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From hotbeds of depravity to hidden treasures: The narrative evolution of Melbourne’s laneways

journal contribution
posted on 2019-04-01, 00:00 authored by Meg MundellMeg Mundell
Places are both sustained and shaped by the stories we tell about them. In turn, stories of place are influenced by cultural, political, and socioeconomic forces. A form of ‘unplanned’ urban architecture, over almost two centuries Melbourne’s inner-city laneways have been inscribed with multiple layers of narrative. This paper tracks the unfolding tensions around these evolving urban spaces, from Melbourne’s founding up
until the present day. Drawing upon site visits, theorists of place, narrative and memory, and analysis of select historical and contemporary texts, the articles explores how the uses of Melbourne’s back lanes have changed over time, and how these changes have been both reflected in, and influenced by, narratives of place. From their genesis as makeshift service
lanes, to their early reputation as sites of moral disorder; from shanty towns to celebrated tourist destinations; from public health risks to sites of urban renewal and cultural memorialisation – the transformation of these atmospheric passageways illustrates the fluid and contested nature of place, and its intrinsic yet unstable relationship with narrative. In
considering how narrative has been deployed to stake or negate claims to the laneways, the article traces the role and impact of various actors: government, social reformers, slum residents, novelists, journalists and media outlets, business interests, street artists, and people experiencing homelessness. Melbourne’s inner-urban back lanes emerge as liminal
sites where questions of spatial exclusion, cultural capital, and belonging are navigated in complex and shifting ways.



TEXT: The Journal of Writing and Writing Practice




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C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

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