Why telling the story of a place really matters

by | 26 Sep, 2017 | How to Hack

In Melbourne, Australia, there is a statue of two men. Burke and Wills were members of the exclusive Melbourne club, for wealthy men of the city. In 1860 they set out on an expedition to reach a fabled inland sea. Having made it to the Gulf of Carpentaria, they both died on the return journey. Their bravery was honoured in this large statue in the centre of the city.

Around the base of the statue is a bas relief depicting the group that accompanied Burke and Wills. It includes a working class Irish man called John King. He was the only member of the expedition to make it back alive, having relied on the help of Aboriginal people. It also depicts Afghan camel herders and a group of other working class European men who also made the journey.

Burke & Wills’ story is well-known in Melbourne because of this statue. But few people know the story of John King. Why wasn’t the working class man honoured with a large statue but these two wealthy men were? After all, he was the only one that completed the expedition. And why don’t we hear more about the Muslim camel herders who were instrumental in this foundational story for Australia? And why didn’t the expedition ask for the help of Aboriginal people at the start?

Telling this simple story matters. Australian culture is dominated by White Europeans, and continues to dismiss and devalue Aboriginal culture. Leading ecologists are telling us that the future of the planet may rely on aboriginal wisdom and worldview, but that is not top of mind in Melbourne today. It is also increasingly hostile to Islam, like many other European cultures. And the working class are still marginalised, dismissed as ‘Bogans’ (like Chavs in the UK or Rednecks in the US). Telling the ‘hidden’ story of Burke & Wills exposes the hypocrisy of a White European founding myth.

Stories are all around us, shaping our world, quietly enforcing the rules we live by. Stories change the world. Sometimes rules need rewriting, and exposing hidden stories is one way to do that. What story can you tell?

If you have a story to share from a City Hack, submit it here – we’ll feature as many as we can on the blog.

You can visit the site of Burke & Wills as one of the Melbourne stories on our Labyrinth City Hacks app. At least, you can see where it used to be – they’re both in a spot of bother again at the moment…

Matt Valler

Matt Valler

Founder & Director, Labyrinth

Matt lives in Cornwall, an ancient kingdom in the far South-West of the UK, colonised long ago by the English. He is also the Founder & Director of The Alchemy Project, of which Labyrinth is a part. Matt can often be found drinking good coffee, reading Continential Philosophy, and playing in the sea with his family.

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