Unauthorised camping is Melbourne’s founding story

Melbourne 1836, Reinhart Hofmann.
(You can have a look at this painting at the State Library of Victoria.)

A lot of Australians seem to like camping.
Australians seem to like going to the beach, even in Victoria where the water’s pretty cold.
Australians seem to like having a barbeque, and in Melbourne we have public barbecues all over the place.

Melbourne started as a camp, where people came in from the beach, at the spot that is now enterprize park. Camping and other forms of outdoor living are part of our social practise because they are connected to our colonial history. John Batman’s party were camping on contested land. The area that is now the location of Melbourne, was already the homeland of the Woiwurrung and Boonerwrung peoples, who called the area ‘Narrm’. The colonial government of New South Wales believed the land belonged to the British Crown. Batman was trying to acquire land for his business, then Port Philip Association. This created a complex conflict (which I struggle to get my head around) between Tasmanian businesspeople, New South Welsh bureauocrats and local Aboriginal people.

Once again we have a situation where camping is contested in Melbourne. The proposed changes to Melbourne by-laws make it easier for authorised officers to interfere with people who depend on camping in the city. I wonder if we would see the current conflict differently if we humbly recognised that our city began as an unauthorised camp?

You can make a submission to Melbourne City Council about the proposed changes here.

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