When I first got an invite to like a page called “Labyrinth Alchemy”, I was intrigued for several reasons. First, its description lists it as a project to “uncover stories hidden in plain sight” and secondly, I had previously met one of the project team members, Chris, who does some really cool things especially in the realm of community development around Melbourne. I was keen to find out more and when I saw the call for testers to trial the project platform, I immediately responded in the affirmative.
A couple of texts later, we were set to meet and was told we would be visiting locations around Melbourne’s CBD for the trial.
First stop: the State Library of Victoria. I must confess that other than the time spent studying here, bringing guests from overseas to tour the place, catching Pokemon out at the entrance and attending rallies, I have spent very little time exploring and getting to know the place. There are a few statues littered around the gardens out the front but I never made a concious effort to look at them other than in passing.
My first task was to gaze upon the statue of Saint George and the Dragon as I read a short text describing the statue and then look at the statue of Joan of Arc on my right. The first fact that struck me as important was that Saint George was born to a Palestinian mother, a shift from the eurocentric stereotypes of the Saints that I had. The second misconception I had, that was quickly broken, was that Joan of Arc was fighting against “non-white ethnic outsiders” when in fact, she was fighting against the English. At this point, I realised how much mainstream media portrayal of Western figures and stereotypes have pervaded my own experiences of history. The text prompted me: should Australians identify as being British or do they want to be free of the British? No easy answer here.
What makes a monster? That was the theme of my trial (not by combat of course). Saint George and the monster dragon? Joan of Arc who was burnt at the stake for accusations of being a monstrous witch?
My next stop was a statue of a gumnut baby riding a lizard hiding on the side of the Saint George statue. I was told that the story depicts the lizard as the hero and humans as “bad as bad”. It prompts the question, how do we frame who monsters are?
The final stop was the Bunyip statue hiding on the other side of the Joan of Arc statue. The story is told that this Bunyip had traveled far and wide and has been told that it was ugly and horrible and the particular statue depicts it as it begins its journey back home, failing to find a new identity.
What makes a monster? The notion of “othering” kept appearing in my head. I decided that my journey around the State Library gardens represented somewhat the constant “othering” that pervades the politics of this country. The statues tell me that in trying to establish the self, a monster is created or chosen as a negative benchmark. We are who we are not. But what happens to these so-called monsters? The dragon is eternally immortalised as being slain. Joan of Arc is now a saint. The lizard’s exploits can never be as fascinating as the Gumnut that rides it and the Bunyip would forever just be heading home a monster.
It is not difficult to see a recurring pattern in Australia’s history: collective groups of people who are depicted as “monsters” in the grand narrative of colonialisation. The Indigenous, Irish, migrants from Europe, Asians, migrants from Africa, Muslims and many more. Does that mean when the identity of the “monster” is established and has served its purpose as the “other”, they are ready to be immortalised as Saints? When can we find our identity, one that is crafted from the beauty of our differences rather than grounded on the ugliness of the other? When can we stop pointing fingers at the “monster” that the politicians have branded “boat people”, or does it only stop when they are forcefully personified as the Bunyip and forced to take a journey home just because people have accused it of being ugly and horrible?
The Labyrinth Alchemy project has gotten me intrigued. Peeling open layers of reflections in familiar spaces I thought I knew. How many more stories are out there? Around us? I can’t wait to find out more when the project launches. Till then, if you’d like to get involved in a city hack, you can search up “Labryrinth Alchemy” on Facebook.