Underfoot is a series of virtual audio tours by Liz Crash and Jinghua Qian uncovering the secret histories of Footscray.

Two old friends, both long-time Footscray residents, bring an intimate lens to local history as we travel through the archives looking for people like us: queers, migrants, radicals and artists. Blending our own stories with glimpses of the past, these snack-sized audio journeys allow listeners to explore familiar streets with fresh ears — without leaving their homes.

Underfoot is produced on, and is about, stolen land. We pay our respect to the true owners of this land, the people of the Kulin nation, and their elders past and present. We extend solidarity to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in their struggle for justice.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers and listeners should be aware that Underfoot contains names and photographs of people who have died.

Track 1 – Foreign Gods

From the train, you see a goddess. She’s not who you think she is. Here’s a meandering story of faith, fear, diaspora, and solidarity.

Track 2 – Swamp, Meat, Salt

A river chokes on blood, fish choke on water, and a town chokes on resentment. Welcome to Stinkopolis, Worst Smellbourne, for a story about industry, water, and class war.

Track 3 – Labour in Vain

Wander through central Footscray with us while we chat about settler nativism, anti-Chinese campaigns, arts and gentrification, and the grotesque fantasy of a white Australia.

Track 4 – Vice Hole

Under cover of darkness, queers, Christians, drinkers, firefighters, Communists, MPs, and Chinese laundry workers spar over who’s a worker, and who’s a threat. The battleground for solidarity is right here, underfoot.

Each track comes with a map, transcript, photos, references and further reading. You can also download the map with all four tracks here and stream the audio on Soundcloud or via Anchor (Spotify, Google Podcasts, and more).

This project was supported by Maribyrnong City Council’s Rapid Relief Fund.

Five questions with Liz and Jinghua

I love Maribyrnong because…

Jinghua: It has the best sunsets and most of my friends are here.

Liz: Like me! I’ve lived here my whole life, and I can’t imagine who I’d be without this industrial riverside landscape. 

When did you know you wanted to pursue a creative career?

Jinghua: I’ve always wanted to write, or rather I never wanted to stop writing, so I’ve tried to enable that in various ways but whether it’s sustainable as a career is still a question mark I reckon. The financial and emotional instability is rough, though I appreciate how it’s made me quite expert at being rejected.

Liz: I see myself as primarily an educator; to put it another way, I’m constantly trying to figure out how to get other people as interested as I am in whatever new rabbit hole of research I’ve gone down. When you’re trying to fascinate people, what you’re talking about is narrative, storytelling, arts. I don’t see a firm separation between the arts and other fields. 

What do you do to work through creative blocks?

Jinghua: I go outside or try writing my thoughts as texts or tweets instead. 

Liz: Research. Get something new into your brain. 

Do you have a home away from home in Maribyrnong (café, park, venue)?

Jinghua: When I’m not at home, I’m usually at the river or Afghan Master Kebab. 

Liz: The Footscray library. When I was very small the library moved from its previous location on Buckley Street to its current location on Paisley Street. I cried for days, convinced it was further from our house. It wasn’t until my mum and I walked to both locations and back, counting our steps, that I realised the Paisley Street library was actually closer! Sorry Mum. 

What is your first memory of experiencing the arts (performance, making or seeing art)?

Jinghua: I remember learning a well-known Li Bai poem in kindergarten and asking my mum about the funny words. The memory is fuzzy but I know I had this distinct sense of epiphany that words weren’t just instrumental, they could be their own thing with a shape and texture. Recently my grandmother found my kindergarten homework book from when I was four with all the poems we were taught to recite, that was pretty special.

Liz: My neighbour growing up was an artist working in industrial materials like wire and piping. My dad is a plumber professionally, and an artist non-professionally; I was always encouraged to try my own creative experiments with the offcuts of wood and pipe and wire lying around the yard. I still see arts and industry as intertwined, just different forms of making and shaping. 

Jinghua Qian and Liz Crash at the Maribyrnong River.

Press for Underfoot

Print/online: Underfoot: history from belowOverland, No. 241, Summer 2020, Jinghua Qian and Liz Crash.

Radio: Sense of Place: Jinghua Qian and Liz Crash, FootscrayBlueprint, ABC Radio National, 10 October 2020, presented by Jonathan Green with producer Lisa Divissi.

Radio: Liz Crash and Jinghua Qian on UnderfootTuesday Breakfast, 3CR, 22 September 2020, presented by Genevieve Siggins and the Tuesday Breakfast team.

Print: There’s great stories underfootMaribyrnong and Hobson’s Bay Star Weekly, 8 July 2020, p 10, by Benjamin Millar. Also online on 12 August 2020.

Print: My Place, Maribyrnong and Hobson’s Bay Star Weekly, 27 January 2021, p 11, by Goya Dmytryshchak. As below.

Photo: Joe Mastrolanni for Star Weekly.