A Unique Urban Character
Footscray reveals itself as a stage for intense cultural appropriation. Waves of immigrant communities have altered and adapted the urban environment to suit their particular cultural practices and identities. Footscray provided the opportunity for migrants to recreate a culturally familiar place within a larger, mostly foreign landscape. This expression of culture becomes a means of validating one’s presence in the unfamiliar and further expresses facets of identity such as nationality and cultural distinction.
Historically, Footscray has been identified as an ‘undesirable’ place to live. This social and spatial marginality was derived from its location in the city’s industrial West, which was considered an unpopular place to live during this time. In little over fifty years the residential patterns of Footscray have been transformed from a predominantly white working class area to a complex assemblage of different cultures and ethnicities.
In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Italian, Greek, Macedonian, Bosnian, and Croation migrants began to settle in Footscray. With these migrant communities came a diverse array of commercial activities and residential typologies, significantly altering the social and urban landscape. Later, as a direct consequence of the conclusion of the Vietnam War in 1975, 54000 Vietnamese people were resettled in Australia between 1977 and 1982 (Stevens, 2012). As the Maribrynong region was identified as a ‘receptor centre’, many of these migrants found themselves building their communities in Footscray. The strength of the Vietnamese community became a point of difference which attracted people from all over Melbourne for the restaurants, markets and unique urban character. The most recent cultural transformations have been due to the influx of a number of African communities from Ethiopia, Sudan and the Horn of Africa. These, like the previous waves of immigrants, have had an effect on the social a physical fabric of the suburb.
Part of what makes Footscray so unique is the way in which it allows for immigrant groups to continually express themselves culturally without attracting discrimination. The suburb acts as a platform in which migrant communities continually adapt and add to the character of the urban realm; Footscray’s urbanism and identity is thus seen as a product of socio-cultural expression.
Footscray continues to celebrate its inherent multiculturality through annual cultural festivals (Emerge in the West Festival, Big West Festival, Croatian Cultural Festival, VU Multicultural Festival Footscray) as well as the erection of culturally symbolic monuments.