As It Happens

Portrait of indigenous leader etched into 31-storey Melbourne building

The image of Wurundjeri elder William Barak printed into the apartment block's balconies is visible from kilometres away.
An newly-build apartment tower in Melbourne, Australia has the face of indigeneous leader William Barak etched into the balconies. (Courtesy Grocon)

If you're on Melbourne, Australia's main drag, you're going to come face-to-face with William Barak.

The gigantic likeness of the indigenous elder, artist and social justice advocate who died in 1903 now dominates the view. The apartment building project that bears his image was officially unveiled today.

"It's an incredibly powerful and, frankly, quite emotional sense when you look at it," says David Waldren, design manager of Grocon, the company that built the tower. "This man, who is such an important part of [the state of] Victoria, is back in a very big way as a visage looking over the city."

The 150303 Swanston Square building was once a brewery. Now it bears the likeness of indigenous leader William Barak. (Courtesy Grocon)

Barak was a leader of the Wurundjeri tribe when it signed a treaty with the white newcomers to the area. During his lifetime, the tribe's population plummeted dramatically. And eventually he moved them outside the city, where they still live.

Waldren tells As It Happens host Carol Off that the Wurundjeri approved of the plan to build a monument of sorts in honour of Barak.

The image was created by sculpting shapes into the white balconies of the building against the black wall behind, something Waldren says had never been done before.

The building bearing William Barak's likeness seen from the other end of Swanston Street in Melbourne from the Shrine of Remembrance WWI memorial. (Courtesy Grocon)

It is situated at the north end of Swanston Street, the city's main boulevard. At the other end is a WWI monument called the Shrine of Remembrance -- and that's where the Barak portrait is best seen.


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