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Dr Olivia Barr
University of Melbourne

On 26 January 1788 a flag was planted. Each year this day is mourned, celebrated, protested and debated. We know what happened and when, but where exactly was the flag planted, and why? I argue it is worth bending our vision to look around the apocalyptic freeze-frame moment of a flag planted with such iconic legal violence in 1788, and its misleading projections of legal finality, and notice the easily-overlooked backdrop: the body of water now known as the Tank Stream. The Tank Stream is a hidden river that runs invisibly beneath the Sydney CBD, flowing under George and Pitt Streets into Circular Quay, shaping the dipping contours of these streets. This short run of fresh water enticed the initial British settlement to its precise location, locating the ceremonial flag-planting, and used as drinking water for 40 years. Despite 18th century greenbelt legislation, the water was quickly polluted, pushed underground, then hyper-regulated. Praised before being corrupted, hidden before being mostly forgotten, this modest course of freshwater founded Australia. Despite its mistreatment, this water continues to run beneath the streets of Sydney today. Carrying a complex legal inheritance in its unseen liquid movements within Gadigal Country, this water continues to shape, haunt and recreate a city, as well as a nation. In this presentation, the question I ask is: How might we see, let alone face, such deeply held material, legal and national repression? And in a moment of endings, how might we do this right now?

Dr. Olivia Barr is a Senior Lecturer at Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne. She has worked as a government solicitor, in law reform, and for the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Olivia writes about the unsettled place of law in Australia by engaging with geography, history and contemporary public art practices. She is currently working on a book called What is a Legal Place? which follows on from her earlier book, A Jurisprudence of Movement: Common Law, Walking, Unsettling Place (Routledge 2016).

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