous and non-indigenous community members to reconcile.

Image of Archie Roach at Smith Street Dreaming 2015, Photo: Antony Ket

In an interview for the Yarra Council’s history project, Archie Roach, indigenous Australian singer explained the importance of Fitzroy as a meeting place for Aboriginals.

“There was more to it than drinking. If people just saw it on the outside, you know, they’d just think, oh, a couple of old or young Koori people drinking in a pack, or whatever, vacant lot, vacant area – but it was more than that. That’s where I learned my history brother, from those areas, because all the old fellas, they knew more about me than I did, mate.”

Those who gather in Smith Street are referred to as “Parkies”, being mostly Aboriginal people who have long gathered on Smith Street. The ‘community of the Parkies’ has been fundamental for the passing on of Aboriginal stories and history according to the Smith Street Dreaming report.

Indigenous Hip Hop Project performer at Smith Street Dreaming 2016. Photo: Tony Proudfoot

The Indigenous Hip Hop Project team has experience in performing in events focusing on inclusiveness and recognition especially surrounding this particular event.

“The indigenous Hip hop Project team has [had] interactive performances running for 10 years … most performing in remote Aboriginal communities as well as everywhere around Australia,” said managing director, Michael Farah.

Having been involved in the Leaps and Bound music festival, the group realised the importance of hosting events like this giving them the platform to express themselves and perform.

“Dance performances for the event showcase more art going to hip hop [and therefore is] trying to get everyone [at the event] involved,” he said.

“Everyone is attached to music, most performances come with music and culturally it is about music and dance. Stories are told through traditional instrument[s] and also done through movement which is the best way to showcase because culturally, nothing is written down.”

He then went on to explain the ‘dreaming’ aspect of the festival and the importance of it.

“Everything is a story and [is] about dreaming … dreaming is sitting down listening to elders. This festival is bringing all that to the table. It is crucial to modern-day society when talking about bridging the gap and reconciliation.”

Smith Street Dreaming 2017 is taking place on the corner of Smith Street and Stanley Street, Collingwood, from 1pm-5pm, on Saturday, July 22.

For details go to Leaps and Bound Music festival website

Written by Zathia Bazeer

Historic Fitzroy Gasworks site to get a new lease on life

An indoor sports stadium could be on the cards for the redevelopment of a historic Yarra site.

The Victorian government property development agency, Places Victoria, has begun a four-phase plan to develop the former Fitzroy Gasworks precinct at 433 Smith St. A community engagement phase that concluded on 10 June invited members of the public to register their support for the project.

According to Yarra City Council Mayor, Cr Roberto Colanzi, at this time the leading idea is for the site to host an indoor sports stadium. Home to one of the biggest basketball clubs in the state, the City of Yarra is yet to acquire a stadium of its own.

“The Collingwood basketball club has something around a thousand members and they have to play everywhere else,” says Colanzi.

Built in 1859, the Fitzroy Gasworks was a key supplier of gas to Melbourne until closing in 1927, its distance from the port proving to be a competitive disadvantage. The site remained in operation as a workshop and gas storage facility until the 1970s.

With strong support from local council, the stadium would be a well used and highly sought after community space for the Yarra precinct.

The historic elements of the site have been central to planning with Places Victoria advising that through council and community collaboration the heritage aspects will be preserved.

The iron store located on what is currently the Council depot area is heritage-listed as having state significance.  The building is a rare find, imported during the gold rush and is one of very few buildings prefabricated in England before being transported to Australia.

The fate of the famous ‘Barbed Wire to Bonbonniere’ mural on Smith St will be “considered in close consultation with the City of Yarra”. Despite no formal heritage protection, the mural is a much-loved part of the community.

Photo: Places Victoria, Gasworks campaign

The council released an Urban Design Framework to ensure the planning and investment of the site moves with the interests of the community. The framework suggests that options of relocation or restoration of the mural may be viable.

Despite the many considerations to balance, the City of Yarra is working closely with Places Victoria to ensure that the site will benefit the changing Yarra community without losing its history.

Results from the community engagement phase are expected in the next few months and will determine if the project will move forward.

By Kathryn Lewis