Unfinished Chronology: Towards a Map of the Past for the Future

Timmah Ball

1874: William Barak leads a protest march to Parliament House demanding that Coranderrk is not relocated. Justice ran through Barak’s blood. He campaigned for the creation of the Aboriginal settlement, contributing to its early success.

1955: Australian artist John Brack paints Collins St., 5pm. The painting illustrates office workers hurrying through Collins Street to Parliament Station after work. Blank-faced and aloof, they follow each other aimlessly like a flock of sheep.

1972: Chaos descends in Elizabeth Street as floods surround the CBD. Water gushes through the busy retail and business strip and cars are seen floating down the city’s spine. Trains and trams are stopped during peak hour. The city weathers its heaviest rainfall on record. People panic, unaware that this was once a river, and the environment is just responding to what it was always intended to do.

1999: A train stops in the City Loop. For the first 20 minutes no one is concerned, but when the lights go out, a slight anxiety ascends. An announcement is made. There are technical issues and the driver is unsure when travel will re-commence. After a while, the summer heat overwhelms passengers and a group manages to pry the doors open. People exit the carriage carefully. In the tunnel they are just able to make out graffiti on the walls and markers of the people who built it. Their simple messages like M4T or Bret4EVA seem incompatible with the experience of spending days in the dim tunnel as they dug. Walking through it is surprisingly blissful. Most didn’t realise how desperate they were to see the City Loop and understand the intricate infrastructures tens of metres beneath the ground. When the lights come back on and the driver announces that they will be moving shortly, many are disappointed, deeply absorbed by the underground world that they’ve never noticed before. It was an area which had always felt placeless because they were always just passing through it to get somewhere. Unaware that a tunnel could also be a destination.

2002: Federation Square opens to mixed receptions. Many question whether its architectural style fits with the character and culture of the city. The initial reaction mellows and it is embraced. Over time, people rarely meet on the steps of Flinders Street Station, but instead congregate in large numbers in the Square, participating in festivals and events which enliven the city. Its existence becomes iconic, although turning its back away from the Birrarung Marr feels like a missed opportunity.

2004: A landscape architecture student submits a master’s thesis while working at Collins Booksellers on Elizabeth Street, which closes down and becomes a Cotton On or another fast fashion retailer over time. Their dissertation argues that the Hoddle Grid and placement of the War Memorial is phallocentric. It doesn’t pass.

2005: The Lumiere Cinema closes on Lonsdale Street. Others follow. Over time, even the Greater Union shuts its doors on Russell Street and the long queues of MIFF fans vanish, although their presence is still felt across other areas of the city in August.

2011: Urban planning students meet at rooftop bars on Swanston Street after exams trying to imagine a future where change feels possible within the limits of a professional career.

2015: The Koorie Heritage Trust, centring Blak art, relocates to Federation Square from King Street’s architectural periphery where it had existed for decades. Its presence is only the beginning as the city continues to be transformed by the vital burst of Blak art.

2017: BARRING YANABUL disrupts the Hoddle Grid and the city is stripped to its origins. Blak artists perform across Swanston Street, Flinders Street, Sargood Lane and the steps of Parliament, expressing Sovereignty. Yirramboi begins.

Lydia Thorpe is elected to the Victorian Parliament—a Gunnai–Gunditjmara woman transcends the steps again.

2019: 1000 £ Bend no longer exists and is replaced by a mini supermarket. St Jerome’s is now Emporium. The city grows exponentially and new things emerge quicker than the possibility of remembering everything that is lost. But as infrastructure catapults, people start to recognise that it was never just a city and even though waterfalls in Elizabeth Street are no longer visible, their presence is always felt.

2031: Excavation commences on a new underground rail network, which digs deeper into the Earth’s core than what was thought possible. It raises questions about the meaning of architecture in an expanding city. Engineers, borers and other technicians spend days beneath the ground creating a system to support this growth. Months and months of digging leave many disinterested in resurfacing. The vacuous openings created feel like portals into new worlds, which remain invisible to most people.

2034: A tunnel is discovered hundreds of metres beneath the City Loop. It is assumed that it was created to store excavation equipment during the construction of other underground transport systems. When people enter, those who are old enough to remember discover small replicas of the places closed and greatly missed: cinemas, music venues, bookshops, bars, etc. The people who frequented them are found as if nothing happened. The puzzled onlookers are unsure if the replicas are real or some sort of underground marketing campaign for a bespoke fashion label nostalgic for a view of the past.

2058: An outbound train from Flinders Street to Cranbourne goes missing. Its disappearance is believed to be part of a larger global phenomenon called ‘tunnel makers’, a term used to describe people who leave cities in masses, forming networks of underground communities in retaliation against Western civilisation’s inertia towards the climate catastrophe.

2092: A speculative chronology is found in the lift stall at Melbourne Central. The hand-written list scrawled in black Texta feels urgent. The dates and events are unusual, causing people to debate whether they occurred or if the places are real. While the intention and accuracy are unclear, the chronology outlives the planning scheme and becomes a future map whose impact is felt for multiple generations.

Timmah Ball is a writer, researcher and creative practitioner of Ballardong Noongar heritage. She is the editor for First Nations writing at Westerly magazine and an Arts House Makeshift Publics artist for 2021.

Illustration: Marc Martin

Brought to you by the Metro Tunnel Creative Program for Melbourne Writers Festival. Excerpts of ‘Writing Melbourne’ and accompanying illustrations can be seen at City Square on Swanston Street when restrictions ease.