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
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!
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.
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.”
“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!”
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.