Settler Colonial and Indigenous Geographies

Remaking imperial power in the city: The case of the William Barak building, Melbourne

When the enormous drapes that had been covering a new building in central Melbourne were thrown off in early 2015, an extraordinary sight was revealed: a colossal image of a face staring down the city’s civic spine. This moment of unveiling marked a fascinating moment for Indigenous–settler relations in Australia, but especially urban, densely settled Melbourne. For the face is that of William Barak, ancestor and leader of the Wurundjeri people, whose country was stolen and remade into what we now know as Melbourne. That an early land rights champion is represented in the built form at such a pivotal location in the city that dispossessed his people offers an opportunity to consider the forms of violence, appropriation and misrepresentation that are perpetually constitutive of settler-colonial cities. Drawing together critical Indigenous scholarship, settler-colonial studies and geographies of memorialization, the paper analyses the building to demonstrate the contemporary workings of settler-colonial urbanization. The paper analyses the representational politics the building performs, the history of land sales since contact and the role of the site in a wider imperialist planning project to reveal the intimate nexus of land, property and recognition politics that work to continuously secure white possession of Indigenous lands.

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Volume 37 Issue 6