Waterfront and port zones around the world have long been subject to change, as they have variously been used for trade, waste disposal, leisure and most recently for urban re-imagining, spectacle and lifestyle housing. While such a narrative has been well explored in the urban studies literature, another element of port development – its relation to imperialism and colonisation has not. In the case of colonized countries – such as Australia, but also Canada, the United States and across Africa and Asia – waterfronts were often the entry points of imperial occupancy and key sites for colonial trade and industry. Contestation over how to value and use these sites is integral to their constitution as landscapes, as place taking becomes part of their place making. It will be argued, using case studies drawn from Adelaide and Melbourne in Australia that these sites register a range of culturally-specific imprints connected to the colonisation process. For Indigenous Australians, sea country was indistinguishable from land, but subsequent assessments have seen land demarcated from the ocean, water defiled and obliterated, slums designated but then redeveloped and the Indigenous present rendered benign through its symbolic re-presentation. This post-colonial reading will correlate the divide between land and water with those who have the imperial and class power to define this elemental boundary to add a new dimension to studies of waterfronts.
First published online 13 August 2012
Field of Research
160403 Social and Cultural Geography 160404 Urban and Regional Studies (excl Planning) 120507 Urban Analysis and Development