‘Not Dead Yet’
by Timmah Ball


The architect enters the room
Wearing a black velvet blazer
Crisp white shirt, skinny leg jeans
A caricature – oozing ‘starchitect’ cool
He’s won the tender
To design an Aboriginal health centre
He’s saving our lives
One commission at a time
He promises community engagement
Indigenous design through collaborative consultation
Hand in hand
We’ll Reconcile
Treaty unsigned
Another scrap in the pile

The meeting starts
MacBook Airs charged, iPhones on silent
His portable projector
Boldly animates the wall
With technical drawings, gum leaves and
kangaroo paw
His young assistant smiles with eyes that beguile
Their knees uncomfortably close
And a suffocating power clenches the room
His presentation ends with a photo
A black hand holding a white hand
Cos it’s all okay
Nothing ever happened here they say

Mob gently start to share their stories
But the loudest voices are white
The complexity of colonisation erased
Although a white council officer knowledgeably explains
That the design should reflect the river
White voices drown out community who sit silently by the end
I guess they speak better than we ever can

The ‘starchitect’ leaves smugly
Muttering how he likes to explore Australia’s
deep cultural dimension
Another project to boast about
Bringing cred and status to his illustrious career
The health centres vital
But no one can guarantee
There’ll be free services
For those in need

Back in the office
I sit at my desk
On the thirty-fifth floor my window
Lingers on the William Barak building
An Aboriginal leader
Designed by a white man
Gazes down Swanston Street

Moving through the city
Other identities thrive
On the periphery:
Street art by Lisa Kennedy
On an old post-box in Bourke Street
A torn Gary Foley poster
Clinging to the railway’s underpass

Fierce, fighting, alive
Denied a spot in the public eye
And I wonder if
A living black face
Could ever exist
On a thirty-one-storey building

Cos whose land is it anyway?
A bunch of white academics from RMIT proclaim
Another urban planning conference on the way
Colonial property rights will be erased
Alternative living, squats and co-housing
Yarning circles and lemon myrtle flavours
The new themes of our progressive left-wing
white saviours

Anti-eviction and anti-gentrification
We need to reorganise our neo-liberal
property relations
Squats for the rich and a high-interest mortgage for the poor
Just before they decolonise us all