Footscray stories hidden underfoot

Benjamin Millar

An audio journey uncovering some of Footscray’s “secret histories” is guiding people through the suburb’s lesser known stories from the comfort of their own homes.

Writer Jinghua Qian and historian Liz Crash have partnered to create Underfoot, a series of virtual audio tours uncovering the lesser-known tales of their beloved Footscray.

The long-time friends spent months poring through the archives and revisiting their own memories growing up locally, weaving together stories about class, solidarity and queerness that are often lost in the telling of traditional history.

“We’re obsessed with Footscray so thought we should present these stories to other people,” Qian said.

Crash said she had spent much of her time prior to the COVID-19 lockdown in the library archives, diving into the online Trove archives during the lengthy period of social isolation.

“We both did a lot of research, then it was working out what was the story,” she said.

“It was a bit of a push and pull, hopefully we’ve managed to produce something that is satisfying and interesting and rigorous.”

The project was supported by Maribyrnong council’s Rapid Relief Fund for creative responses to the COVID-19 crisis.

Each of the four, 15-minute audio tracks come with a map, transcript, photos, references and further reading suggestions.

Loosely assembled around key themes, the first track looks at faith, the second explores industry, the third tackles racism and the final track dips into queerness and vice.

Crash said the visceral pieces deliberately trace some of the area’s more obscure characters and tales.

“It is a move away from the ‘pillars of society’ history to finding more relatable people.”

Qian said the stories of the past are also intertwined with their own experiences growing up locally.

“It’s looking for ourselves, but not looking for heroes. People tend to have this idea of local history as quite dry and pro settlement, so it was trying to think about countering that and making it something that people like us would want to listen to.”

Qian’s favourite piece of uncovered history was the story about the rowing regatta in which the Footscray rowing club was victorious but disqualified because the strength they had as manual labourers was said to have given them too great an advantage.

For Crash it was learning more about Australian-Chinese history and the use of the White Australia policy to destroy it.

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