Recently, I spent a day in Footscray, a suburb in Melbourne’s inner west.
There is plenty to be excited about in Footscray. Firstly because the suburb is characterised by a very diverse, multicultural central shopping area, which reflects the successive waves of immigration experienced by Melbourne, and by Footscray in particular. Once a centre for Italian and former Yugoslavian migrants, it is now a hub for Vietnamese, and increasingly, East African immigrants in Melbourne.
Interestingly, Footscray is named after Foots Cray, on the River Cray in Kent, England (UK). For over 40,000 year, Footscray was home to the Aboriginal Woimurrung and Boonwurrung tribes of the Kulin nation. In 2011, Footscray’s 13,193 residents came from an impressive 135 countries. Needless to say, the restaurant scene is booming with different cuisines and there are currently about 30 Vietnamese restaurants, 20 Indian, 17 Chinese and several African, Australian, Indonesian, Italian, Thai, Turkish, Malaysian, Portuguese, Korean and Japanese restaurants.
Stats from 2006 show that less than half of Footscray’s population (41.1%) was born in Australia, and the main countries of overseas origin are Vietnam, China, India, United Kingdom and Italy. In the 21st Century, Maribyrnong municipality of which Footscray is a part of saw a major increase in residents from Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Burma, including a large proportion of refugees.
At a first glance, Footscray may seem like a dirty, neglected and perhaps dangerous place. If you take a closer look however, there is evidence of great social connectivity all around. This is particularly evident in the way many residents know each other’s first names, and the many people chatting with each other in the streets. A friend of mine rode his bike through Footscray and told me that when his bike suddenly broke down in the main mall, several individuals came to his rescue and in a joint effort they were able to fix his bike. When going to the Footscray market, a widely known institution, there are plenty of conversations to be had with the various fruit and vegetable merchants. It’s all about establishing a relationship with your butcher or fruit vendor. In the restaurants, the hospitality is warm, welcoming and down to earth. At the various bakeries and cake shops, whether it’s Italian or Vietnamese, there is a sense of pride related to the sharing of cultures and traditions. To me, Footscray is where postcolonial Australia really takes form and demonstrates what a multicultural society is all about. Footscray intrigues me so much that I have started photographing life in the suburb. I’ll share more as I go, but for now I have some photos from my initial visit. Please click on the photos to view them in a larger format.