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‘Remaking Cities’, a conference with a heady mix of urban delights

Melbourne’s RMIT University Centre for Urban Research and its bluestone campus proved a thought provoking site when it hosted the 14th Urban History Planning History Biennial Conference ‘Remaking Cities’ in 2018.

 

UHPH Conf 2018 Magistrates Court RMIT
A view of the Magistrate Court building at the UHPH Conference 2018 RMIT University at the corner of La Trobe and Russell Streets Melbourne. The city watch-house, used for holding alleged offenders until they were officially remanded or released on bail, operated on the site next to the Magistrates’ Court from 1892.  (I Willis, 2018)

 

The eclectic mix of architecture at the RMIT La Trobe Street Campus ranged from venues that were located in magnificent Victorian colonial building used for the administration of justice to those that were examples of ultra-modern late 20th century style of architecture.

The venues were an inspiring setting for the discussion of the lofty ideas surrounding an array of urban issues. From the former Melbourne Magistrates’ Court (1842) and City Watch-house Russell Street (1892), Melbourne,  and the Francis Ormond Building which was formerly the Working Men’s College (1886) and the adjoining Supreme Court building (1890).

 

UHPH Conf 2018 Magistrates Court Room RMIT
A view of one of the court rooms at the Magistrates Court Building RMIT University where some of the conference sessions were held during the conference. These court rooms provided a dramatic backdrop to the host of papers presented by conference delegates across the three day conference. (I Willis, 2018)

 

The Storey Meeting Hall of the Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society (1887) has been remade in modern form reliving its iconography as an important symbol of Melbourne’s social and political protest movement.

Morning and afternoon teas were taken in the alumni courtyard, which was previously the car park of the Russell Street Police Headquarters. The venue provided food for thought located next door to the Old Melbourne Gaol (1842).  If these bluestone walls could speak they would tell harrowing tales from the the colourful past of the site.

 

UHPH Conf 2018 Alumni Courtyard RMIT
A view of the Alumni Courtyard at RMIT University where the conference catering for morning and afternoon tea were held. The view of Melbourne city in the distance provides a contrast of urban development and growth for delegates. (I Willis, 2018)

 

The conference theme of ‘Remaking Cities’ was inspired by Melbourne as an exemplar of cities that are continually remade. Melbourne was a manufacturing centre, a site of land speculation and a place re-made on the land management practices of the Kulin nation.

The process of re-making Melbourne is underpinned by the processes of settler colonialism, speculation and taking of territory. These factors cast a long shadow of how a shared future might be achieved and the role of the planning processes within these processes.

Industrial growth and development are themes that have been central to the Australia’s nineteenth-century cities, including Melbourne, and their subsequent decline by the late 20th century. The post-manufacturing period provides a whole new set of challenges for cities like Melbourne as the financial, service and cultural sectors drive urban growth.

 

UHPH Conf 2018 Courtyard Francis Ormond Bldy RMIT
A view of the courtyard in the Francis Ormond Building at the RMIT University. The Francis Ormond Building is on the Register of the National Estate, classified by the National Trust, and designated a ‘notable building’ in the Melbourne City Council planning scheme.  (I Willis, 2018)

 

The three day conference provided a forum where keynote speakers and delegates struck a workable balance between the scholarly and the practitioner. The keynote speakers were: Kate Torney, CEO State Library of Victoria; Cathie Oats, Trove director of digital services; Jefa Greenaway, director of Greenaway Architects; Chris Gibson, Professor of Human Geography at UOW; Ben Shrader, author and historian from Wellington, NZ; John Masanauskas, City Editor of Herald Sun.

This was a heady mix that was matched by the mix of 72 presentations from scholars, practitioners and community members  across three separate streams. Delegates came from interstate and overseas (New Zealand) with a strong contingent of local Melbournites.

 

UHPH Conf 2018 330 Swanton St Bldg RMIT
A view of some of the post-modern artwork at 330 Swanston Street, RMIT University, Building 22. The campus has much to offer the enthusiast for this style of architecture in the university setting. (I Willis, 2018)

 

There were sessions ranging from: planning histories; postwar campus; heritage; land speculation; music; maps; housing; rivers and wetlands; parks and gardens; museums; governance; transport; commerce; streetscapes; quarries; urban agriculture and food systems; placemaking; to Indigenous planning and policy.

Camden historian and CHN blogger Ian Willis presented a paper called ‘Utopia or dystopia, a contested space on Sydney’s urban frontier’.

The conference organising committee put out a book of abstracts and will publish the conference proceedings later this year.

 

UHPH Conf 2018 Francis Ormond Bldg RMIT
A view of the Francis Ormond Building with the Pearson and Murphy’s Cafe in the foreground where patrons can take in the atmospherics offered by the Victorian style architecture while enjoying their coffee. The cafe was named after Charles Henry Pearson and William Emmett Murphy, who were key players in the original foundation of RMIT as the Working Men’s College back in 1887. (I Willis, 2018)

 

The conference reception and dinner were held at The Old Melbourne Gaol in Russell Street. The bluestone walls are rich in meaning from the 133 hangings on the site and the execution in 1842 of two Palawa brought to Victoria from Van Dieman’s Land by GA Robinson: Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener.  

 

UHPH Conf 2018 Melbourne Gaol Signage
The entrance of The Old Melbourne Gaol in Russell Street Melbourne. Daily tours of the museum are well worth the effort where the visitor can view the cells and take in the atmospherics and witness Ned Kelly’s gallows. (I Willis, 2018)

 

Delegates were invited to dine beneath the gallows that famously ended the life of notorious bushranger Ned Kelly on 11 November 1880. Kelly is certainly one of the icons of Australian history and has inspired poetry, song, film, art and literature. He has variously been called a bushranger, larrikin, bushman, underdog and arguably an anarchist. The venue was heavy with the atmospherics of its history and delegates could wander in and out of the cells where they could walk the ground from the past.

 

UHPH Conf 2018 Melbourne Gaol Dinner
The venue for the conference reception and dinner was The Old Melbourne Gaol. The venue reeks of atmosphere and for the ghoulish it is a ready site for investigating ghosts of the 133 who were hanged on the site from 1842. (I Willis, 2018)

 

The bluestone walls provided a ghoulish backdrop to the sounds of Melbourne trio The Orbweavers.

The conference organising committee are to be complemented on doing a grand job.

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