Provided by the Question Mark Collective as part of a forthcoming anthology on Australian Troublemakers to be published by Melbourne based Scam Publications.
During the 1970s the inner city areas of Carlton and Fitzroy played host to a series of social struggles. A coalition of older residents, politico's and trendies came together to fight against government and developer plans to destroy the area. Union green bans, occupations and protests saw a series of compulsory demolitions and evictions contested and in some cases defeated.
In 197? the state government announced its plan to demolish a number of residential homes to make way for the construction of the F-19 freeway. This decision further united locals in their fight against the state's undemocratic planning processes. In the next ? the anti-freeway struggle saw numerous demonstrations and actions culminate in the building of a brick wall and barricade across the proposed freeway site. Although this blockade was eventually broken and the freeway finished the protests did achieve victories wider afield with proposed extensions cancelled and planning processes reviewed. The following recollections of events are drawn from an interview with local resident Julie New.
I got involved in the campaign because of my desire for social justice. I was disgusted with the lack of government concern for locals and was also worried about the environment. Some of this awareness had come from what had happened around the Commission flats battles. The F-19 was going to knock down housing and cause pollution for those living nearby as well as increase traffic congestion in the area. I was shocked at the disempowerment.
I'd lived in London for a year before coming back and there had been disputes over similar things and the communities had fought against them. There wasn't just more awareness, but also more success against these things. I guess the delay of the F-19 and the actions against it were pretty reassuring because Australia was a pretty moribund place to come back to.
I first got involved by going down when they started the blockades. Other people we knew were involved and I wanted to get in to help stop it happening. I was basically just another body on the barricades. The various times we went down are jumbled together, but the overall impression is that it was terrific to see the way it all came together, the cooperation of all the people on the barricade. The feeling of enthusiasm was amazing. We were doing something and felt that there was something we could do to stop this happening. There was sometimes an air of militancy. There was a feeling of excitement whenever we heard the police were coming.
There was also a feeling of bon homie with the Country Roads Board guys who were building the thing. They would stand back at times and not go on with construction. There were good feelings with the workers, though of course not with the management.
The barricades were made of various things. There were a few cars turned over and mixed in with a jumble of things. As I remember it was fairly wide. When it went up there was a cry for people to bring down materials and once up it was fairly constant. A few times the police tried to break through and then it was built up again. When the police came there were scuffles, etc. In retrospect though I don't think the police were in it 100% because I guess if they really had wanted to they could have bowled right through.
Numbers fluctuated. Some times it was as low as 30 or 50. There was a roster of people and of course there was a hard core. At times there were hundreds and hundreds of people there. One time there were bands there, 3CR might have broadcasted from the site, it was a huge party. Whenever police were thought to be trying it on people would flood down from everywhere. This happened a few times before the final eviction.
There was a good mixture of people. A cross section of those who had lived there forever and the nouveau riche, the people who started the gentrification. It was really interesting to see that mix of people. It unified people. The spirit of people working together, even though they didn't know each other, was inspiring.
I wasn't there for the final eviction. As I recall it happened early in the morning and we went down afterwards to see what had happened. The feeling was one of being empty, that the campaign had been lost. Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, of desolation. People did realise that they had won something though. At that time the Australian Independence Movement (AIM) was happening and they were certainly looking to the future. There wasn't this feeling of people just saying 'Well that's it' and just giving up. But it was harrowing and it was an incidence of the government marching through what the people wanted.
AIM was an ongoing thing that involved a lot of local people. It was based around independence, against imperialism, for Eureka, that sort of thing. (It was) a Maoist group, but not a really narrow version of that. If it had been I wouldn't have been involved in it. The goal was for Australia to be Australia and to get rid of capitalism. I remember meetings of up to 300 or 400 people and there were chapters across Australia. I was in it for three or four years till it wound down. I wasn't actively involved, just a member and going to events. There were a lot of cultural events, street theatre around raising political awareness, newsletters, etc. There was both educational and political activity. There were the militant elements within it as well as a few thugs. AIM were involved in just about every demonstration and political issue that was going at the time.
One of the demonstrations I most remember was against Macdonalds' building a restaurant on one of the historical sites of the Eureka Uprising. There were alot of MacDonalds around at that time and the symbolism of them building on this Eureka site was so blatant. I didn't go, but it was organised around Carlton and lots of people went from here. I think it was the first anti-MacDonalds action in Australia.
The next time I experienced anything like the F-19 protest was during the fight over the Fitzroy Pool. I was involved as one of the numbers going along to protests. It was in 1993 when the commissioners first came to replace the elected councils. It was just diabolical that these commissioners were going to close the local pool because they felt it wasn't making any money. There was no consultation and as a result there was a huge groundswell of outrage. The core people organising it did extremely well and once again there was the support across the whole spectrum of the community.
There was a huge rally at the Fitzroy football ground with 3000 to 4000 people. There were two or three smaller rallies and then a huge march down Brunswick Street which culminated with an occupation of the pool. The pool was emptied and we filled it with people. The local kids were involved too and tied yellow ribbons everywhere saying "Don't close our pool". And we won. The commissioners had wanted to raze it and build a service station, but they had really bodgied their figures to make the pool look uneconomic. When that came out they realised they had no hope of beating us.