Reverse discrimination on graves

By Shane Scanlan

Aboriginal graves are to be given special respect and significance not afforded to the remains of thousands of Melbourne’s first European settlers under City of Melbourne plans for the redevelopment of Queen Victoria Market (QVM).

Under the council’s recently-released master plan for the market, the small Aboriginal section to the north of the Old Melbourne Cemetery will be protected from disturbance.

The council further proposes to engage with the local indigenous community with possible outcomes to include:

Commemoration of the area via the naming of a walkway;

Reservation of part of the area as public space, which could be programmed from time to time with local story telling and other community initiatives;

Dedication of stall area or shop for display, interpretation, exhibition and or sale of locally-produced goods (e.g. arts, crafts and souvenirs); and

Physical recognition of the significance of the place in the form of interpretive signage, design treatment, materials, creative installation, etc.

In contrast, the council proposes to put a road through and a “mixed use development” in the more heavily-populated Anglican and Presbyterian sections at the south end of the cemetery.

The council proposes to realign Franklin St through the cemetery despite human remains lying just 36cm under the ground.

And the master plan is largely silent on the fate of the souls interred below the circa 1930 Franklin Stores building, which are earmarked as a development site.

The Franklin Stores land is to be consolidated with the State Government land containing car parking and the current Franklin St to the south of the market for the “mixed use development”.

The development and sale of this land is expected to fund the ambitious market redevelopment.

However, the master plan gives little detail about the level of disturbance to the graves lying under the Franklin St Stores building.

Apart from a small section at the northern end of the market, most of the QVM site sits above the cemetery, which was Melbourne’s original main burial ground.

When the market was expanded in the 1920s, less than 1000 bodies were exhumed and moved, leaving behind an estimated 7500 souls.

The master plan says that the new Franklin St will be built through the cemetery by 2019 and that the other land parcels (including the Franklin St Stores and portions of the Franklin St road reserve) will be reconfigured to create mixed-use development sites by 2026.

The master plan says of the site: “Explore, independently or as part of the larger development site, opportunities for reuse of existing buildings for retail, hospitality, education, etc.”

However, the council’s 2012 City North Structure Plan “recognises and encourages strategic renewal opportunity of the area to the south of QVM”.

A new structure of a size required to return sufficient funds to the council will no doubt result in significant excavation of the southern end of the cemetery.

The master plan admits that “the need became clear to review existing development controls to progress the precinct renewal”.

But, rather than address the development issues, the master plan says: “A separate consultation on a draft planning scheme amendment will commence in April.”

An accompanying Precinct Renewal Strategic Brief says: “The creation of freehold development sites in the south of the market precinct means that the Franklin St Stores would no longer be available for market operations as they would form part of the freehold land parcels.”

The strategic brief outlines “clear principles to direct the management and protection of human remains located beneath the current market”.

The first such principle is to avoid or minimise sub-surface works altogether.

Where remains are dug up, the council aims to reinter within the Old Melbourne Cemetery site.

“Where possible the association between a burial and its original place of interment should be preserved,” the guidelines state.

The guidelines go on to state that qualified people should be involved in the operation, that legislative approves will be necessary and that the council should “engage’, “consult” and “communicate”.

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