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Tuesday, December 3 • 11:30am - 11:45am
The Cultural Memory of Melbourne's Waterfront: Text, Movement and Mediated Space

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With its political influence in decline, the once mighty Australian trade union movement is now exploring new ways to bring working-class history into public space. Individual unions now experiment with integrations of interactive technology and significant public sites, with varying success. This paper explores one of these projects – in which the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has sought to register the union’s militancy on the Port Melbourne waterfront. The paper reflects on some problems arising in linking public place, memorial events and mediated, digitised interaction.

The MUA was formed in 1993, out of an amalgamation of a number of Australian waterfront unions, all of them with long histories of industrial militancy and leadership in progressive social movements, from aboriginal rights to anti- nuclear campaigning. With a strong cultural memory expressed in printed text, the union has been trying for more than a decade to create some form of public space reflecting on union history in Melbourne. This effort has now been concentrated on one pier, Princes Pier, and one event, the shooting of striking waterside workers by police in 1928. The union has sought to broaden connections with local residents and the local historical society in this effort. These activities have included plans for a museum, digital data storage, newsletters, walking tours and memorial events on the pier itself.

After lengthy discussions with port authorities, local residents and political representatives, the pier has now been, in part, restored and the new space includes digitised touch screens exploring waterfront history.  It now seems that in 2014 a fixed plaque will register a few key aspects of the 1928 dispute, to be explained in more detail via an Internet site. Disputes over plaque wording will no doubt be resolved in web data – which becomes a repository of material that cannot be presented in fixed displays.

The sense of working-class identity sought by the MUA is not always consistent with such other reconstructive efforts, nor in the first instance, with the opportunities of digitisation. Understandably the former workers and their supporters want to mediate in visitors’ haptic experiences through fixed, tangible and material items. However the very diverse memories of place, the sequence of waterfront activity separate from unionism (wartime troop movements and post-war immigrant arrivals for example) that can be presented by way of digitised mediation, militate against the historical sequence that the union might want to communicate. The paper reflects on tensions, in relation to local cultural memory. It is argued here that whilst digitising makes a range of historical data available it perhaps diminishes any coherent sense of cultural memory, especially one grounded in working-class identity. The visitor’s experience of the public space of Princes Pier is unavoidably diluted in this process. An insistence on a memorial and recognition in fixed material culture is probably justifiable. But how to use digital technologies to enrich a visitor’s sense of movement through and beyond the site, in either walking trails or memorial events, remains an open question; some answers will be suggested in this paper.


Chris McConville

Dr Chris McConville is a Lecturer in Sociology Victoria University Melbourne Australia. He has worked on a number of projects in regards to the memory of Melbourne’s waterfront and has published widely in areas of history, heritage and public landscapes. His most recent book is... Read More →

Tuesday December 3, 2013 11:30am - 11:45am PST
Hilton Stockholm Slussen Hotel, Eros Guldgränd 8 Box 15270, Stockholm, 10465, Sweden

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