Celebration Dreaming at Charcoal Lane

Yarra City Council received a grant through the Department of Justice and Regulation’s Graffiti Prevention Grants program to commission a Victorian Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander artist to create a meaningful and inspiring artwork across the entire eastern wall of the Charcoal Lane building at 136 Gertrude Street, to focus on Aboriginal identity and culture in Fitzroy and highlight the history and significance of Gertrude Street, the building and the area for the Aboriginal community.

Following a rigorous selection process Gunnai / Waradgerie man Robert Young’s artwork was selected for commission. Designed by Robert Young, the mural was painted with fellow street artists Heesco and Mike Maka in 2017.

The artwork fosters a welcoming environment for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. It will educate audiences, promote inclusion, incite conversation and contribute to the creative capital of this locale, welcoming visitors to the area and to the establishment.  

The Celebration Dreaming mural: highlights the importance of Fitzroy and surrounding areas for the Aboriginal community; celebrates the rich Aboriginal history of the area (exemplified in songs by Archie Roach); provides an opportunity for people to connect or reconnect with Aboriginal culture and history; acknowledges the significance of the building for the Aboriginal community; activates the space and inspires dialog and education around the significance of Gertrude Street and this building for the Aboriginal community; highlights the important role the restaurant plays in providing guidance, support and opportunities to young Aboriginal people; assists in improving the amenity of the building and enlivens the streetscape whilst counteracting graffiti at the site; and importantly the mural fosters a welcoming environment for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities and celebrates the area’s current cultural diversity.

Robert’s design pays tribute to the past; including the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service’s critical long-standing service to community that continues today and it highlights the important role that the restaurant plays now in providing guidance, support and opportunities to young Aboriginal people.  His artwork also looks to the future and the generations to come. Bunjil the eagle is acknowledged by the Wurundjeri Tribe as a creator spirit. In the mural Bunjil is depicted watching over the past, present and future generations of Aboriginal people in this area and in this building. Current students at the Charcoal Lane program also contributed their handprints to the artwork to symbolise their part in creating the future. For young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Charcoal Lane students, this mural is an important recognition of their history. 

Robert Young explained that his artwork was inspired by his family’s long-reaching history in the area.

“My great, great grandparents were the first Aboriginal people to live on Gertrude Street in Fitzroy, setting up the first church for local Aboriginal people in their home. My grandfather and grandmother created one of the first Aboriginal legal services in Australia here in Fitzroy. And my Mum worked as a dental nurse on the dental bus run by the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service which was originally based where Charcoal Lane is now.” 

Image: Celebration Dreaming mural at Charcoal Lane by Robert Young with Mike Maka and Heesco, 2017. Photo by Bernie Phelan