Fitzroy as a post-industrial frontier

Post-Industrial Frontiers

The suburb of Fitzroy may not be one of the most significant nodes in the globalised world but in a similar way to other inner city districts of Melbourne and elsewhere it does have significant symbolic engagements with the world. Because it is Melbourne's oldest suburb (and thus richly historically layered) and because of its recent history as a working class industrial suburb (this in particular) means that Fitzroy has small histories that do resonate in some of the mainstay globalisation debates.

Fitzroy is one miniature stage within a networked global theatre. And the play is perchance a reflection upon the theatre itself.

Globalisation discourse dances around the totems of immigration, corporatisation, gentrification (through the new middle-class), the environment, global civil society and the broader concerns of the post-industrialisation of the major Western economies. Corporations are understood as the great pariah in the globalisation debate and post-industrialisation produces a throng of knowledge workers who cram the cafes of the gentrified inner cities. [1]

Post-Industrialism has emerged in the past three decades and is understood as a decline of labour-intensive manufacturing operations that has altered the workforce demography and re-shaped communities, families and individuals everywhere.[2] Popularly it is branded the ‘information economy' or even the ‘new economy' and is typified by a prevailing service sector and an expansion of industries that employ most citizens in knowledge production and consumption.

New production efficiencies, automation and the shift of manufacturing to low-wage developing economies have caused a massive decline in employment in the manufacturing sector (as a percentage of the workforce).[3] Typical post-industrial industries include Insurance, Banking, Education, Entertainment, Advertising, Media, Tourism, Telecommunications and of course, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). The industries that make up ICT are actually only a small part of the broader service economy but often triumphantly wave the flag of the ‘new economy'.[4]

Fitzroy suggests a post-industrial landscape partly because (quite visibly) nearly all the manufacturing industries in the district have disappeared. The local labour intensive textile industries have been replaced by a strip of factory outlets that sell clothes manufactured in China and Indonesia. The warehouses where confectionary and garments used to be made are now the apartments of the new middle classes.[5] For many of Fitzroy's newest residents, Fitzroy is arguably a brand name with a purchasable lifestyle; for many of its older residents, it has developed into an expensive and less interesting place to live.

Although only a small suburb in both population and geographical size, Fitzroy is arguably one of Melbourne's more culturally and economically eclectic urban settings. This is partly because of a large housing estate that services the need of many lower income, new migrant groups; and partly because like many other inner city areas in the Western-world, it has become a property investment and lifestyle haven for the new-middle classes.[6]

Fitzroy has roots dating back to the Nineteenth Century Victorian era. Many of the double-storey houses in the area reflect the confident facades of the Victorian middle class but the utilitarian conformity of the single-storey workers' cottages reflect a much more subservient social role. Some of Fitzroy's residents still claim to remember when they could hear the whistles of factories beckoning workers to their production lines and workshops. Opposite to where I live is a grand Victorian Town Hall that stands idle, a symbol of the civic decay unleashed by a short-sighted state government under the spell of global economic rationalism.

Fitzroy was the first place in the world (the Belvedere hotel in 1856, only eight years after Karl Marx and Frederick Engles published the Communist Manifesto in February 1848) where an eight-hour day was proposed.[7] This was through the formation of May 1 or ‘May Day' as a ‘proletarian holiday celebration as a means to attain the eight-hour day'.[8]

It is somewhat ironic that here I am, perhaps an archetype of a post-industrial worker, writing this at 2.00AM in a renovated Nineteenth Century worker's cottage only one block from the hotel where the seeds of the movement were sown. It is also perhaps ironic that whilst writing this text I received an email from a colleague in the same suburb who informed me that he had just returned from a twenty five thousand strong protest march in Seoul where workers were trying to obtain an eight-hour, five-day working week (perhaps some of Fitzroy's garment factories are now situated in South Korea).[9]

In some ways, these personal reflections evoke my understandings of Castells' notion of post-industrial-globalisation and in particular its expression through the rise of the network society. Castells claims:

A technological revolution, centred around the information technologies, is reshaping, at accelerated pace, the material basis of society. Economies throughout the world have become globally interdependent, introducing a new form of relationship between economy, state, and society in a system of variable geometry.[10]

For Castells, a sociologist (and perhaps even a unprofessed technological determinist), the links in this system are laterally connected between countries and cultures, whilst for Historians if we are to believe in such a thing as a ‘globally linked network society' then the links should contain knowledge of our past.

A network society should not only be imagined as two-dimensional, but also three-dimensional to accommodate the various links that electronic historical scholarship is making to our past. If an Historian can be understood in the most basic terms as someone who writes history then was written online in a ‘globally' networked space whist making strategic technical choices about how to represent historical change.

Boom Town

Similar to other inner-urban areas, during the long post-war boom of the 1950s to the 1970s many of the residents of Fitzroy left and moved to the more affluent middle-suburbs.[11] By the 1970s, vast tracts of Fitzroy and other inner city communities were levelled because town planners thought that Fitzroy was a slum.[12] This was to make way for the building of large high-rise government housing for lower income groups that included new migrants to Australia.

In reflection, and as told by the many of the participants in, this has probably been one of the great saviours of Fitzroy. Firstly, it keeps the district interesting as it allows for a much greater ethnic diversity; and secondly it keeps the rents in check for those of us who know that ‘market forces' are merely the ideological artillery of more economically dominant cultures.

In was in the 1980s and 1990s that Fitzroy became fashionable again, especially with a young moneyed crowd who wanted to escape the Australian suburbs. The inner cities became sites of converging histories of class, ethnicity, economies and lifestyle. The population increased, along with the housing prices and pressures to develop the suburbs.[13] Many of the participants in this study claim that this is now destroying what has subsequently become one of the city's most vibrant districts of cultural production, activism, and community building.

The inner cities are for better or worse the post-industrial frontiers of our country; a country that is fragmenting along lines of income distribution, employment, and lifestyle.[14] Australia, like most Western countries, has moved from protecting the national industries of the ‘old economy' to the ‘competitive' economies of the post-industrial world.[15] By recording some of the characters, concerns and lifestyles of people within Fitzroy, then perhaps some of the local manifestations of 'post-industrial globalisation' may be evocatively communicated.[16]


The participants in this study largely come from my own perceptive choices based on the familiar interior mythologies of Fitzroy. This is an unapologetic insider's perspective of a community, not an outsider's perspective cloaked in habitually uninteresting empirical objectivity. Nevertheless I was cautious not to make the study excessively relative by jealously asserting my own subjective view of the area. Usually after interviewing a resident, I asked who they could recommend to be interviewed next. This often took me outside my comfort zone within the community.

In this way I networked around the district going from one individual to another. I admit that this is somewhat of an intuitive methodology, but it is a methodology that tried also to record a lush local culture in a creative and alluring way, as opposed to a scientifically controlling one. Because of the district's acute cultural identity I cannot imagine another interviewer uncovering a substantially different representation of Fitzroy.

During the interview process I first sought to ascertain the relationship the person had to Fitzroy through establishing the institutions that they identified with. Changes to these institutions over time may have altered their perceptions of the suburb. I was particularly interested in pursuing responses that described alterations to institutions (such as cafes or hotels) through the four hermeneutics of globalisation (culture, ideology, ethnicity, economy). Plus the character, vocation, and lifestyle of the individuals themselves often evoked larger globalisation processes in an endearing and suggestive manner.

The interviews were regrettably short at only ten to thirty minutes long. This is just one example of how the technology available impacted upon the methodology. Recording longer interviews would have resulted in unmanageable file sizes for current Internet delivery. In reflection, the interviews should have perhaps been three or four hours long to accommodate a much more in-depth analysis of the individual's background (for later historical use). This will become possible with technological advances in the near future.

However, it must be reiterated that the aim of this work is primarily to provide a conceptually and technologically innovative model of electronic scholarship in the Humanities. This model is an attempt at knowledge construction in a new medium. Using traditional research methodologies, comprehensively designed and conceptualised to be communicated through the academic codex, in this instance is largely like positioning a ‘square peg in a round hole'.

Thus, it is worth emphasising that it is beyond the offerings of this work to textually write an extended in depth analysis of the interviews in this exegetical-thesis here. The hypertextual electronic documentary of Fitzroy that I have provided is in fact the authorial analysis.

I offer four succinct critical textual essays on the site itself to accompany the hypertextual video archive. The archive is constructed within a significant research prototype (SMAFE) and contains forty five video interviews of almost twelve hours in total length, strategically divided (by hand) into one hundred and sixty seven smaller movies. Each of these have been categorised according to four major themes determined by one year's emersion in books and a participatory conceptual engagement with the community in question. This is the model of interpretation that I am offering.

The questions that I asked the participants were adapted to the circumstances of the interview. Some people were adept at speaking about globalisation (within the four larger discursive structures) whilst others were clearly more representative of local characters or groups. Because I was covering such a broad range of age, class, education, gender, and ethnicity an open approach was germane. Within reason, I allowed the participants to lead the discussions within their understandings of negative or positive changes within Fitzroy.

Although I tried to capture a representative grouping of people, in reality this is difficult as there is not only my own subjectivity to contend with but also no amount of coaxing can get some people to participate. Some people were naturally shy, some just did not like the project (or did not like me) whilst others committed but did not show up at all. All the interviews that I recorded I have placed online and none have been edited in the traditional understanding of the practice.

For ethical convenience, only the first names were used to identify the participants. Some are well know local identities, some are hardly known at all, and some are well known nationally. I have even included an interview with myself, in order to reveal my subjectivity within the study.

Authoritative Hypertextual Video

Although the authority of the author is prevalent in all parts of the conceptualisation, selection, presentation and interpretation of the work, there is the less authoritative section (the local section) where the user can view the entire unedited video footage. This is a common ethnographic approach and reveals how I have later indexed the video into the four analytical categories.

The Internet does not rely on the same time based parameters of broadcast mediums, meaning that a program started at 7.00PM does not have to end at 8.00PM. There was no need to cut the video footage because the user has complete control over the beginning and end times; has repeated access; and can start the video at various points. To cut the video would perhaps even remove some of its historical worth as an intact archival resource.

The close analysis of the film provided by the four categories is part of the overall interpretative argument of I have utilised the potential of the SMAFE engine in this project as an applied analysis engine. This is not analysis in the traditional sense where the historical artefact is separate to contextual (codex based) writings about the artefact. The SMAFE engine itself forms part of the (meta) interpretation of the artefact.

The (meta) authority that I have provided over the material is within a broad set of (interactive) controlling parameters. This is in concurrence with many of the claims of hypertext theorists who assert that the division between author and user is blurred in a hypertextual work. Thus the user becomes in part ‘author'.

The authority enforced by the creators of a hypertext work can be less controlling than the sequential reading that the book ensues. A user can, if the ‘authors' allow, experience a hypertext project within a broader set of parameters than those permitted by the printed book.[17]

In when the user clicks on one of the four categories of globalisation, a number of different people will appear who talk about Fitzroy. The user can view the interviews in any sequence and from within any category (and even combine each category). The user becomes in part the inquisitive Historian, searching for themes, contradictions, and evidence to support the initial thesis.

History is an ill-structured domain but if the Historian did not attempt to structure the past into some sort of narrative form, then there would be few ways to understand it.[18] In this work, ‘the narrative' is in part dependent on how the user interacts with it through the faces that they click on. The SMAFE engine in turn, generates four separate historical narratives of various individuals speaking about Fitzroy.

It does not champion one voice, nor does it unduly demonstrate that historical knowledge is advanced simplistically. I have recorded and provided the historical information, then applied a structure to understand this information. The user is encouraged to view the interviews from a number of perspectives and then make their own narrative connections between them.[19]

 [History]…entails more than a simple familiarity with important facts and concepts; it involves being able to conceptualise historical events from multiple perspectives and to relate a myriad of seemingly diverse historical data within such perspectives. Historical thinking is an understanding of human situations and the complex web of relationships embedded in them.[20]

When using oral-history evidence, Historians must understand both the opinions expressed by those telling the stories and the larger contextual structures. A common misconception about history is that witnesses have the most privileged perspective. This is only partly true, as it is the Historian who later has to assemble the confusing, chaotic and contradictory accounts into some form of narrative explanation.

The SMAFE engine provides a broad structure for the user to view some of the contradictions, boundaries, and reoccurring themes of life within an inner city Australia community. I admit that this is a rudimentary and fragmented skeletal structure, but these are still early days in the application (and conceptualisation) of new technologies to historical tasks. We can either conjure up ‘blue sky' technological solutions and make imperious and inept judgements from the comfort of the codex, or we can learn to critically apply and understand the new technologies that we actually have at our disposal.

[1] For a longer discussion see: Colin Long "Global Restructuring and Local Urban Development", Melbourne 1970-1998 (Unpublished PhD Thesis) University of Melbourne, School of History, 1998. Also Colin Long (ed) Private Planning, Private Cities: Melbourne Docklands, People's Committee for Melbourne, South Yarra, 1997.( Proceedings of a forum held at RMIT on 29th November, 1996).

[2] Castells, Op.Cit. 1999 p.66.

[3] In Australia there are now only about 1 million of our 8 million workers who are employed in this sector. "8201.0 Manufacturing Industry, Australia, Preliminary" Australian Bureau of Statistics

<!OpenDocument>(Accessed 3 June, 2002)

[4] Craig Bellamy "It Economy" post to Fibreculture

<> (Accessed 3 June, 2002)

[5]For a longer discussion see Ley, Op.Cit,

[6] Ibid.

[7] Andy McInerney, "May Day, The Workers' Day, born in the struggle for the eight-hour day" originally in Liberation & Marxism, issue no. 27, Spring 1996 " <> (Accessed 6 August, 2002).For a comprehensive general study of Fitzroy History see: Fitzroy: Melbourne's First Suburb, Cutten History Committee of the Fitzroy Historical Society, Hyland House Publishing, Melbourne, 1989.

[8] "What are the Origins of Mayday?"


First published in Polish in Sprawa Robotnicza Published: From Selected Political Writings of Rosa Luxemburg, tr. Dick Howard (NY: Monthly Review Press, 1971), pp. 315-16.

[9] Andrew Garton, "Community" Communication Online

<> (Accessed 6 August, 2002)

[10] Castells, Op.Cit, 1999,p1.

[11] The middle suburbs are where masses of people settled during the long post-war boom from the Second World War to the early 1970s. The long boom, so well articulated by one of the great Historians of the 20th Century, Eric Hobsbawn, was a period of growth that the world had never known. The output of manufactures quadrupled between the early 1950s and the early 1970s and world trade in manufactured items grew tenfold. Eric Hobsbawn, The Age of Extremes, Abacus Books, London, 1994, p295. During this time Australia became possibly the world's most middle-class society with over half our population situated in the middle strata. See Craig McGreggor, Class in Australia, Penguin Books, 1997, p16.

[12] For similar urban development stories see: Alan Mayne and Tim Murray (eds) The Archaeology of Urban Landscapes: Explorations in Slumland, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001.

[13] Farah Farouque, "Australian's Return to their Cities" The Age

<> (Accessed 4 July 2001).

[14] Kevin O'Connor, Australia's Changing Economic Geography: A Society Dividing, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002.

[15] This has resulted in the rise of some of the largest and most-expensive bureaucracies that have ever existed (IBM, Microsoft, General Electric, Ford, and General Motors).

[16] Professor Richard Langhorne (Director of the Centre for Global Change and Governance at Rutgers University) made a plea at the Australian Historical Association conference (Brisbane 3-7 July 2002) for Historians to link national and geographical histories to Globalisation and World History. Also see his book: Richard Langhorne, The Coming of Globalisation: Its Evolution and Contemporary Consequences, Palgrave, London, 2001.

[17] Craig Bellamy Unpublished Masters Thesis Op.Cit. p32. For a longer discussion of this see Heather Goodall, "Working with History: Experiments in Aboriginal History and Hypermedia", in The UTS Review, Sydney, Vol.2, No.1, 1996, pp.43-57.

[18] Karen Swan, "History, Hypermedia, and Criss-Crossed Conceptual Landscapes", Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, vol.3, no.2.1994, p122.

[19] Ibid. p.102.

[20] Ibid, p.101.


One response to “Fitzroy as a post-industrial frontier”

Leave a Reply