Ann Pettifor

The drama that is Sydney: architectural elegance, violence and flying marsupials

Victoria St is now a prosperous, gentrified suburb of Sydney. But ’twas not always so. In the 1970s an enormous struggle took place to protect it from developers – one led by trade unionists in the building workers union, and that resulted in the disappearance (and alleged kidnapping and murder) of activist resident journalist Juanita Nielsen.

On Saturday we wandered around the Sydney’s vast winding harbour and explored the city’s often violent working class history among the docks. One iconic site is ‘the Hungry Mile’ where in the 1930s half-starved ‘wharfies’ would walk up and down the harbour wall, begging, mostly unsuccessfully, for paid work on ships.

We visited the now very trendy ‘Rocks’ where one of Australia’s elected ‘National Treasures’ – Jack Mundey – a Communist, built an alliance with middle class campaigners to defend and protect Sydney’s heritage. The fight there was led by the Builders and Labourers Union of Australia, which imposed ‘Green Bans’ on properties designated for demolition.


These ‘Green Bans’ authorised building workers to ignore developers, and stop demolition work on Sydney’s beautiful Victorian and Edwardian properties. Thanks to these working class men and women, Sydney has the gift of a wonderful architectural heritage – seldom seen in tourist promotion material. Along Victoria Street the campaign was particularly violent, and not always successful, as the image below, with its high-rise block intruding behind – testifies.

The block behind these old houses was intended to be higher, and to occupy all of Victoria St.

Time for a “Green Bans” campaign in Britain, led by unions?

Wow! What a continent. I have had to eat humble pie and swallow some lazy assumptions about the ‘lucky country’ and its people. It is vast. It is beautiful. The trees stopped me in my tracks – wherever I looked – and are used as a colour theme in Canberra’s impressive Parliament building, designed by Italian architect Romaldo Giurgola. 

A fig (?) tree in Sydney's "Domain", with homeless person
The entrance to the Australian Parliament, Canberra, with pillars reflecting the colours of the ubiquitous Eucalyptus, or "Gum Tree".

The birds are noisy, big and colourful. And one night a flying marsupial screeched overhead in inner-city Sydney, as we made our way to a restaurant. It was a ‘flying fox’ – the Pterepus.



7 thoughts on “The drama that is Sydney: architectural elegance, violence and flying marsupials”

  1. Re Mervy King’s claim a few weeks ago that allocating credit is fiscal (which you were concerned about) he made a similar statement in this Telegraph interview:…-but-people-have-the-right-to-be-angry.html

    See para starting “Bank pushed out money…”

    He seems to say that credit allocation which is not biased in any particular direction is monetary. In contrast, if a central bank allocates credit selectively, e.g. to particular firms or sectors of the economy, that is “political” or “fiscal”.

    I think “semi-fiscal” would be a better term.

  2. Small correction Ann. Flying foxes are placentals, not marsupials. There are some gliding marsupials though, and just as cute.

  3. Thanks Ann – some really valuable insights given in that interview – was just wondering, given Australia’s incredible reliance on China now versus the end of the last century, if you have any views on 1. the issues facing their financial structure and in turn, and 2. how their integration with developed and emerging markets will ultimately play out in light of the issues affecting Euro/US financial structures? Possibly too broad a question I know…

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