Colonialism is something the Left in Australia continually rant about. Their propaganda reverberates with over-exaggerated, and often, false indictments against the excesses of colonialism and its impact on Aboriginal people. "We come as liberators!" they say. But how true is this? Can a case be made that proves, by their own deeds, that the Left are now, far from being liberators, neo-colonial oppressors?
Today, Fitzroy (Ngar-go) and Collingwood (Yalla-birr-ang) – are two suburbs separated by a shopping strip called Smith Street. Several decades ago, these suburbs were almost inseparable and choc-a-bloc with working families: the descendants of Aborigines, English, Greeks, Italians, Lebanese, Vietnamese, Germans, and others. Communities that mostly lived together harmoniously. Many of whom on Saturdays would go to watch their favourite football teams in action, whilst during the week they worked in the factories, warehouses and mills that dominated the landscape, squeezed between rows of little brick and weatherboard dwellings where the workers lived with their families.
In those days, the air was rich and heavy with the odour and scent of industries: rubber, petrol, oil, bread, leather, and one that dominated the rest - chocolate from Mac-Robertson's factory near the corner of Smith and Johnson.
Then, one day, the Hawke/Keating Governments decided to phase out tariffs on Australian manufacturing and hand over most of the industries and jobs to communist China, burdening working class communities, not only in Collingwood and Fitzroy, but Australia wide, with poverty, displacement, and chronic unemployment that have persisted to this day.
Collingwood and Fitzroy were very different from what they are today, which are mostly, wealthy, urban bourgeois squattocracies, embellished with effete little cafes, dealers peddling from street corners, health food bars, art galleries, designer boutiques and bookstores selling to a progressive new lefty class at exorbitant prices. Today, mills, warehouses and factories have been turned into expensive multilevel apartments, and most of the worker cottages renovated way beyond their former glory, complete with indoor spa baths, bidets, and heated toilet seats.
Once, these suburbs - particularly Fitzroy - had a social and often spiritual significance for the Wurundjeri and other Aboriginal clans, for whom it was arguably the most important gathering place in Australia. Almost all major Aboriginal reforms were the result of a vibrant activism, that was born and nurtured in the Fitzroy-Collingwood communities, reforms that spread their branches in all directions, positively impacting the lives of indigenous and part-indigenous people everywhere. In the 60s there were approximately 200 Aboriginal families living in the Fitzroy-Collingwood area, many of whom left and returned during the 70s. The 2016 Census (quickstats.censusdata.abs.gov.au/) revealed that between 20 and 30 Aboriginal people lived in Fitzroy and many were transients:
there were 10,445 people in Fitzroy (Vic.) (State Suburbs). Of these 49.1% were male and 50.9% were female. Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people made up 0.4% of the population.
Fitzroy and Collingwood were once home to some of the most important figures and families in contemporary Aboriginal history, including Pastor Doug Nicholls, Margaret Tucker, John McGuinness, Alma Thorpe, Jock Austin, Bunta Patten, Alick Jackomos, Stewart Murray, Mollie Dyer, and other part-Aboriginals who identified with the community. Lionel Rose, Australia's greatest boxer, helped set up a youth club, and in 1968 became the first Aboriginal Australian to win a boxing championship, and not just any - but the bantamweight championship of the world! Lionel was a positive role model and an inspiration for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children all over Australia.
The Morton Bay Fig Tree in the Carlton Gardens at the top of Gertrude Street is many hundreds of years old, has a deep cultural significance and was one of the most important gathering places for activists, whatever the colour of their skin. Fitzroy and Collingwood were once a-buzz with an "old style" left-wing activism before the lunacy of progressive-regressive set in, and the rise of its concomitant neo-fascist doctrines of "wokeness" the major components of which are the politics of perpetual victimhood and racial profiling (based on race hate and resentment), which are a long way from any idea of reconciliation. Consequently, there are no more meetings around the tree.
Today the Wards of Fitzroy and Collingwood are Melbourne's strongest bastions of left-wing progressive-regressive, from the Yarra Council to the demographics of the resident population. But today's Left is radically different from the old Left, composed of a well-to-do reservoir of "woke" bureaucrats, academics, students, politicians and business professionals. The Council itself is a bull-horn for virtue-signalling about multiculturalism, diversity and the "aboriginality" of the area.
If you take a tour around Fitzroy-Collingwood, with their "memorial plaques" (We acknowledge the traditional owners bla, bla, bla...) and contracted community artworks, you'd think you were in suburbs with a resilient and vibrant Aboriginal community. But it's all a façade. Fake news.
Much of Yarra Council's publications depict Fitzroy as a cultural hub for the State of Victoria's indigenous population. But apart from these "veneers," the presence of a vibrant Aboriginal working-class community (or any other for that matter) is conspicuously absent, which I discovered during one of my walks along Smith Street, where I did notice several Aboriginal people begging for money. The traditional owners?
As I continued walking and turned into Gertrude Street ( following the Council-promoted Fitzroy Aboriginal Heritage Walking Trail ) I saw no other Aboriginal people, but a lot of exclusive and very expensive shops. I decided to pop into the Builders Arms Hotel for a beer. In the past, this hotel was "the Black Pub of Melbourne" and a meeting place for artists and activists. It was here Aboriginal descendants mixed with the Fitzroy-Collingwood working-class migrant milieu and forged friendships. From the outside, the hotel looked as it always looked, but inside it was a different story (an analogy you could use as an extended metaphor for Fitzroy and Collingwood!). The décor was opulent and the prices followed suit: 14 dollars for a pot, of what they call boutique beer.
I was reminded of the ex-Collingwood publican Tom Heenan's article The Block that appeared in Overland (before it turned woke) in 1997 which was about the changes that were taking place back then. His article was also the result of taking a walk along Smith and Gertrude Streets:
Months later, I walked down Smith Street. There was now a Safeway in an almost gutted building. There were op-shops, boutiques and Asian groceries. I met Gus and Johnny Kimpton. “ The new bloke threw us out,” said Johnny. “Said we didn't dress well enough,” Gus added. “Yeah, things have changed.” They drank at the Grace now. It was the only pub in the street that would have them (P.12. Autumn edition)
I doubt the Grace would have them today. It too has changed into a boutique pub, with boutique beers for boutique people.
I thought about all this when I got home. Wasn't this area supposed to be a vibrant centre of Aboriginal creativity and culture? Attend most public Council meetings or festivals and that is the impression conveyed. But behind the facades there was nothing! And how does all this equate with Yarra Council propaganda? I mean, isn't this area one of, if not the strongest inner-suburban bastion of left-wing "diversity" culture? The Council, after all, is full of "socialists" (many on six-figure salaries) of all mutations and is in fact run by them and has been for decades. A rainbow flag and an Aboriginal flag proudly fly side by side above the town hall. There are notices inside and outside the hall on poles and vacant walls advocating for all sorts of left-wing causes. But there was something troubling about this, something not quite right.
The more I looked into it, the more it appeared to be a cover-up, perpetuated by the Yarra Council. In fact, perpetuated by every predominantly left-wing Council that ever held office. It was mostly under their watch that property developers moved into this area; it was under their watch that the indigenous and migrant populations were literally driven out. Firstly by the Hawke/Keating left-wing governments, and secondly, by the leftist-dominated councils themselves.
Fitzroy and Collingwood are now two of the most expensive suburbs in Australia to rent, purchase or build. It is the Council that issues building permits and colludes with the government, developers, and real estate agents, who are involved in almost every facet of the planning and post-planning stages of business and residential property development. It is the Council who promote this development; who produces brochures that "romanticize" the area as a trendy inner-suburban oasis "a hub of vibrant, indigenous culture." To sum up: these Councils have been active every step of the way promoting Fitzroy and Collingwood's recolonization and the gradual dispossession of indigenous and other working-class migrant communities. It's the Council who've exploited Aboriginal culture itself in an effort to promote the "liveability," and "diversity” of the area, in order to appeal to the virtue-signalling hoards of an upwardly mobile, cashed-up lefty elite.
One of the indigenous beggars I saw on my walk, was a young woman sitting beside a swanky café with an upturned hat in front of her containing a few miserable coins, and a message scribbled on a strip of cardboard that read: "My name is ------ and I'm homeless. Please help..." she had the appearance of a full blood. Was she a Wurundjeri woman? She didn't attract much if any attention. Beggars are part of the landscape now, like the murals and outsourced Koori graffiti, symbols of the richness of diversity.
Just a few meters away from where the woman had propped herself, was the cafe's display case of exotic pâtisserie and a seating area on the pavement where a bunch of trendy young hipsters were engaged in a lively conversation between checking their iPhones and sipping lattes. They appeared to be students. One had a "fight racism" sticker on the back of her bag, next to an Aboriginal flag. Were these, I wondered, part of the "woke" generation? Probably. However, they didn't look very awake to me.
© 2021 Eugene Alexander Donnini