Urbanisation is a fact of life in this country, particularly when you look at how many of us live in our cities compared to the vast expanses of rural land and wilderness that make up our nation. Cities, as I’ve already noted, force us into contact with each other, and where there’s contact, there’s friction. And cities also have their own traditions and feelings associated with them. As Cold Chisel put it in “Flame Trees”: ‘we share some history, this town and I, and I can’t stop that long-forgotten feeling…‘
Australia is a young land as far as the built environment goes, and so it’s only recently that we’ve faced the issue of whether to conserve or destroy the architecture that previous generations have left us. On the one side, conservation is expensive and poorly understood, not to mention getting in the way of vastly more profitable new developments. Destruction, on the other hand, isn’t so simple. The old Australian belief in terra nullius finds its modern expression here, as if demolishing an old building also demolished its history and the memories of all who ever went inside or even just walked past it.
It doesn’t work that way. People don’t work that way. We live, we love, we laugh, we work, we play, we cry, we fight, we drink and we die, and we do almost all of these things in the built environment almost all of the time. Even after death, we’re buried and memorials are built for us in cemetaries and such. The built environment is the physical environment in which we exist, the stage upon which our plays are acted, and we cannot help but invest it with emotional significance. It carries the weight of memory and sentiment – almost every step we take through the streets of our towns is down memory lane.
Ask any fan of a suburban AFL club how they feel about the abandonment of the suburban grounds, and almost all of them will tell you stories not just of their team’s home ground but of all the others. How much more so for the place where you got married, or met your love for the first time, graduated, got a job or a promotion, lived, walked your dog, and any of a million other activities, great and small, earth-shattering or trivial?
More than any other, “Don’t Tear It Down” is a plea to that environment, asking that it be saved and protected and cherished. Because as the natives of this land knew long before the white man ever got here, the land is our story.