Swallow the Air

by

Tara June Winch

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Housing Projects Symbol Analysis

Housing Projects Symbol Icon

Much of the novel takes place in impoverished housing projects or “council estates”—apartment complexes that are funded and controlled in the government. May lives in a project whose name, Paradise Parade, seems blatantly ironic given its complete dereliction. A generation earlier, Mum grew up in an equally depressing project in Gouldburn. The novel makes clear that the choice to live in these projects isn’t voluntary but mandated by the government. May suspects that her beachfront neighborhood will soon be turned into expensive houses and the government will “move us mob out to the western suburbs.” In talking about her own childhood, Mum says that she and her mother were “sent to Gouldburn from the river.” The housing projects are part of a system in which the government pushes marginalized populations away from coveted land (like the beachfront) to less-desirable locations, depending on the needs and desires of its more valued citizens. This phenomenon is strongly reminiscent of the generations of forced relocation and displacement that Aboriginals endured under Anglo-Australian colonial rule; from their first arrival, settlers pushed Aboriginals away from arable land and bodies of water to dry and inhospitable land where, naturally, they had difficulty surviving. The housing projects symbolize the pattern of colonial rule; through them, the novel makes clear that the historical injustice doesn’t just exist in the past. In fact, its legacy stretches into the present, influencing the behavior of governments, contributing to the poverty and instability of Aboriginal communities, and informing the sense of rootlessness that May feels deeply, and which inspires her quest across Australia.

Housing Projects Quotes in Swallow the Air

The Swallow the Air quotes below all refer to the symbol of Housing Projects. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the University of Queensland Press edition of Swallow the Air published in 2006.
4. My Bleeding Palm Quotes

Paradise Parade, built over the old Paradise Abattoir, bore two long rows of housing commission flats, unregistered cars, busted prams and echoes of broken dreams, all crammed into our own special section of Woonona Beach. Paradise, ha!

Related Characters: May Gibson (speaker)
Related Symbols: Housing Projects
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

Soon they’d demolish all the fibro and move us mob out to the western suburbs. For now we were to be satisfied with the elitist postcode and our anonymity.

Related Characters: May Gibson (speaker)
Related Symbols: Housing Projects
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:
9. The Block Quotes

She told me about the history of Redfern, about the housing corporation stealing everyone’s money and homes, about how it used to be a real strong community. “And now,” she says shaking her head, “it’s the young fellas taking our money as well and the drugs stealing our community.”

Related Characters: May Gibson (speaker), Joyce / The Old Woman (speaker)
Related Symbols: Housing Projects
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

“May, you got people that you gotta find, things you gotta learn. You will learn them ere, but I don’t want you to. Luck at Justine, smack the only thing teachin her now!”

Related Characters: Joyce / The Old Woman (speaker), May Gibson, Justine
Related Symbols: Housing Projects
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:
20. Home Quotes

An excavator starts its smothering engine over the torrent of each barrel. Over the sun. Over the blue. And I wonder, if we stand here, if we stay, if they stop digging up Aunty’s backyard, stop digging up a mother’s memory, stop digging up our people, maybe then, we’ll all stop crying.

Related Characters: May Gibson (speaker), Aunty
Related Symbols: Housing Projects
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:
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Housing Projects Symbol Timeline in Swallow the Air

The timeline below shows where the symbol Housing Projects appears in Swallow the Air. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
3. Cloud Busting
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
In 1967, Mum lives with her own mother, Alice, in a dismal housing project. The rest of her siblings had been put into missions by then, but she stayed... (full context)
4. My Bleeding Palm
Displacement Theme Icon
May walks through their dilapidated public housing neighborhood, ironically called Paradise Parade. The neighborhood is near the water, but all the other beachfront... (full context)
5. Bushfire
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Near May’s apartment complex is an escarpment from which she can view all the surrounding landscape. When she was... (full context)
6. Leaving Paradise
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
From then on, whenever May walks through Paradise Parade or to the beach, she feels Billy’s absence acutely. She’s always been close with her... (full context)
17. Mission
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
...at the general store where to find her family, she’s told to go to the mission outside town and ask around, so she hitches a ride there. It’s incredibly hot and... (full context)
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
As she walks towards the mission, May feels increasingly less hopeful—all she thinks about is the possibility of getting a meal... (full context)
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
...she has a hard life because her husband and sons are all alcoholics. The entire mission is falling apart, according to Uncle, and only “bad spirits” remain here. He says that... (full context)
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Uncle tells May about the history of the mission. In 1947, the government built the mission and “shifted plenty of station blacks out ere.”... (full context)
18. Country
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...left home on foot looking for meaning. Thirty years later, she came back to the mission with several children in tow, one of whom was Mum. Just out of an abusive... (full context)
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
Clinging to her original purpose, May asks what it was like growing up in the mission and learning from the elders. Percy tells her that she’s just like her grandmother Alice,... (full context)
20. Home
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
When May arrives at her neighborhood the tide is coming in. She walks to the water and when she feels the... (full context)
Displacement Theme Icon
When May reaches her neighborhood, Paradise Parade is “warring”—many of the houses are in the process of being demolished, and... (full context)
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...blue” of the sky. May asks herself what will happen if they stay in the neighborhood, if the excavators stop “digging up Aunty’s backyard” and “digging up our people.” If that... (full context)