Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Signs of Life

Some members of Marrickville council want to make English language signage on our shops compulsory. Dean blogged about a similar thing in Campsie earlier this year. Apparently, "at the end of the day, we live in Australia". Um, yes. And we live here with all sorts of people. Some of them - shock - don't speak or read English. As readers of this blog know, I LOVE the signs along Illawarra & Marrickville Roads. I don't feel in the least alienated by them, even though all I really understand is a bit of the Greek. And that's not because I'm of Greek heritage, but because I grew up in Melbourne's Northcote, which in the 1970s was full of first generation Greeks and Italians. Macellerias, Orthodox churches, Bombonieres & Greek signage were all part of my landscape and part of my cultural education... along with getting drunk at my friend Angela's 13th birthday party on her dad's home grown wine, and learning to keep away from boys who called girls "putta" or "poutana".

I popped down to have a look at the Chinese video store singled out by the Mayor, Morris Hanna. On the way I passed a Tongan/Vietnamese Church, a Vietnamese Grocer, a Vietnamese Chemist, a Greek butcher, a Fijian mini-mart, a Greek Patisserie, a Chinese herbalist and two Lebanese delis. I noted that all of them already had English signs alongside alongside their native language signs (in the case of the Chinese herbalist who can treat "anal fissure" I'd probably have preferred not to have the translation). It was very clear what each shop was.

Approaching the video store I saw that a new sign had been hastily manufactured out of pasted-on sheets of A4 paper saying, surprise, "Chinese Video Rental". How Mayor Hanna couldn't tell what this shop was before is a mystery to me. There was a crew from Chinese PayTV there, interviewing the owner, Ms Li. The journalist happily translated my questions. I asked Ms Li why she'd put up the new English sign. She replied that she knew her shop had been in the paper and is scared of getting into trouble with the council.

I've also noticed in the past few weeks that street posters all over Marrickville are being whited-out. Is there a council conspiracy to make our streets as bland as possible?


Anonymous said...

The same thing is happening on the other side of the tracks AKA Stanmore. I have been wondering (hoping) that the white out is a left of field art piece. Unfortunately my common sense and lack of faith in our mayor tells me otherwise. After all, he did win the mayoral election by having his name drawn out of a hat. Hmph.

Really enjoying your blog, by the way. Thanks!

Meredith Jones said...

It would have to be a pretty determined and persistent artist to be doing all of that. The only good thing is that, I suppose, somebody is being employed to paste up the whiteouts.

Dean said...

What a great post! Love the photos. You really get to the bottom of the issue when you way that "shock, horror" some people don't speak English. When my paternal grandfather came to Australia from Mozambique in 1924, he also didn't speak the language. And his son eventually ended up buying a house in Vaucluse.

You just never know.

Dorian said...

Those white rectangles are just crying out for some good stencil art.

Oz said...

My favourite line is from Today Tonight and their editorialised beat up of the entire story.

This is happening around the country with English speaking Australians feel like outsiders in their own suburbs

Signs in non-English languages. It could be your suburb next.

Kristian said...


I've been reading your blog for a few weeks now :) It's inspired my parnter and I to more deeply explore our (relatively... going on 2 years now) new home suburb of Marrickville. In fact we were also wondering what was with the white paper on posters thing. I noticed that on the wall at Sydenham station only Casey Chambers was left untouched. Therefore I propose it is some kind of Casey Chambers marketing conspiracy :)

As for the Chinese video shop. The hysteria! I mean, it's Chinese writing, with Chinese movie posters and the inside of the store is lined with videos and DVD's. What else would it be??! Argh!

Meredith Jones said...

Hi Kristian,
I'm so glad the blog is helping you enjoy Marrickville. I noticed a nice variation on the white-out posters - on the railway bridge on Livingstone Rd they're hot pink! Cute.

thao said...

Hello Meredith. I'm a student from UTS and I'm working on a story in relation to this topic for one of my subjects - Online Journalism.

I've noticed some great photos you've posted up and I would like to ask you for permission to link to them in my story. I took a few the other night but they didn't turn out too swell because my camera's flash isn't too great.

My email is if you want to contact me there.

Thanks in advance!

Angela said...

What makes me laugh (or cry, I don't know) is the fact that of all shops to pick, Morris Hanna thought he'd go for a Chinese video store... how many non-Chinese speakers require the services of a Chinese video store?

Jarrett said...

At the height of Quebec-separatist zealotry leading up to the 1995 referendum, Quebec passed laws requiring that business signage be in French and only French. Even today, all businesses in Ottawa have signs in both languages, but if you take a short walk across the river to Gatineau, Quebec, most signs are French-only.

It was a counterproductive measure, now withdrawn, that only helped alienate Quebec's Anglophones, and may have contributed to the defeat of separatism at the referendum.

English is not nearly as threatened in Australia as French is in Quebec, but there will always be the illusion that we can somehow pull ourselves together by attacking an Other.