By Spencer Fowler Steen
For many of us, the walk from the city to the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) usually signifies one thing. Bright lights, colourful scarves, meat pies and butterflies running rampant. But for indigenous man Rob Hyatt, the walk to Melbourne’s cultural home of footy means much more. “There was a ceremony camp at the site of the MCG,” he said.
“In the modern context, whether it’s a major event, we still have Welcome to Country, and elders practising ceremonies there where their ancestors before them practised.”
As Koorie Heritage Trust’s (KHT) manager of education and visitor experience, Mr Hyatt takes people on walking tours across Melbourne, educating and informing the public about indigenous culture, language and diversity.
“Culture is practiced in the urban landscapes, and that means the broader public, tourists and visitors can experience Culture as well,” Mr Hyatt said.
“I enjoy promoting Aboriginal Victoria and Aboriginal Melbourne because there’s still sometimes a lack of understanding, or a lack of knowledge if you like, of the fact that Aboriginal people are present in our urban spaces.”
The Birrarung Wilam walk begins with an introduction to Aboriginal artefacts at the KHT centre at Federation Square.
Along with providing a space for the broader community to engage with culture, Mr Hyatt said the KHT also enabled local Aboriginal community members to visit and experience the artwork in their own ways as well.
“One of the things our visitors come to learn is that there is a diversity to Aboriginal Victoria, and the Heritage Trust and the site that we’re on actually is the lands of a particular nation, and in this case, we talk about the Wurundjeri people,” he said.
From there, walkers amble along the banks of the Yarra River adorned by Aboriginal art installations, while Mr Hyatt explains the nuances of life by the river and the impact of colonisation.
He also highlights the towering legacy of Wurundjeri elder, William Barak, who became a spokesperson for Aboriginal social justice in the 1800s during Melbourne’s formative years. Known for his artwork depicting indigenous life and encounters with Europeans, Barak also played a key role in the survival of his own people while gaining the support of non-indigenous people, Hyatt said.
The William Barak building in Swanston St – a visually striking 32-storey residential apartment block – displays Barak’s face through the ingenious use of negative dark spaces flowing through balconies.
As part of the walking tour, Mr Hyatt explained how the building was the largest piece of Aboriginal artwork in Victoria.
“The entire building is the canvas,” he said.
“He’s looking over his traditional country right across the CBD.”
Up until recently, the Aboriginal walking tour was delivered only in person.
But now, in the wake of COVID-19, the walk is also delivered online, ensuring regional Victorians, including students, can gain the same experience as Melburnians.
And for city and country folk alike, Mr Hyatt said the experience “blows people away”.
“It’s about understanding your own backyard and understanding the connection,” he said. “It takes people away from the typical or romanticised perspectives of Aboriginal environments.
“Aboriginal culture is everything – it’s connection to country, it’s connection to your ancestors, it’s connection to our stories.” •
For more information: koorieheritagetrust.com.au