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.
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.
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.