Melbourne this Sunday: Stories Around the Fire

Stories Around the Fire is part of the Gertrude Street Projection Festival and a free event

Stories from the Traditional Owners, Elders and respected members of Fitzroy’s Aboriginal community.

Date: Sunday 24 July, 2011 (in case of bad weather, event will be rescheduled to 27 July)
Time: 5.00pm-7.00pm (storytelling starts at 5.30pm)
Location: The Meeting Place – Atherton Gardens Housing Estate, Gertrude Street, Fitzroy

Featuring Stories from:

  • Wurundjeri Elder Ringo Terrick will talk about the cultural significance of fire and pre-contact Wurundjeri history.
  • Playwright John Harding will talk about family, identity and community in Fitzroy.
  • Political activist Robbie Thorpe will talk about the birth of Aboriginal community controlled organisations in Fitzroy and the fight for civil rights.
  • Office of Housing resident and daughter of the late Aunty Denise Lovett, Lorina Lovett, will talk about her tough upbringing and her calling to work with the Parkies community.

With music by: Dave Arden and Kutcha Edwards
For further information, please call Dan Ducrou on 9205 5107 or at

Bright lights, big history

Carolyn Webb The Age July 22nd 2011

Alma Thorpe (2009)
"My mother was relocated from Framlingham settlement when she was 15 and came to live in Fitzroy. They were the first of the people to be moved off the settlements under the new legislation of 'half-castes':" Alma

Behind the trendy boutiques and cafes there's a strong Aboriginal presence in Gertrude Street, Fitzroy. For 25-year-old indigenous artist Arika Waulu, it's a precious community, not just somewhere to go for coffee.

In the late 1970s Waulu's grandmother, Alma Thorpe, helped found the Fitzroy Stars youth club and gym, patronised by world champion boxer Lionel Rose.

In 1982 it was renamed MAYSAR, the Melbourne Aboriginal Youth, Sport and Recreation centre, at the corner of Gertrude and George streets. Not just a sports club, it became a place of support for indigenous people.

Inside MAYSAR today, it is vibrant; there is still a boxing gym but also a kitchen, art studio, meeting rooms, internet cafe and multimedia business.

The exterior of the two-storey Victorian building, however, is rather opaque, with frosted ground floor windows.

''People could walk past for years and not even know what that place is,'' says Waulu. ''It is kind of hidden, even though it's a big building.''

She aims to draw attention to MAYSAR at the Gertrude Street Projection Festival, which begins tonight.

Waulu has co-created an animation sequence that will be projected onto the building's exterior for the next 10 nights.

Projected images in Gertrude Street

The festival began in 2008 with eight buildings. This year, there are 29. New participants include two housing commission towers.

Also new is Stories Around the Fire, a free storytelling night featuring elders and activists who will talk about the area's indigenous heritage on Sunday at 5pm at Atherton Gardens housing estate.

Waulu says MAYSAR members asked her to create something ''to represent them and what they're about''.

Festival director Kym Ortenburg teamed Waulu with Yandell Walton, a Collingwood-based, internationally recognised video installation artist, who drew out Waulu's ideas and mentored her on animation and projection. The result is a five-minute series of images that run on a loop. There are silhouetted Aboriginal dancers collaged with old photos of boxers and footballers; in the next sequence, photos of the eyes of current MAYSAR people are imposed on the glittering leaves of an animated tree to represent heritage, community and growth.

The wider story of local Aborigines is told with simple but powerful images: firstly with video and animation of native plants growing; next with animated images of the Australian coat of arms amid fire, representing white intervention; and then with images of long bullrushes to symbolise regrowth after fire.

For Waulu, it's a very personal piece, and her grandmother and MAYSAR are not the only link to Gertrude Street.

In 1933, her great-grandmother, Edna Brown, aged 16, was forced to come to Melbourne from the Framlingham Aboriginal mission near Warrnambool to work as a domestic.

In 1972, Brown helped set up the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, with one voluntary doctor, in a slum they refurbished at 229 Gertrude Street.

Brown worked there as a cleaner but also helped treat homeless people in the Exhibition Gardens and the street.

She also helped set up the Aboriginal Funeral Fund, to give indigenous people a dignified burial.

Waulu's parents, Marjorie Thorpe and Kelvin Onus, met at the Builders Arms pub in Gertrude Street in 1980, and both worked at the health service. They were in netball and football clubs that trained at MAYSAR, and when Waulu was a child in the late 1980s she would spend school holidays there dancing, painting, playing games and watching movies.

When Waulu was six, the family moved to Lake Tyers, near Bairnsdale, but would visit relatives in Gertrude Street when in town.

Waulu moved back to Melbourne when she was 15 and the Fitzroy connection continued, with grandmother Alma on the Health Service board and her great-aunt Rose Dwyer and several cousins health workers there.

Waulu's aunt, Glenda Thorpe, is the current head of both the health service and MAYSAR.

Waulu feels ''entwined'' with Gertrude Street and proud to talk about it.

''It's been a big part of our history for many generations. I feel connected to this area, proud to come from a family that has been a big part of building the Aboriginal community,'' she says.

''I hope my piece unveils the hidden MAYSAR, which is the great community happenings in that place, behind those doors.''