Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Melbourne's Building With a Face

In 2015 Melbourne’s Portrait Building, a 32 storey residential apartment block, was completed and unveiled.

Some comments and information:
  • The building is called the Portrait Building because, in a world first, it has used the shadows created by white balcony facades to create a portrait indigenous activist Willaim Barak.
  • The building:

(Move back from your screen to get a better viewing).
  • William Barak:

  • A quick bio on William Barak
William Barak (1824 – 1903), was the last traditional ngurungaeta (elder) of the Wurundjeri-willam clan, first inhabitants of present-day Melbourne.  
Barak was said to have been present as a boy when John Batman met with the tribal elders to 'purchase' the Melbourne area in 1835. Before he died he described witnessing the signing of the treaty ceremony.

He joined the Native Mounted Police in 1844, he was given the name of William Barak. A skilled tracker, he was often engaged to track missing children and fugitives from the law, even years after he'd ceased being a police tracker. Barak was part of the force used to track Ned Kelly and his gang, who he found hiding in thick scrub. He refused his white superiors orders to approach them first.

In early 1863, Barak with about thirty others, moved to Coranderrk Station, a self-sufficient Aboriginal farming community. In 1875 he became the Ngurungaeta of the clan. A spokesperson for his people, he was highly regarded by both the indigenous people and the European settlers.

Often named 'King of the Yarra', he was a prominent leader, spokesperson, artist and diplomat and cultural ambassador for Aboriginal Australia. A noted and dedicated land rights' activist, he led a march to the then Parliament House in the late 1800’s, a time when indigenous Australians were subject to harsh treatment and oppression by colonial policy.

Barak led the movement to secure land rights at Coranderrk, being quoted in a bio:

We heard little about our land going to be taken from us[…] They ought to leave us alone and not take the land from us it is not much. We are dying away by degree. There is plenty more land around the country without troubling about Coranderrk […]

We got plenty of our own cattle and we want the run for them and if the White People take it away from us there will be no place to put them […] and also when we go into any of the White People’s paddock to hunt or fish they soon clear us out of their private premises very quick and yet they are craving for Coranderrk.

The Coranderrk land was eventually taken by the government and, under pressure from the local RSL was broken into lots to be offered to returned servicemen after WWII, although none of the Aboriginal ex-servicemen of the district acquired any portion of the land.

He died at Coranderrk in 1903 aged 85.
  • Which brings us back to the building, which has a direct line of site to the Shrine of Remembrance, nearly three kilometres away. 
  • According to Daniel Grollo, chief executive of the project's builder, Grocon: ''The Shrine is about honouring a great set of Australians who made a sacrifice to Australia, and this is also honouring a great set of Australians who made a sacrifice for Australia.''
  • It has not gone unnoticed, and has been the subject of criticism, that 530 luxury apartments have been used to create a portrait of one of the most famous, indigenous 19th century land rights’ activists. It has also been said that this juxtaposition between affluent white land ownership and the image of William Barak forms a fitting tribute to William Barak and what he strived for, although the tribute is not in the way intended. It has also been suggested that his image staring down the Shrine of Remembrance is an additional homage to the unequal tribute to the fallen
  • (On a different note, nearly every film and TV item showing images of deceased indigenous persons is preceded by a warning, usually as follows: WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following program may contain images and voices of deceased persons. The protocols and Codes of Practice for film makers, journalists etc in this respect can be viewed at: https://apps.indigenous.gov.au/cultural_protocol.htm So how is it okay to create a 32 storey portrait of a deceased aboriginal leader?)

One final note:

Is it just me or does anyone else get reminded of the image on the Shroud of Turin when they see William Barak on the side of the Portrait building? . . . 

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