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Skating over Bali bombing remembrance

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Lincoln Square Bali memorial CarltonSix years ago the fountain at Lincoln Square in the inner Melbourne suburb of Carlton was transformed into a memorial for the victims of the 2002 Bali bombings. Two hundred and two stars shine from a granite slab set among 91 water jets representing each Australian life lost; 22 Victorian names are inscribed on the side.

The same area was once a hub for skateboarders. Today, many still come to practice leaping onto the ledge and gliding along on their back wheels, past the 22 names. Office workers eat lunch from Tupperware containers in the sun. The ancient trees rustle overhead. Students walk from their serviced apartments down to the university. Couples canoodle on the grass, trams rattle past, parking inspectors amble by.

These are the vicissitudes of remembrance. At the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin young children regularly clamber over the sombre grey pillars. A sign on the door of a nearby Donut King reads 'Please do not eat donuts on the Holocaust Memorial'. By contrast, current Pentagon staffers are encouraged during their lunchbreak to sit atop the commemorative benches of the National 9/11 Memorial in Washington. '

It seems fitting that a monument to peoples' lives be filled with life.

Are we capable of holding two ideas in our head at the same time? Is it possible to respectfully skateboard over a memorial to the Bali bombings? Is ongoing deference compatible with an active engagement with place?

I asked a friend who has been skateboarding in Melbourne for over ten years. 'Every skater knows which areas get the most security,' he says. 'We'd probably skate the Shrine of Remembrance if we could.'

But I ask what would happen if someone were laying a wreath at Lincoln Square. Would he still skate the memorial? 'Even though it's a rebellious culture,' he replies, 'I don't know anyone who would skate on the memorial if they could see that someone was paying their respects.'

Arfa Kalok, who holds a Masters of Public Art from RMIT, has argued that Lincoln Square bears two contrasting personalities — one contemplative, the other cheerful. She defines a successful public space as one which 'brings so much meaning to the society', and says that in this sense Lincoln Square has prevailed.

She calls it a 'people place', where anyone can go to feel 'a sense of community'. The City of Melbourne claimed the site was chosen for its water, sunshine, brightness and proximity to young people at the university.

Anyone can visit Lincoln Square, but only our intimate selves are privy to what we see reflected in that fountain. Some have remarked that the difficulty in making the area public is that we relinquish control over its use. The Berlin Holocaust Memorial was treated with an anti-graffiti coating, though this did not stop five swastikas being sprayed during its first year.

The difference is that the skateboarders at Lincoln Square do not exist in opposition to the Bali memorial, but in unison with it. They use it, interact with it on a daily basis. Who are we to say what thoughts it brings about in them? They are surely more likely to encounter the victims of Bali than many of us.

On the other hand, a different kind of trespass may be taking place. The French philosopher Pierre Nora famously wrote that 'Memory is blind to all but the group it binds ... History, on the other hand, belongs to everyone and no-one.' Perhaps this is part of the tension played out as what was a personal tragedy for some becomes for most a chance to mull over how our world has changed in the decade since 9/11 and Bali.

Nora continues, 'Memory takes root in the concrete, in spaces, gestures, images and objects; history binds itself strictly to the temporal continuities, to progressions and to relations between things. Memory is absolute, while history can only conceive the relative.'

Today public and private — history and memory — will intersect. On Lincoln Square the fountain will recede as it does every year, and become a reflection pool. Just for a day, hopefully the skateboarders will too. 


Vince ChadwickVince Chadwick is a Melbourne writer on the editorial team of rightnow.org.au, a human rights website. Follow him on Twitter

Topic tags: Vince Chadwick, 9/11, September 11, Bali bombing



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Skateboarders have rights too

Steven Harris | 05 July 2013  

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