Carte de visite: William Bardwell, photographer – Alfred William Howitt, William Barak and unidentified man — Art Blart

REPOSTED April 2016 Caution: Art Blart advises that the subject of this posting may include images and names of deceased people that may cause distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

../This carte de visit (below) was offered for sale recently and went for a large sum of money. I have never seen this photograph […]

via Carte de visite: William Bardwell, photographer – Alfred William Howitt, William Barak and unidentified man — Art Blart

I thought this post by Marcus at Art Blart was truly worthy of reposting.

My children sat around the table at dinner tonight lamenting their woeful knowledge of Australian History. Since my childhood, teaching Australian history still starts with ‘Captain Cook’ and then goes on a jolly trip through white man’s misadventure in a strange landscape. (Of course I’m sure – I hope – that’s not the case everywhere.)

If I was Minister of Education everyone in Australia would have to see the wonderful play Coranderrk: We Will Show The Country which is a literal reading from the Minutes of Evidence of the Parliamentary Inquiry into the further dispossession of the people who successfully farmed and managed Coranderrk Station at Healesville under the unique leadership of William Barak (centre below.)


William Barak’s extraordinary life is a testament to where the teaching of our history should at least start – we can walk back from there to the tsunami of western colonisation when 1.2million immigrants displaced peoples living on country as they and their forebears had done for thousands of years (Christine Hansen, 2015). We can then walk forward to today to look at the more recent history and consider the current distress of incarceration of indigenous Australians at appalling levels.(The Age editorial April 2016)

Writing about the unveiling of the new William Barak building at the top of Swanston St last year in the Conversation last year Christine Hansen points to the rather uncomfortable symbolism. I was looking forward to seeing this building being revealed and writing about this major new addition to our ever growing sky-scape. I anticipated from the early images (as had Groton when they spruiked the ambition of the project) that the building would be a noble counter to the Shrine of Remembrance at the southern axis of the city with the memorial to our war dead facing back to William Barak as a point of remembrance for all those indigenous Australians who also never lived to realise their full potential as leaders and knowledge givers.

Unfortunately the William Barak building has to look out from behind the shoulder of the recent RMIT Building. While I still think both are great buildings in concept – I now wish the architects of Messrs Ashton Raggat McDougall (ARM) could have got together with Mr Godsell et al and sorted this one out perhaps – dare I say it – with some consultation with the indigenous elders of Victoria. There is no great avenue or approach, no civil reverence to what could be a significant landmark and the fact that the RMIT Design Hub Building is at least supposed to engage with urban design seems to hit a point of irony here.


The use of Barak’s image on the facade of the building unveiled in 2015 may be a backhanded recognition – writes Christine Hansen — photo by Peter Bennetts


However soon both buildings may be over shadowed by a truly monstrous tower block. Singapore developer Chip Eng Seng sold the vacant development site adjacent to the Barak Building for $64.8 million in 2015, obscenely earning double the price they paid to Grocon for the site just two years ago which probably sent their agents Trent and Bryson (those are their real first names..) into an apoplexy of partying on the commission.

The plans for a 72- storey, 1,035 apartments, multi-storey mixed use high rise development called (exotically) 8 Bouverie Street are no doubt still in hand and if you would like to see something taller-er, shinier-er and even more ‘liveable’ you can click here.
If you also want to learn how the repetition of avarice over the the sensibilities of and reverence for the meaning of land and country pervade our society try reading Wilmot on Grocon.

CUB site before redevelopment 2015.png

While the players in the development of the old Carlton and United Breweries site (seen above when the brewery was mostly demolished but the rest of the land was yet to be developed) were no doubt genuine in their intended mark of respect to Barak overall it’s a token gesture. There is nothing in the overall development that appears to pays any acknowledgement to the country which Barak and his family and community had to forsake in the face of an insurmountable quest for land and wealth by the growing number of colonists.


The country being reshaped into what has become Melbourne. Barak would have known this land thoroughly as he was around 14 years of age at this time.

I’m sure the owners of the 530 luxury apartments, who can now look out through Barak’s eyes, will fail to take much note of the indigenous landscape in their ‘magisterial gaze’ over the city. Certainly we have failed to see the country of the Yarra through Barak’s eyes and it will be a long time before we see a man of Barak’s vision and values lead again.


2 thoughts on “Carte de visite: William Bardwell, photographer – Alfred William Howitt, William Barak and unidentified man — Art Blart

    • Hi Maureen – it’s a sadly repeated story. More and more I think how much richer our culture could be if only the European mindset could listen and learn and didn’t come at everything from a point of arrogant patriarchy. I was really glad to see a recent documentary by David Attenborough which emphasised the indigenous knowledge of the formation of the Great Barrier Reef. Ironically western science is only just working out and describing how this occurred despite the Reef being formed during the period of human habitation of the region. Its formation by sequential inundation of tidal waves is still told through ceremony and oral history in the region.

      Liked by 1 person

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