Next Wave Festival: Northcote

MAY 17 – 21 | 2016

The final week of the festival and the final week of my project in Melbourne was spent in Northcote. Based outside the town hall, the first 3 days were mixed a mixed bag (both weather and people) followed by some quiet time parked in a friends driveway in Northcote. The rain slowed things down a bit, yet there were a few conversations that really stuck.

I met a freelance journalist/writer who was living up the road in an apartment block called “Dumpland” by its residents (hasn’t been touched since the 1970s). After taking a redundancy package from a large Melbourne based newspaper he has since been working from home, taking the time to write a novel as well as a book about Australian ice hockey. Trying to strike a balance between working in a field that has changed pretty dramatically in the 21st Century and pursuing his own creative practice, he spoke of fellow freelancers that have been pushed to the outer suburbs. Proposed a shift towards communal living in the future, like punk rockers touring from town to town in the 80s. People, not just creatives, becoming transient beings.

Seeing a bunch of young kids taking part in a Drama class on the Northcote Town Hall forecourt was pretty great, running around using the public space as a classroom. Two older ladies talked with enthusiasm about living off the grid, and another chat focused around industrial design and the Nomadic paradigm. Also found out that the tram stop is a favourite for local skaters young and old. It was reassuring to see that the residents of the area were actually using this open space to learn, play and communicate, whether intended by the town planners or not.

Northcote Town Hall

As the influx of people returning from work diminished, a cyclist came through and stopped to check out the tent. Though he loved the tent as an object, he shared a view that differed from the majority of people I have met while in Melbourne. He argued that the housing supply was keeping up with demand, and why would anyone have a vacant investment property? (A recent study by Prosper Australia found that over 82,000 of Melbourne’s total housing stock were deemed vacant during 2014). That if I was working 50 hours a week like him, I would be able to afford a house and a mortgage. While this might be true for this accountant, is not for me (even though I usually work more than 50 hours per week) and it may not be for others who still struggle to secure a stable shelter or job. Although he was hell bent on arguing, he bought a different perspective to the discussion. On reflection I kinda think he just wanted to talk to someone. 

Chatting to two of the Next Wave artists, I was again reminded of the complex and unresolved nature of land ownership in 21st Century Australia. How the very desire of “owning” is complicated further as the land we currently call Australia is stolen, something that needs to be acknowledged at the very least, if not returned. As a society we sometimes talk about reconciliation, of moving forward, but unfortunately we continue to refrain from acting. Can we, as a community that live in this country, move forward, live as one, without signing a treaty or granting sovereignty to the traditional custodians of this land? Is the very pursuit of acquiring, selling, renting, “investing” in this land at odds with reconciliation? Is stopping this cycle and rethinking our relationship with this colonial construct the first step?

When I decided to make a temporary shelter to live in, occupying or using “public” or “private” space, I quickly realised how loaded this very act was. How it evoked the experiences of others and sometimes the experiences of communities that I was not part of. Realising this project in Melbourne solidified some concerns as well as challenged my understanding about who I am and how I want to exist in this landscape, at this time.

Living in this tent in an arts festival context I have realised that although the project strives for environmental sustainability, questions the use of space, and challenges notions of belonging, it sometimes fails to answer or resolve these concerns. I have realised that it is not necessarily an environmentally sustainable option or even an financial one. The project and who I am has also been called into question several times when discussing homelessness, the current status of Australia as stolen land, and people seeking asylum in this country. And rightly so.

I only have my experience to share. I can extend the stories and experiences of others who have opened up to me, in the hope that their experience might assist or challenge others. I am here to talk about whatever concerns or stories or experiences that people would like to share with me, because I think they are all relevant. The spaces I have made my home, if only for a moment, are public spaces and they should be used for the exchange of information. While this ideologically fraught project does fall short of answering the important questions and complexities of 21st Century living in an urban sprawl, I hope that through me being available for a chat, we can maybe take a step in the right direction.

Suburban Northcote