Acknowledging the Aboriginal connection to Gertrude Street
Council is looking at ways to recognise the contribution of Aboriginal people to the history and character of Gertrude Street in Fitzroy.
Gertrude Street and the Aboriginal community
Gertrude Street is one of Yarra's most diverse precincts, a community shaped by residents in public and private housing.
In recent years, its character has changed with the introduction of an established arts community, fine dining and specialty retail outlets.
Gertrude Street has also been largely defined by its association with Victoria's Aboriginal community.
Despite its changing face, the street remains a place of historical significance for Aboriginal people living in Melbourne and beyond.
Aboriginal families dislocated by the Stolen Generations policy were reunited in parks and buildings around Gertrude Street, while many of the early institutions and organisations working to promote the rights of Aboriginal people were founded and operated in the area.
The Aboriginal Partnerships Plan
The idea to recognise the Aboriginal community's connection to Gertrude Street was proposed in Council's Aboriginal Partnerships Plan. After the plan was adopted in 2010, Council received a proposal from an organisation called the National Public Arts Program to install a statue of the late boxer Lionel Rose on Gertrude Street.
The statue proposal was considered in a broader discussion with the community about how best to recognise the Aboriginal connection to Gertrude Street.
That discussion was aided with a series of Aboriginal history walking tours and a Facebook page that allowed people to contribute ideas (for example comments, images, videos).
Aboriginal history walking tours
Seven free public walking tours of Gertrude Street's historically significant places were held in June 2012 to inspire thoughts and ideas for the proposal.
The one hour long tours were conducted by well-known members of the Aboriginal community including Uncle Jack Charles, Greg Fryer, Melodie Reynolds and Jason Tamiru.
At the conclusion of the tour, attendees gathered at MAYSAR (Melbourne Aboriginal Youth Sport and Recreation) to share thoughts and stories that could be used as inspiration for acknowledging the connection.
Council is currently investigating how permanent historical walking tours might be established on Gertrude Street.
In the meantime, you may want to take a virtual or self guided tour of Aboriginal Fitzroy.
Themes emerging from the community discussion
- Experience - a strong community interest to ‘participate’ in the unique culture and heritage of Aboriginal Fitzroy, to keep it alive
- Signifiers - consistent comments about having physical or virtual markers of the places of significance, that acknowledge this culture is celebrated and enjoyed
- Presence - interest in the Aboriginal community remaining part of Fitzroy, both as residents and as organisations, as this would ensure a ‘living’ Aboriginal culture.
The three most common ideas raised by participants for raising awareness were for regular historical walking tours, a specific Aboriginal Festival, or for other cultural and arts events.
There was also interest in physical reminders of the Aboriginal culture, 'signifiers', including street signage, Aboriginal art and storytelling website.
Lastly, there was a desire to retain the 'presence' of the Aboriginal community in Fitzroy. Council's advocacy for Aboriginal housing in the new Atherton Gardens Hub and ongoing support for MAYSAR are in line with these suggestions.
Two contributors to Facebook or on the Walking Tours mentioned the idea of a statue in Gertrude Street as an important part of recognising Aboriginal history and culture.
Specific options that officers will investigate further or complete soon include encouraging the development of sustainable historical Aboriginal walking tours in Fitzroy, promoting the online Aboriginal history project and identifying further Aboriginal cultural events and activities that help promote the area's Aboriginal history.
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