Six Walks Episode Four: Idil Ali on the Carlton Housing Estate Transcript

Introduction by Annika Kristensen, Senior Curator, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art

Six Walks is a series of audio walking tours, commissioned by the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), and released in the lead-up to the forthcoming exhibition and research project Who’s Afraid of Public Space?, opening in the summer of 2021–22. Continuing ACCA’s series of Big Picture exhibitions, Who’s Afraid of Public Space? explores the role of public culture, the contested nature of public space, and the character and composition of public life itself, engaging with contemporary art and cultural practices to consider critical ideas as to what constitutes public culture and to ask, and who might it be for?

Six Walks continues a rich history of artists, writers and thinkers engaging with, describing and depicting the various pleasures of walking, This program began as an invitation to six Melbourne-based writers to develop a narrative response to an area of the city that held a particular interest to them either personally or professionally, socially or culturally. These Six Walks were largely written while under strict COVID-related lockdowns – at a time when walking was one of few freedoms afforded to those of us in Melbourne. The series release has been timed to coincide the easing of these restrictions, allowing for expanded horizons and encouraging a renewed interest in our surrounding natural and urban environments and to the narratives, knowledge and histories latent within them. Across Six Walks writers Idil Ali, Timmah Ball, Tony Birch, Sophie Cunningham, Eleanor Jackson and Christos Tsiolkas take us from the Birraung to Royal Park, from regal cinemas to abandoned military defence force bases, tracing desire lines as much as designated paths. They tackle concerns from public housing to motherhood, colonisation, migration, gentrification, restoration, surveillance, resilience, leisure and pleasure. In following their words, walking becomes a form not only of art and literature, but of thinking, observing, research, remembering, poetry, protest, mapping and making. What is revealed is a complex portrait of Melbourne as a city that is constructed from diverse, diverging and overlapping cultural, social, political, economic and historical paths.

Idil Ali on the Carlton Housing Estate

Before we begin our journey I’d like to acknowledge that we will be walking on stolen Wurundjeri Land. I’d like to pay respects to Wurundjeri Elders past present all the young Elders emerging.

I recognise their continued protection of language, culture, land and people from ongoing colonisation. Sovereignty has never been ceded and treaties have not been signed.

Having been raised in a community of black people who’ve been housed by the government on land where black people were forcibly historically through missionaries and in current times through gentrification. I recognise my privilege in being a settler and extend my solidarity. This always has been and will always be Wurundjeri Land.

I’m Idil Ali, I’m a youth practitioner, writer, performer, moderator and today I’ll be taking you through time and space. I’ll be sharing memories buried underneath the new Carlton.

I can’t fully do justice the complexity of our community’s history but I will give you my perspective whilst maintaining communities privacy and the things that are simply just for us.

Shout out to all my OG Carlton people listening. I just want to warn y’all I didn’t realise how hard it would be to talk about all the changes until I started to put this together. This might feel heavy.

510 Lygon Street Carlton

We’ll begin our journey at 510 Lygon Street Carlton.

510 is centre of Carlton as I know it. The building with the most families, and kids. The best building to go nick nocking and play the lift game.

The lift game was pioneered by me and my friends as kids. Years later I’ve been caught on the same floor for over 5mins with the sound of foot steps running away and muffled laughter around the corner.

The lift game has a code of ethics. You don’t hold up a full crowded lift, ones with babies in them, if anyone is holding something that looks heavy, elderly folk or anyone else that holding the lift might be upsetting rather than just annoying.

Looking at the 3 windows across from the lift you can see who’s inside in the reflection to decide if this is the lift you’re going to hold up.

If you’re a more seasoned group you can plant someone pretending they’re waiting for their parent before catching the lift and they give signals to the group.

Full bladder or not I make for an ideal victim of the game and I couldn’t help but find it hilarious that I was deemed a grown up enough not to know what the lift game is.

The same way you can’t nick nock too late unless it was summer when you knew everyone would still be up. There were rules.

It’s hectic to think about in retrospect. We’d knick knock on a drug dealers house knowing he’d chase us and only stopped once we noticed his girlfriend was pregnant and they had baby on the way.

That was my favourite thing growing up in 510, it was chaotic fun but with some solid morals.

 510 with its 12 floors 3 sides and 4 units on each side (except for mezzanine that has 2 less sides) was my first home on this continent. We’ll be on the other side of 510 later on our journey.

Lygon Street

We’ll make our way towards the intersection of Lygon Street and Elgin. Moving in the direction of the city. On your left is 480. Department of Housing’s office is under that building and so is the community space most of the kids here went to Dugsi.

I wont say much about Islamic classes except that it never without fail happens 3 times a week (except Ramadan) and the experiences bonded us for life. Wait actually one thing. I don’t know if people remember when we used to bluetooth to send each other songs but I use get all the latest T-Pain and Akon tracks in Dugsi. I’m not going to name any names but there was one person in particular who use to hook us all up.

To the non-Muslims listening for context Dugsi is the absolute last place you should be getting smack that bluetoothed to you from your friend.

Intersection Café

At the intersection, cross the street towards Shell Coles Express.

On the right of you is the Intersection Café.

The Intersection Café has to be one of the most consistent parts of Carlton. I have no doubt that new owners have tried to change it but rumour has it the Thursday after 5pm half price pizza remains a staple because of customer pressure.


Brunetti used to be Borders. I don’t know if people remember Borders but for me and so many of my friends the bean bags and the distracted staff meant we could read books whenever we wanted. Most people didn’t care if you were going to eventually pay for the book as long as you weren’t disrupting other people reading. They had a café in the bookshop. You could get a hot chocolate and fall into fantasy books for hours. I use to think of Borders as the place you couldn’t take the books home. The place where you could read the books that Yarra Library on Rathdowne St hadn’t gotten yet. It was the spot for the new releases in series.

I suppose that played a part in why they went bankrupt.


Moving towards Woolworths you can either walk down the escalator or take the elevator, which is located past the grocer on your left, before you get the bathroom.

Woolworths was originally Safeway.

It’s remained largely the same, the way big chain supermarkets do except there’s barely any staff from the community were previously I’d see 2-3 people I knew working every time I went.

And where the security use to roam around the whole of Lygon court now there’s security stationed at the door of the Woolworths.

I don’t know if their induction includes racism or if that’s to the discretion of the individual security guards, BUT there’s nothing like watching 5 people walk out right in front of you only to be stopped and asked to open your bag.

Personally, I tell them they’re not checking my bag unless they run after those other people and check theirs. But as I grow older I notice there’s a special type of harassment reserved for young black people; that people in authority take advantage of children and teenagers who have been met with principle’s offices whenever they’ve advocated for themselves. When teachers were more upset and angry by being called racist than the racism itself. Young people are humiliated after being taught that the shame is much milder than the repercussions they’ll face if they kick up a fuss.

So really no surprise when I saw the new camera built into self-check out and I asked my family friend how long it’s been there. She said she didn’t know but the first time she used it a staff member came up to her and said ‘Look, you’re being recorded,’ with the sickly sweet smile so many of us know too well.

I’ll never age out of being black, but with age comes the knowledge that saying ‘If you’re just doing your job then why didn’t you check those people’s bags? Honestly I’ll show you bag right after you get the manager and I speak to them.’ It means the young people watching me might do the same, but also knowing that the cops might be called if they do.

Old Police Station

Walking along Drummond Street towards Elgin Street you’ll see an old massive building to the left of you. Carlton Police Station used to be there and Allhamdulilah now it’s not.

We tried to find out if the building was for sale a few years ago. We were hoping we could advocate for it being turned into a youth space of course after Quran saraees, a smoking ceremony and anything else that would clear it out.

Apparently it’s privately owned. So any of you listening are rich, call your rich friends put a good word in for us. We’re open to philanthropy with no strings attached. Let us know.

Carlton Primary School

Before you cross Elgin Street toward Palmerston stop and take a deep breathe through your nose. Do you smell that?

Imagine spending the whole day in your house in the middle of summer. Thick curtains down to the floor and a front door that you could only open if you are being sent to the store.

The sun sets, and after praying you hear people down stairs. You take a step out of your house and close the door behind you as not to let the still warm outside air in. You see your friends at the park.

You yell out to them that you’re coming in 5 and to wait up.

You ask Hooyo if you can go outside and have 3 dollars for a slushie and candy from the petrol station. She tell you – you need to be back where she can see you from the window in less than 15 minutes. You run down the stairs skipping the 3 last steps the whole way down and tell your friends HURRY UP. You’re all relived to be outside after hot homes that aren’t permitted by DHHS to install air-conditioning. You’re breathing deep as you jayway walk across Elgin St. The air is thick with the smell of eucalyptus trees. And you’re hoping that the slushie machine is working b/c 15 minutes isn’t enough time to sneak to 7/11.

Palmerston Street (palm trees on Palmerston)

If you look in front of you you’ll see palm trees on Palmerston. Don’t let the size fool you, they were brought and put in the ground that big.

Walking along Palmerston to your right you’ll see the new entrance of Carlton Primary School.

In front of you is the undercover basketball court, the outdoor bathrooms and the massive field to the back. The Inside is even better. The 3 floors are made up of a centre for early childhood, massive meeting spaces, an office area for services and plenty of room of learning. Basically it’s real flash now. Which is a completely different story to how it was when I went there. It’s not just the exterior that’s changed. The school it’s self focuses on the wellbeing of the kids as well as their learning.

It’s not punitive anymore and you might wonder how punitive a primary school could be. Trust me, very. But I’ll leave that there.

Something we had that these little ones will never know nothing about is the Sorghum Sisters. Pre-construction Carlton Primary School had a massive industrial kitchen that was used for the breakfast program until about 2005 when it was discontinued. The kitchen wasn’t used for a few years until a group of East African women started to use it to cook, before long they’d started a catering company and on Tuesday and Thursday you could put in a lunch order with them. Forgotten were the chips and bigMs of the milk bar orders. We were living lavishly on bolognaise, fresh veggies with the best hummus and tzatsiki and zaatar bread still warm.

They’ve moved to a space under one of the Kensington building since then and their food is still just as delicious as I remember.  

I also loved the multipurpose room. It was used for after school program and homework help, were volunteers helped primary to high school aged youths with their homework. It was the best when you were partnered with one of your friend’s older siblings and they could tell you old stories about your current teachers if you finished you’d homework quickly enough that is.

Like I said this is the new entrance. If you make your way back toward the palm trees and turn into the path between the car park and grass you’ll see a brick building. A ramp leading into the school.

When I was in early primary school I’d run up the ramp to make it just in time for class. If I left the house when I heard the school bell, I could be in class within the minute. This went on until grade 5-6 when I was made responsible for 2 neighbour kids making it to school on time.

It’s bittersweet. That Carlton Primary School is finally what we deserved and the first thing we are told is it’s not only for us. That the entrance facing the estate makes people think it’s for kids that live in the buildings.

And that is true. Carlton Primary isn’t only for us it never was only for us. It’s always been open to other kids. It’s just that their parents decided they didn’t want their kids to be in a school with refugee African Muslim children. And I wont lie it was great to not experience discrimination from your peers and to have a untied front against facility that over stepped.

We dealt with enough every interschool sport and athletics day.

I went to high school with a few Asian kids who couldn’t say ‘Hi’ to us in front of their parents on the estate but at school would explain that their parents wanted better education for them and that just wouldn’t happen if they went to school with children who’s parents didn’t speak English. Apparently it was fine at an affluent public school where we wouldn’t be so concentrated. There they could befriend us. 

There were also a few African parents who were willing to pay thousands of dollars in tuition at private Islamic or Catholic schools.

Some of them so that their children will be able about to learn about their faith, others because they too internalised the belief that their kids wouldn’t do well in a school were most of the kids were black.

There is an element of truth to this belief and it isn’t in the facts that there was newly arrived kids that needed more support or most parents weren’t able to help their children with English homework. Sometimes the teachers just didn’t think we were smart enough and the low aspirations for black students were even more intense in high school. Thankfully for us, our parents commitment to education kept many of us afloat. Sometimes that wasn’t enough.


If your standing please feel free to find a comfortable spot on the grass or the concrete stage as I tell you about UNDERGROUND.

Underground is what we named our youth drop in space. Underground was the place you could go for anything. You could repair your bike, fix up your resume, make something to eat, some of us even learnt to make a canoe. There was after school programs 4days a week, holiday excursions and if you were in high school that was your second home. It was a small space underneath the old entrance of Carlton Primary School, but we made it fit all of us.

I wasn’t 12 yet when I started attending programs, I was a tag along. Trailing after my older brother, I could stay because otherwise he’d have to look after me at home.

Majority of the staff were youth workers who were from the community, residence of the same buildings we lived in. My favourite youth worker lived two floors above me.

We had family camp every year. Imagine all your friends and their families going to a campsite for 2-3days. High rope, low ropes, giant swings, bush walks, skipping rope tournaments, girl vs boys soccer and mother vs daughter basketball games. All types of fun bonding activities and all types of serious conversations. We had sessions for anything from drug and alcohol use and addiction to gender roles and expectations. Some times it was young people with their parents and sometimes we were separate so we could talk about the pressures, concerns and environments we were in.

Conversations were led by the community wants and needs. And I don’t mean these consultations that ask a very specific set of questions with external facilitators that don’t have enough context to even know what and how to ask it. I mean youth workers collected what they’d been hearing, observing and experiencing all year around and took the time to come up with community led responses.

 Leading up to the camps each staff were compiling topics, talking to community members and finding guest facilitators where appropriate.

Personally there hasn’t been any thing even close to the feeling of family camp. I’d share an experience and unexpectedly someone younger than me would share a similar experience. Someone older would explain why they thought it happened and before we knew and we could ask one another how it felt. Someone would dismiss an experience as not that bad and someone else will pull them up telling them some things are worse but nothing is not as bad. It was not only validating it was fortifying. You couldn’t tell me nothing after 3 days kicking it with my extended family.

More than anything family camp was to connect us all to each other and remind us, it’s us verses the problem that none of us are the problem. That we shouldn’t scapegoat each other when we are criminalised by the media and targeted by the police.

Most of the parents spoke 2 or more languages before English. The budget was next to nothing and the aim was that as many families as possible could come.

So the costs were agreed upon collectively and no one was turned away for lack of funds. Henna, Bunn, facilitation and translations were offered up by parents.

My aunty who’s fluent in Arabic, Somali and compassion co-facilitated conversations so that our families could converse across languages. A few parents who weren’t fluent but knew bits in pieces figured it out Somali’s who spoke Arabic too. Oromo parents who grew up speaking Somali, Eritreans who can swap between Tigrinya and Arabic and us young ones switching between English and our mother tongue. We made a lot out of a little.

The only reason family camp could be this in depth was the staff. Their introduction to the community wasn’t through a role and their commitment wasn’t limited to one either. Every bit of development of them was an investment into us because they remain part of this community. It didn’t end when their contracts.

They also had more at stake. And moved as such.

I remember when parent would bring up concerns about drug users using the stairways to shoot up and low key stealing our clothes from the laundry.

The anger of seeing someone else in YOUR clothes is unparalleled. Confidently walking through your neighbourhood in your clothes. The audacity. But I remember staff talking with our parents about possible responses. How calling the police puts people in danger so what else could we do.

Community members landed on syringe disposals at the bottom of every stairs, signs reminding people to lock the laundry and drug and alcohol training for community members.

Year later I’ve seen experienced social workers heighten the fear of community members and market security and police as appropriate safety measures for just about everything.

Working in the not for profit industry for over 5 years I know behind closed doors service providers assume that our community members aren’t capable of understand the complexity of addiction.

 In those moments I’m like who’s going to tell them Somalia was a socialist state with free primary education and universal health care before the civil war due to history of divisive colonisation and the middling of American imperialism? 

Like babes we’ve had 3 colonisers at the same time only 60years ago. Some of my friends have parents older than our freedom. Our community understands complexity. Were are living it and the last thing we need is our parents being taught to criminalise drug addiction.

During my childhood The Y was responsible for delivering youth programs in Carlton. Underground, holiday program, homework club and family camps. 

Staff would joke that the Y was YMCAs forgotten child. That they were often left to their own devices.

Drummond Street took over the tender from YMCA in my adolescence.

For those of you who don’t know what a tender is look I feel you I only know b/c I became a youth worker down the track. Basically Carlton is part of City of Melbourne so they’re responsible for the services here. Also other things like parks, permits etc…

Our bordering councils Yarra so Fitzroy, Collingwood Richmond etc… and Moonee Ponds so Flem, Ascotvale and some other places with more money. Basically other councils run the youth services as a branch of their services, the staff are council staff.

City of Melbourne, instead of having a team for youth services, has organisations apply to be the service providers in their area. Drummond Street applied, got it and were made responsible for youth services in Carlton.

Up until then, none of us had heard of Drummond Street Services and, although we didn’t particularly care about YMCA as a whole, we cared about the staff and had no interest in changing that. So naturally we protested. Funnily, I didn’t even know what City of Melbourne was exactly but I felt like they were meddling in our business. 

I didn’t realise it was literally their business.

For my young self I didn’t know what services changing meant. Drummond Street committed to keeping after school and holiday programs but family camp was cut immediately. It was costly and they had no idea what it meant to Carlton. They didn’t know kids from other neighbourhoods who had family in Carlton would stay over in the holidays just to come to family camp.

I often wonder if the youth service provider was changed at that particular time to destabilise us. We were united, vocal and responding collectively to our needs.

 I don’t think even Drummond Street could’ve known how Carlton would change over the next few years. We lost the Underground space first. Carlton Primary School would be remodelled and early childhood would be where we were.

They closed the parks next, which is wild right. How do you close a park? During Covid you can see how. Put massive fences around it except they started construction. Not only the parks, but the whole surrounding area.

There was nowhere to sit or play between Palmerston and the other side of Drummond. From Lygon street to Rathdowne. No grass area, no basketball court even the milk bar was snatched up, which I had mixed feelings about.

510 and 140/478 Buildings

During the construction period dust in our eyes every day b/c surprise surprise the middle of two high rise building is a wind tunnel, but worse still there was a proposal to continue Drummond Street right through 510 and what was then 140 Neill Street now 478 Drummond Street. Obviously the proposal was ridiculous and was shutdown quick fast. The thought of cars going through the estate where the kids play and the adults meet…

Realistically, I think they knew people would most definitely throw things out their windows at the passing cars if they put a road through our backyard.

I wonder how much stupid and dangerous things we’d endure if we stayed quiet.

What felt like forever but was probably about two years until we got Neill Street Reserve but the damage was done. The culture of summer nights at the park and intergenerational games of 44home and cops and robbers was done.

44 home tree

I actually haven’t seen anyone play 44home since they cut down the 44home tree.

You see the path that comes from the top of Lygon Street, though the grass area towards the futsal field and basketball court. You notice how on one side the grass in lush and the other it’s barely holding it’s self together. We’ll that lush side is City of Melbourne Property and the barely surviving is DHHS’s.

Do you see the tree closest to 510 staircase. Not these new trees. An established one. Right next to her use to an identical tree. The tree that was there one morning and gone when we returned from school that afternoon. That was the 44home tree. Every kid who lived in Carlton or spent a summer staying with their cousins or grandma knew that when someone yelled 44home that the last person to touch that tree was it. When we played cops and robbers, which I know is a problematic game. But also did so much in the way of establishing that none of us wanted to be cops. There was a table with benches on either side you could sit and talk shit when you were caught and were waiting to be freed or waiting for the next round. There was always a phone on the table bumping something and if were luck someone had speakers that they were allowed to bring down.

I don’t know how these games would be played now, there are fewer places to hide.

The hill that exists between the park and primary school’s been flattened. The fence is way too high to jump safely. You need a pass to enter the building now so no climbing the stairs the running through the floors, and so many of the trees and bushes are gone. I guess kids always find a way but childhood games are taught inter-generationally and the bond to some extend has been severed.

Basketball court and Futsal Field 

Moving towards the basketball court and futsal field I have to say they really did some things here.

The basketball court was so cracked and uneven and sometimes there was only one ring. And we never had a futsal field. Who would’ve thought.

The amount of photos we took with the palm trees in the background STUNTING on other neighbourhoods. We were messy for a minute there. Ouu we got pulled right out of our fantasy. People in coloured sashes with whistles and score sheets came.

There was a group on Sunday that played bike polo. Am I the only one who didn’t know about bike polo?

For months people we’ve never seen in our lives told us they had bookings for the court or field. That we too could make a booking if wanted to use the space. Can you imagine? Someone directing you to Carlton Baths: ‘It’s across the street about 100 meters away you can’t miss it.’ As if some of us can’t see it from our living room window.

Thankfully they eventually got rid of the booking system. I assume they got too many complaints.

Apparently you need a full court for bicycle polo and we were only letting up half court, so…

Following the path back walking between the buildings you’ll notice a park. Several community members spoke out about building a park between the buildings. That the shadow 510 casts wouldn’t allow kids to get much needed sun and the wind between the building would make them sick but they did what they wanted. The park near the school with the swings is closer to where our previous main park was.

Something I find people think about less about because we took it for granted was the L shaped benches that use to be right under 510. There are benches there facing the park but there’s an assumption that those seats are for parents or older siblings watching kids play. The previous benches always had elderly folk and aunties chit-chatting away.

I didn’t mention the elderly building right next to 510 earlier. Honestly it’s often an afterthought because the residents are so removed from us. On the one hand I think it’s great that they have benches right under their building for access and the elderly exercise park is mad cute, but we don’t connect anymore. Growing up, elderly folk whose grown up children rarely visit could send us to the store for them. There was a process. They’d give you money and you’d buy what they asked for and you’d always get a receipt and count out the change when you were putting it in their hand. Often it was small things: sauce, a cool drink, noodles, some onions. No one taught you that’s what you had to do but you watched kids older than you do it that way and as you grow up your realise that community processed are created out of necessity. That there are people more than willing to take advantage of an elderly Italian woman and the community standard doesn’t allow that. It was also nice to see elderly folk across communities having their little bonding moments over feeding pigeons that they weren’t meant to. I wont lie I’m so glad those pigeons are gone. You’d get mobbed every time you bought bread.

Not to get too sentimental, but there were these massive eucalyptus trees between the two buildings. There were benches side by side between them. It was a prime spot to hang. You could see everything that was happening. Who was going where and doing what but far enough away you could share secrets and not worry about anyone eavesdropping. Only catch was the trees hid you from your parents up above so sometimes you’d hear your name being yelled out and you’d have to walk out from under the trees and wave up -showing you were where you said you’d be.

The building 478 Drummond Street use to be 140 Neill Street. The milk bar became a bookable community space under the building and there’s now a Nigerian restaurant. The owners are so sweet, they always give my grandma free tea and their food is delicious.

Same building, same spot. So you’d think it wouldn’t make sense that it would be in a different school zone. That year when Carlton Primary School grade 6s applied for University High School the students from 478 Drummond Street were denied entry.

The same children whose older sibling and neighbours were students were denied entry on a technicality. Could be innocent enough, a system error but that’s harder to believe when Carlton Primary School’s principal and parents of kids had to convince the school that it was the same building so it has to still be in the zone. Not surprising with the school’s history of pushing out VCE age African boys regardless of how they were doing academically, because of the assumption they eventually wouldn’t score as high.        

The same building. The same bullshit.


If you look at the bottom of the buildings you can see cameras and lights. Notice how most of them face the pathway. I’ve seen more people then I can count eyes flicker to those cameras as they walk through.

I’ll put it bluntly. There was a time when white people rarely walked between these two buildings. They’d take Rathdowne or Lygon and honestly I use to prefer that to the gawking that happened when people sometime did walk through and were surprised to see us. People who looked unsure if they should turn around or power through.

A few years before the cameras and floodlights were introduced the passes and intercoms came. It was in response to community’s concerns about safety. That people were coming into the neighbourhood to buy, and that they were a risk to residents.

I can’t tell you a single community meeting that I’ve attended where safety wasn’t a concern. However this time DHHS had a solution.

Every exit was locked from the outside including the main entrance. You could exit freely but you needed a pass to come in.

I remember visiting Collingwood when I was younger and making fun of the kids my age for living in a place that people were required to sign in coming in and out of the building if they didn’t live there. We use to joke in Carlton about it being some prison shit the way the security sat at the bottom of the building. Children can be trash.

Our passes were assigned by the department of housing. Except they decided that there was a limit per a household. So, for example my mom had a pass but even though she was at work when I came from school I had to wait until someone let me into the building. During the busier part of the days people were coming in and out…which when you think about it doesn’t stop anyone who wants to enter the building from coming in OR you can call a friend’s house on the intercom and they can let you in. The real iffy thing about the pass is when it’s late and no one’s entering or leaving the building. No one’s home, it’s too late to call your friend’s house and you’re stuck outside.     

No lie the number of addicts I’ve seen break the security door, when no one answered the intercom is wild. Bless their hearts the door wouldn’t be fixed for weeks and we could move in and out freely.

The thing is if you lose your pass you can go to the DHHS office at 480 and let them know what unit you live in and they can cancel your pass. Which logically means they have a system that tracks each and every pass and we’ve never had a conversation about that.

Walking toward Princess Street you should see cars parks on either side of Drummond Street. Right near 478 there’s a no parking sign, it only became a no parking spot in the last few years. Now the police can be found parked there several times a week.  

It was great the refurbishment of the units meant that air conditioning could finally be installed. The new layout of the units meant there wasn’t a door dividing the kitchen and living room but it was a reasonable compromise for new carpets and a separate bath and shower.  

Whilst the high-rise building were being refurbished the walk-ups were turned into private property. Before you reach the aged care building there’s a construction zone to the right of you. That’s where the walk-ups began. The area on the other side of 478 next to the car park there use to be a heap of grass and a second park. That was the teenage hang out area. Across from the milk bar, away from the main park. This park had smaller equipment so parent with toddler would still be nearby.

I lived in the walk-ups across the street from Carlton Baths so I’d linger at the teenager park, on my way to the main park, for as long as I could before I got sent away. Most of that area is still under construction. Except for the community garden.

They are much needed and appreciated additions. There are two community gardens. One is next to the car park and the other next to the elderly building. With limited plots only a few residents have space to garden.  


Walking towards 522 Drummond Street you’ll notice this flash age care building to the right of you.  Well there were more walk-ups here too. Along Drummond, and Rathdowne Street and across both were walk-ups. Walk-ups were about 4 floors high with only stairs. They had small laundry areas similar to the flats and if you lived there you know which ones you could get access to the roof.

If you’ve gotten to Reeves St

522 Drumond Street is right in front of you. If you want to do a loop around the block feel free to do so.

As soon as I moved into 522 I knew it wasn’t the same as the private apartment buildings around us. My Hooyo knocked on the plaster walls and joked that our new home was Ikea like. All the premade assembled pieces slotted into each other. They didn’t have the sturdiness 510 has but it had a whole lot more space.

When they decided to demolish the walk-ups and rebuild, at first residents thought it was promising. Everyone wanted the option of lifts and plenty of people needed it for access.

People who lived in the walk ups were offered Public housing out in the suburbs or the high-rises nearby. We chose to move back into 510. Hooyo was working at YMCA and we were at Carlton Primary School and Princess Hill Secondary. They said first priority was to people who lived in the walk-ups for over 10 years. Hooyo asked why there needed to be first priority if they were rebuilding the walk-ups for us to move back into. They said in terms of room preferences. After everyone had been relocated we learnt about the Mixed Housing Scheme. The premise being that if you mixed people who had different incomes it would improve everyone standard of living. If that was the intention and not for land developers to make a heap of money from inner city real estate, why didn’t we get the same type of housing? What of the people who’ve been on the government housing waiting list for over 10 years? Shouldn’t their standard of living be improved instead of privatising government housing?

One of my favourite parts of living in the walk-ups was this massive grass field we had between the buildings. Rarely anyone who didn’t live in the walk-ups knew about it. Most days I’d go down stairs with my books and my duck and relax where Hooyo could watch us from the kitchen window.

Our apartment in 522 faced Rathdowne Street but our family friends that lived across from us had a balcony that faced the private apartments. From their balcony you could see the private BBQ area reserved for the private residents in the very place the grass field use to be. The moment I saw that I thought about Neill Street Reserve and I had the overwhelming feeling it wasn’t for us. That day I spent walking around and thinking about what actually is for us. And the only thing I could land on confidently is, us. We are for us.

The privatising of public housing isn’t an issue limited to Carlton. You can see the rumbles of the North Melbourne walk-ups on the 402 bus route. 

Flemington walk-ups are empty. I haven’t been to Ascot Vale in a long time but I remember when they got a one year notice that all of their buildings would be demolished. People said they started with the Kensington, but I don’t remember how Kensington looked before.

Often when I think about Carlton I think about Palmerston to Princess, Lygon to Rathdowne. But our extended Carlton community is on Nicholson and Elgin. The walk-ups next to the red flats were privatised too.

YMCA- Carlton baths

Walking down Reeves Street, cross the street to Carlton Baths. This street is new by the way.

I lived on Rathdowne Street across the street from Carlton Baths.

There was a lifeguard who lived in 140 that worked there so it was easy to get permission to spend almost every day of summer at the pools. The drinking tap was located right next to the doors leading to the pools so you could pretend you were going for a drink of water and sneak in without paying. The pools were filled with people and every summer there was a pool party with a massive inflatable obstacle course and a slide. Most of the time a BBQ too.

All the local primary school kids played futsal in the stadium every Thursday afternoon.

Where the staff offices are now use to be bleachers where older sibling and parents could come to watch and below the bleachers were benches for subs. Not to brag but Carlton Primary school won every year. We had an A team and B teams and most years we’d play each other in the finals.

Ramadan soccer happened in the same stadium. One month a year every night after everyone has comes back from Tarweeh (Ramadan evening prayers) all the young men in the neighbourhood would go to Carlton Baths. The same people who ran underground, holiday program and family camp ran Ramadan soccer. It was originally for Carlton young men but was quickly extended to surrounded neighbourhoods. Our sleep schedules were strange because we were fasting all day, so often at night when we had energy young people would be outside hanging out in groups.

You know how that goes. Groups of black kids out late at night so someone is calling the police.

Ramadan soccer was about giving young people a safe place to go and be with each other. It extended to becoming a way to build deeper friendships across the neighbourhoods in response to some of the conflict.

But if you know the not-for-profit, it’s not surprising the police were allowed to come to Ramadan soccer the same way they came to family camp. All the same shit about building deeper connection between the police and communities. But we’ve had cops at our youth programs, religious gathering, camps, excursions etc. for years and what good has it done us?

The only outcome I’ve seen is it divides us and increases surveillance.

Makes young people decide not to attend program.

When you can’t be in public spaces without policing and then the police are invited into your spaces that were built in response to policing- well where the hell are you supposed to go?

Every Sunday night from 7pm was women’s night. The windows were covered up and all the Muslim women who were usually covered would be in active wear or bathers. We played soccer and basketball in the stadium with music bumping. We’d swim in the pool but the sauna and hot tub was reserved strictly for adults. Low key you can experience a little taste of the sauna if you pretend you were only in there to ask your mom for money. Maybe dip half a foot in the hot tub.

After Carlton Baths got their upgrade all of that was done. Here we thought we were getting a new and improved centre. Joke’s on us.

So many people advocated for Ramadan soccer, even some of the old YMCA staff but in the end it was only on the weekend and wouldn’t run past 9:30pm.

Since the initial refusals some good things have happened. Friday night jam, a soccer program run by Drummond Street services happens every Friday. We had the Carlton Pool Party last year and there’s been some good programming from some enthusiastic staff.

However It’s not lost on me that the most Yes’s come around tender time or when it’s time to apply for a grant. I guess it helps applications to show you engage local government housing community. But it is what it is and we try our best to get ours.

Lytton Street

If you go up Princess Street toward Lygon cross the street and walk towards the city until you get to the VicRoads. You should be on Lytton Street. The end of Lytton Street there’s one more public housing building, similar to 522 it was built after the privatising of the walk-ups. Some people said there use to be more walk up in this area but I don’t remember.

I want to end our journey by thanking you for coming along with me down memory lane. I want to thank all my Carlton family *speaks in Somali* who protected and raised me and to Wurundjeri people who’s land my community has found refuge in. Well as much refuge you can have in a colony.

Like I said when I began, I can’t fully do justice the complexity of our community’s shared history but here a glimpse of the little I can say. 

Everything we made ours was taken

We were told it was made better

The thing with an area becoming more aesthetically pleasing

Is that it’s difficult to enjoy

When you’re seen as a hindrance to aesthetic

And policed as such

But at least we got to stay

Not everyone was afforded the same

But when you settle on at least

All that will be left is to fade

Six Walks has been commissioned by the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art as part of the exhibition, Who’s Afraid of Public Space. For more information about the exhibition and to listen to other walks in this series, please visit ACCA’s website, ACCA acknowledges the support of Creative Victoria in the development of the Six Walks series.