Squatting following the end of World War Two
Provided by the Question Mark Collective as part of a forthcoming anthology on Australian Troublemakers to be published by Melbourne based Scam Publications.
The years following the end of World War Two have often been portrayed as a time of harmony. Mainstream historians would have us believe that having once again achieved "peace" most Australians simply wanted to settle down and leave behind the chaos of the recent past. In reality the late 1940s were a time of much gender, class and social conflict. Attempts to send women back into the home, to reinforce moral orders broken by war conditions, to reintegrate psychologically damaged soldiers and to maintain the wartime industrial peace were widely challenged. Added to this were the raised expectations of ordinary Australians who, having just survived an economic depression and fought a war, now wanted to share in the peacetime dividends.
Conservative and Labor governments were largely able to contain this conflict through limited reforms and promises or through the creation of repressive communist and moral panics. Regardless of this there were still many challenges posed by grass roots action. One such challenge was in the area of shelter where a housing crisis urged communists and returned soldiers to begin seizing empty properties for accommodation.
These actions went to the heart of the concept of property in Australian society. They asserted the right of the homeless and the poor to a home over the needs of wealthy property owners for spare houses and holiday homes. Eventually the Labor government was forced to embark on major housing construction projects and to strengthen the Wartime Moratorium Regulations allowing for people to claim unused property on the basis of need.
Numerous actions took place across Australian during 1946 and whilst they never approached the scale of post war squatting in the UK (where 1000s of properties were taken) they certainly had a major effect. Often led by members of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) the actions flared up in May and by September had achieved most of their aims. The following chronology details a small number of them.
May 1946, Sydney.
Returned Service League (RSL) and Communist Party of Australia (CPA) members seize the "Marranah" mansion in Kings Cross turning it over to a number of families. A media flurry ensues taking the side of the squatters. After a concerted campaign by the families the local council is forced to recognise the occupiers as tenants and begin much needed repairs. Later in the year the residents telegraph their support to squatters in the UK.
May 6 1946, Sydney.
Four families with the assistance of the CPA, RSL, Legion of Ex Servicemen and the Commonwealth Association squat staff cottages adjoining a factory at St Mary's after the factory's manager rejects applications for legal occupation.
June 1946, Sydney.
A cottage in Caringbah, owned by a city businessman and used intermittently on weekends, is squatted by the Quirk family who number seven kids and a retired husband. Mrs Quirk had spotted the house after three weeks of searching for rentals. After squatting it she applies for tenancy under the War Moratorium Regulations, but fails in her application. Frustrated she decides to take matters into her own hands and supported by the CPA and Tenants Protection League squats another cottage in the area owned by the RAAF. Another six families are then assisted in squatting other RAAF cottages in the area. Despite losing their legal cases the families decide to stay.
June 1946, Melbourne.
Led by John Arrowsmith, the Box Hill CPA branch transfers a family from a cowshed to a house that had been deserted for three years. The owner expresses sympathy for the family and congratulates the CPA on the thorough job they had done in cleaning up the premises! She agrees to let the family stay until other premises are quickly found by an embarrassed Housing Minister.
June 6 1946, Melbourne.
A young ex-paratrooper, Don Clay squats an empty beach house "Coolullah" with the assistance of his wife, CPA member Gladys Bird and another homeless ex-serviceman whom has his leg permanently in an iron cast as a result of having been shot in Papua New Guinea. The action serves to highlight the number of unused holiday homes in the area. Previous to this the family had been living in a room in Carlton that was too small to hold a bed. Clay had twice tried to gain tenancy of vacant premises under the War Service Moratorium Act, but had been prevented by subterfuge. The owner of "Coolullah", a Mrs Crisp, who has a string of properties, orders police to evict Clay and the others. They refuse and are charged with wilful trespass and all receive heavy fines. Housing Minister Barry claims that Clay had been "paid by Communists to become homeless", but over 40 neighbours feel otherwise and sign a petition calling on Crisp to surrender the property to those in need.
June 23 1946, Sydney.
Two families in Hobart break in and take possession of rooms in the "Stowell", an empty private hospital. Within a month 53 homeless people have moved in including 12 families with 27 children.
June 28 1946, Sydney.
A number of families occupy an empty house belonging to Lysaght Brothers in Chiswick. Applications for tenancy are rejected, but the families refuse to leave.
July 1946, Melbourne.
After a failed attempt to claim it legally, Dr. Cuscaden's house in St Kilda Road is occupied by Don Clay, together with other ex-servicemen and their families. They are quickly evicted and a police magistrate refuses their second application to the South Melbourne Court. Shortly after a CPA member locates an empty house in Carlton and the families take legal possession.
July 2 1946, Sydney.
Six families occupy vacant huts in the Royal Marine compound at Moore Park. The families and CPA members scale a fence enclosing the Cleveland Street compound before occupying huts. Four of the families had previously been living in squalid rat infested boarding houses in the city. Police move in and lay siege to the compound for a number of days. Unable to leave for fear of arrest and eviction the families are provided with food and blankets by a grocer and other locals. A campaign against the squatters is begun in the media with attempts made to brand them "communist dupes", but this fails to break either local support or the squatters' resolve. By the month's end victory is achieved when the squatters are finally given the opportunity to buy the huts with finance supplied by the federal government.
July 12 1946, Sydney.
Three families occupy near completed war service homes in Herne Bay after being slipped keys by a sympathetic builder. Despite the Sydney Morning Herald''s attempt to portray the action as a "Red Power Grab" the families deny any contact with the CPA.
July 26 1946, Melbourne.
"Carlton Hall" in Princes Street is squatted by five families who are subsequently ordered to leave by the Housing Accommodation Board. A large pubic meeting is held in protest.
July 30 1946, Sydney.
The CPA claims to have housed over 130 homeless people in Sydney during the last 6 months using either squatting or the War Moratorium Regulations.
August 20 1946, Port Kembla.
A number of families squat empty huts at Hill Number 60 after spending months living in tents and makeshift accommodation.
January 1 1947, Melbourne.
The Brown family squat a disused tennis pavilion in Williamstown. They convert the dressing rooms into bedrooms and enlarge the kitchen area. When interviewed they state that this is "The first home we have had in nine years."
- My Years in the Communist Party, Ralph Gibson, International Bookshop, 1966.
- The Guardian, 1946.
- The Tribune, 1946-47.
- The Sydney Morning Herald, 1946.
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