Leave our Gaybourhood alone!: Won’t somebody think of the children?

Leave our Gaybourhood alone!: Won’t somebody think of the children?
Image: Cambridge Street Reserve in Collingwood. Supplied by Lucy Nicholas

By Associate Professor Lucy Nicholas and Dr Sal Clark

A park makeover and extension in the gaybourhood of Collingwood, a stone’s throw from The Peel and Wet on Wellington, is causing friction and has brought out some troublesome sentiments from members of the Collingwood community.

As part of Yarra Council’s aim to create more open space in Collingwood, Cambridge Street Reserve was expanded across the road, the road was reduced, and a consultation was carried out to inform the design of the space. The consult found that:

“A majority of respondents told us they use Cambridge Street to relax, rest and read … In spite of the existing playground taking up a large proportion of the park, play was ranked as the second lowest reason respondents use the park.”

Therefore, the council pledged to “Develop a sympathetic design which reflects the identity and diversity of Collingwood. This includes the Aboriginal history of the area, the industrial character, and the LGBTQI+ community.” Additionally, respondents discussed accessibility issues such as social anxiety, including a “family member [who] needs some outdoor peace and quiet but also to feel safe.”

While the original plan included nature and sculptural play equipment, in response to 5 people in the second consult, a swing was added to the design.

Equipment and swings at Cambridge Street Reserve. Photo supplied by Lucy Nicholas

Following the re-opening of the park, a media outrage broke out, instigated by a small number of parents, describing the space as ‘Melbourne’s most depressing park’ on Channel 9 and elsewhere and lobbying to replace the open green space with dedicated play equipment for young children. As a result of ongoing pressure like this, the council has proposed four possible ways to extend play equipment and launched a consult to choose the preferred design.

Response To Park Changes

Many in the neighbourhood, including myself, are really disappointed to see this turn of events and have observed that the small number of people who support the revision are utilising heteronormative discourses that re-centre heteronuclear families as the default in society and marginalise queer people. Residents who have spoken against the revision of the green space at council or at consults in the park have been framed as “against mothers” and anti children.

Those who came to oppose the change of putting more playground equipment over green space and in close proximity to homes – including vulnerable childfree people in low-income housing – were told by one campaigning mother that they could “move to the suburbs” if they don’t like noise and made baseless comparisons to long-established gay nightclub The Peel.

Campaigners may not be explicitly homophobic but yelling this at a gay man who has lived in Collingwood for 29 years shows a deep ignorance about history of gaybourhoods and the experiences of queer people. Queer people move to places like Collingwood as they are safe havens from the deeply homophobic contexts we grew up in.

Protestors are implying that the small number of surrounding households with children (most recent figures have this at 2% [ABS]) have more need and entitlement to public space than other people. These kinds of heteronormative narratives have long been used against marginalised people, and in this case are silencing the needs and voices of the diverse residents who have queer family, pets as family, mental health access needs, or choose to be child free.

The rest of the world revolves around middle-class white hetero families. It is shocking that people would move to a diverse neighbourhood and be so outraged at people having different priorities or opinions to them and try to make it like everywhere else.

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3 responses to “Leave our Gaybourhood alone!: Won’t somebody think of the children?”

  1. I’m reminded of Senator Heffernan’s comments in 2007 when he referred to Julia Gillard as being ‘deliberately barren.’. Amongst my group of childless friends it has become a badge of honour. Of course we need people to have children but their distorted sense of entitlement in this neighbourhood should not have been a factor for the City of Yarra to revise the design of this lovely little park. I do hope we are not heading down a US-style pathway where the vocal views of a minority of residents who have chosen to live in a ‘gaybourhood’ can have a disproportionate influence on council decision making.

  2. The park was initially designed to reflect this express desire for open green space.

    Why is it a problem to extend and change the non-traditional playground in Cambridge Street Park?? Here’s why.

    When visiting the park, the vast majority of users are single people or couples, on morning walks, enjoying breaks from work, walking dogs or just laying in the sun. The demographic of the area, and high-density housing is for single and couple units, (average household size in Collingwood at 2021 was 1.86) for whom green space is rare and valuable, and is being well used at the moment.

    Designated children’s playgrounds with traditional play equipment are, by design, exclusive areas for children, and only adults directly attending to those children. Single adults or childless couples are not welcome to ‘loiter’ or rest in the area. No single male- of which there are many in the area- will be welcome to rest in the area if a child is present.

    Recent concerning example of trends to control who can enter playground area is here.

    Traditional playground equipment is also unsuitable for any adult to use when children are not present. As the park is now, the non-age specific, non-traditional play equipment can be used by all ages.

    People walking dogs are also not welcome in designated playground areas when children are present as the safety and comfort of children takes precedence in this area. ‘My child is frightened of dogs’ or ‘Your dog is peeing on the play equipment’ is a common complaint that will send resident dog walkers away from the area. At the moment, the non-traditional play area makes no demarcation between play and relaxing area. It should be kept this way.

    Traditional children’s play equipment is only suitable for limited age groups and only for a very limited time. Within a couple years, a five year old need different play equipment, and a few years after, will wish there was open green space to play with friends. Ironically, that child’s carer will no longer be welcome in the designated playground area anymore, once the child has grown.
    In a small inner-city park, the available green space must be held for the enjoyment of the majority of residents.
    There is nothing stopping children enjoying the play equipment as it is at the moment, and it is being used.

    The concept and design for the Cambridge Street Park was to reflect a nostalgia for the ‘aussie’ back yard with the only play equipment being the Hills Hoist. That nostalgia also extends to an inventive sense of play and invention, and the ability to have adventure on non-traditional play equipment.

    It would be a mistake to extend the designated playground area with traditional equipment into green spaces at Cambridge Park as it would limit the enjoyment and freedom of the vast majority of residents, and aid few for very limited time. It is being well used by adults and children in the current design and should continue to be enjoyed by all.

  3. The park design is breathtakingly ugly – a two million dollar scandal. Why do councils hate trees.