Melbourne’s Fitzroy hides a past as a hub for the Aboriginal civil rights movement – Michmutters

Melbourne’s Fitzroy hides a past as a hub for the Aboriginal civil rights movement

When Aunty Denise McGuinness looks up and down Gertrude Street in Fitzroy, she sees her community’s history everywhere.

“Fitzroy’s so significant to Aboriginal people … if you come from Perth, anywhere, you come straight to Fitzroy,” she says.

The inner-Melbourne suburb is now dominated by expensive houses, trendy bars and designer homewares, in recent years garnering a reputation as a hipster haven.

But it’s still home to the large public flats where Ms McGuinness lived as a girl.

Shop fronts line Gertrude Street, viewed under cloudy gray skies.
Fitzroy’s recent gentrification has transformed Gertrude Street, but a new project is bringing its history back into focus.(ABC News: Joseph Dunstan)

Through the 1960s, 70s and 80s, Fitzroy and the surrounding suburbs were a meeting place for Aboriginal people who’d left behind restrictive lives on missions or emerged from state institutions, searching for family links the government had tried so hard to severe.

“We were discriminated against, there was only one pub that would let us drink, and that was the Builders Arms,” ​​Ms McGuinness recalls.

The Builders Arms Hotel, photographed under gray skies from across the road.
Several stories shared in the project involve life-changing meetings at the Builders Arms Hotel.(ABC News: Joseph Dunstan)

Now, the stories of laughter, tears and powerful civil rights victories born on this part of Wurundjeri land are free for all to hear, through a truth-telling phone app.

Named Yalinguth, after the Woi Wurrung word for “yesterday”, the app follows your GPS location, producing rich audio stories that reveal the recent history of the land you’re walking on.

An artistic display of a street map, with a white drop indicating the user's location and large bubbles to mark story zones.
A map marked by bubbles invites the user to step into the stories of elders.(Supplied)

Wander past the Builders Arms Hotel, and Uncle Jack Charles comes through the headphones, telling you how he discovered Melbourne’s Indigenous community inside as a teenager.

Stroll down to Atherton Gardens, and the late Uncle Archie Roach’s haunting lyrics and story invites you to reflect on the cruel cost of the Stolen Generations.


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