What if
Melbourne had a bi-lingual belt?

In Melbourne, we like to tell ourselves we live in a diverse and multicultural city.  Most of us are familiar with the experience of stepping into the main street of an ethnic suburb lined with shop signs in different languages.    You hear music and chatter in different dialects.  You smell distinctive flavours in the air.  If you are not fluent in the local language, you become a migrant of sorts, always scanning the environment for clues. 

Who speaks your language? Where are you welcome? Where can you find what you need? 

New migrants often find themselves occupying shifting worlds. Mutating and adapting both themselves and their environment to create something useful and something to call home.  Melbourne’s migrant suburbs are scattered across the metropolitan area. The new Suburban Rail Loop project that is scheduled to begin tunnelling 2022 will thread 15 suburban train stations at the edge of the metropolitan fringe, many of them are our most vital ethnic communities.  Box Hill, Glen Waverley , Doncaster, Sunshine and Werribee, are all established centres for the Chinese Vietnamese and Indian communities.  Middle eastern communities have also grown around the north and western arm of this orbit. 

For the domestic tourist, the experience of these cultures tends to be neatly compartmentalised as the exotic dining and shopping experience, with backdrops of varying authenticity. You are not required decipher any language or codes. What if we conceive of the 90km underground loop as Bilingual Belt; a hyper-connected and amplified version of what exists on the surface. 

What if we adopt the imagination and nimbleness of our migrant suburbs to redefine the commuter experience; where multiple languages and cultures are made hyper-visible.  Riding the Bilingual Belt would be an extraordinary ritual practice where place names, urban history, and cultural significance are all recited in multiple languages, and made visible in the rituals of mass transit. The Bilingual Belt marks unstable territory, coursing beneath the surface like a cultural Hadron Collider. 

Vicky Lam