Sample Critical Thinking On Housing Reform In Melbourne
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For the better part of 20th century, Fitzroy – the first suburb of Melbourne stood as an exemplary slum. The decline of Fitzroy into a slum can be traced back during the 1890s economic depressions, which mostly hit the inner areas of Melbourne – including Fitzroy suburb. The harsh economic conditions forced the population to migrate from Victoria and especially the inhabitants within the inner suburbs such as a Fitzroy. Worse still, the two major architects; Olaff Nicholson and Norman Hitchcock in Fitzroy opted to relocate to Western Australia and never returned to Fitzroy again. As such, a decline of Fitzroy was invertible because of the lack of professionals to offer planning services. At the beginning of 19th century, recovery initiatives gained momentum. However, the inner suburbs of Melbourne – such as its first suburb Fitzroy was not a serene place to live and most aspiring homeowners avoided it. In fact, Fitzroy suburb was regarded as a place of seedy businesses, unwanted terrace houses, and a slum. The Victorian Housing Commission (VHC) pioneer – Oswald Barnett led the reformist campaigns that salvaged Melbourne first suburb – Fitzroy from its dilapidating condition (Beed, 1981).
Measures to salvage Fitzroy suburb were debatable as from the start of 20th century. However, the actual progresses of salvaging Fitzroy started in 1930s and were coined by Oswald Barnett, who was a slum reformer and an accountant through his creative photography work. Through his photography creativity, Barnett was able to incorporate aspects of salvaging Fitzroy from its slum condition. Arguably, he – Barnett, was able to use the newly found technology of photography at the time to communicate his intended message that resulted to salving Fitzroy (MELBOURNE UNIVERSITY HISTORICAL SOCIETY, 1961).
In fact, the usefulness of photography technology at the time as an effective tool of communication can be argued from Tony Birch work, who outlined that “ the strength of the images produced on behalf of the reformers, supported by the less than subtle written text or dramatic headline caption, lay in part in their ability to arrest daily life and subject those caught in its lens to an un-returnable gaze” (Birch, 2004 p.5). As such, from a wider perspective it can be seen and argued that Barnett approach of bringing to the forefront the living situations of Fitzroy to the media and public awareness was a well-thought approach and a successful one.
Barnett’s desire to salvage Fitzroy from its dilapidating situation could have been triggered by the state of the suburb during the 1930s depressions. However, as from early as late 1920s, Barnett had toured Fitzroy taking his first photograph of the slum. In fact, in his 1931 thesis for his Master’s in Commerce ‘The economics of Slums’, Barnett relied on his Fitzroy photography work. Equally, Birch (2004) outlines that “ when raising money for the establishment of the Methodist Babies Home Barnett used photographs that were largely created in Fitzroy during lanternslide fundraising shows, drawing on the tradition of social reform publicists in Britain and Northing American in the late nineteenth century” (p. 6). Like previously outlined, Barnett used photography to influence the outcomes of his slum reformist work that finally salvaged Fitzroy from its typical slum conditions and subsequently turning him as a key figure housing reformer in Fitzroy.
The primary issue Oswald Barnett identified affecting or facing Fitzroy were social issues such as immorality, overcrowding, and drunkenness. In fact, immediately after the European occupation took place in 1840s, Fitzroy became a ground of social evils and hence the beginning of its decline. As such, from Oswald Barnett analysis the dilapidating situations affecting Fitzroy were prevalent in nature if not actually innate. Equally, Oswald Barnett saw the physical conditions in Fitzroy as secondary problems that could be solved. Arguably, that is why he had the courage and determination to skillfully employ photography to engage a media inspection of the physical situations in Fitzroy and call for appropriate actions and measures through engaging the parliamentarians as well. Oswald Barnett contributions in reformist campaigns against slums resulted to the formation of Housing Investigation and Slum Abolition Board in 1936 (Lewis, 1995).
The Housing Investigation and Slum Abolition Board that was formed under the directions of Oswald Barnett and with Victoria prime mister at the time – Albert Dunstan appointing the board’s team. The aim of the investigative team was to examine the conditions of housing in Melbourne. In 1937, the Housing Investigation and Slum Abolition Board established that a significant percentage of houses in the area were unsuitable for human habitation. The Housing Investigation and Slum Abolition Board then made a recommendation requesting for the formation of a central constitutional housing authority. In response to this request, the Victorian Parliament declared the 1937 Housing Act and subsequently the Housing Commission of Victoria was formed (Jones, 1972).
John O’Connor was appointed as the first chairman of the commission and with Oswald Barnett becoming a part-time commissioner. The Housing Commission of Victoria initial mandate was to improve the existing buildings and at the same provide better housing for the poor (Shaw and Davey 1960). To achieve excellence, the commission started by organizing for an architectural design contest that won by TW Fowler design. The design was for the construction of Fishermans Bend estate in Port Melbourne. The Fishermans Bend estate development was intended to meet the immediate housing needs within South Melbourne and Port Melbourne, where many families, large and small, resided in shoddy conditions - some of whom resided in beach shanties. The completed development of Fishermans Bend estate comprised a total of 374 homes and housed more than 100 children (Powell, 1991).
As such, the whole idea behind the commission was to provide the poor with homes so that they could be evacuated from the slum areas and improve their living condition. Many more people living in Melbourne slum areas and especially within its first suburb- Fitzroy were provided with housing by the Housing Commission of Victoria continuous efforts to meet its goal during and after the end of second war. Of great importance in these developments was the acquisition of land to construct the various developments. Some of such lands acquired were for the construction of northern suburbs – Northcote, Brunswick, Coburg, and as well Preston (Hofmeister, 1988).
Another probable issue in these developments, as proposed by the Housing Commission of Victoria, could be issues to do with design. For effective and efficient construction that meets the need of the population, planning was a paramount aspect to consider. As such, there was need of involving the relevant professional to aid a smooth progress. In fact, the commission depicted its seriousness to meet its goal by organizing the initial architectural contest to select the best design. This was a clear indication that the commission would achieve it its intended goals and objectives.
List of References
Beed, C. S., 1981. Melbourne's development & planning. Melbourne, Clewara Press.
Birch, T., 2004. ‘These children been born in an abyss’: slum photography in a Melbourne suburb. Australian Historical Studies (123), 1-15.
Hofmeister, B., 1988. Australia and its urban centres. Berlin u.a, Borntraeger.
Jones, M. A., 1972. Housing and poverty in Australia. Melbourne, Univ. Pr.
Lewis, M., 1995. Melbourne: the city's history and development. [Melbourne], City of Melbourne.
MELBOURNE UNIVERSITY HISTORICAL SOCIETY., 1961. Melbourne historical journal. [Parkville, Australia], Melbourne University Historical Society.
POWELL, J. M., 1991. An historical geography of modern Australia: the restive fringe. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Shaw, G., & Davey, J. H., 1960). Report on slum reclamation. Melbourne, Housing Commission, Victoria.
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