1980s, Melbourne: A Stranger Changed My Life

The following story about the 1980s squatting scene is by Rohan Wightman. It first appeared on Radio National’s 360 Documentary website in 2014.

A Stranger Changed My Life

I fled the suburbs to the city with my mates, Paris and Stoffy. They were fleeing the cops. I was fleeing boredom. We opened a squat on Hoddle Street, a thin terrace house wedged between two empty houses. The traffic never stopped and trains shrieked into the station behind us.

Friends came around, bongs were shared, beers drained and conversations flared. They were yobs, loyal and loving to each other, nasty and brutal to outsiders. I was lost, and in them found an alternative to the pre-ordained career and marriage path of suburbia.

It was a quiet night, Bowie on the stereo, a cloud of pot in the air. A knock on the door startled us from our reverie. Two punks stood there, one with a two foot bright red mohawk, his companion, young and thin, peered down the corridor.

Taken aback by this pair of exotic wonderment, ‘hello’ stumbled from my lips, ‘think you’ve got the wrong place.’

‘No,’ smiled red Mohawk. ‘I’m Nick, this is Crissie,’ the woman next to him smiled. ‘Cops just kicked us out of our squat. Hoping we could move next door.

I invited them in, offered bongs while Paris glared and Stoffy’s desiring eyes undressed Crissie.

The houses were soon filled with colourful ragged strangers who became friends. Most days they sat in our lounge-room, joined me in market expeditions and I them in protest actions.

My suburban friends, frequent visitors still, were unsettled by these newcomers with their radical ideas and queer politics. Anger seethed in the grimy air.

‘I couldn’t be your friend if you were gay,’ declared my best friend Stoffy. Our friendship is no more than a dandelion in the breeze I thought, as I walked away. I didn’t know what I was and didn’t really care.

That night my new found mates and I piled into my car. My parents were away. With a hidden key the house was ours. We watched videos and shared all we had.

Late morning’s light revealed a burnt out car in the lane behind our squat. ‘My car,’ moaned Steve, ‘what the hell happened?’ We stumbled from my car into the house. Paris, wild eyed on speed screamed, ‘you took those stinking punks away and left us here.

‘They’ve got names, this is Nick, and Crissy, that’s Steve and Billy, there’s Liz and Troy. Don’t call them punks.’

Paris speared a metal pole into the wall near Nick’s head. ‘They’re just stinking punks to me.’

My suburban friends left soon after, shaking their heads as I chose to stay.

‘This is for you,’ said Nick, as the last of them walked away. He pressed a tape into my hand. ‘Side one’s Crass, the other is Zounds. It’s not quiet Bowie but I think you’ll like it.’ His red Mohawk fluttered as he smiled at me.

I opened the door to him, a stranger, only two months before, and my life was changed evermore.

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Sydney, 1993- Forest Lodge Occupation

In June 1993 squatters from the group Direct Action Against Homelessness (DAAH) took over properties located between 76-80 Catherine St, Forest Lodge. The University of Sydney had left these empty for three years after evicting the former residents who had lived there for decades. With around 30 people taking part the group began repairing the houses with the aim of creating a community living space featuring a bike workshop, tool library, kids rumpus room, communal garden and rehearsal space. Running a high profile media campaign DAAH were evicted after 8 days, but went on to squat two more empty properties owned by the university in July. News articles about the squats can be found here. A day by day account of the occupation can follows via the press releases below.

Katherine Lodge001 Read more »

Categories: 1990s, Sydney, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

1981- Sydney Rocks Protest

Rocks 1981 010

Although BLF Green Bans and concerted resident campaigns during the first half of the 1970s saved much of the historic Rocks area from demolition tourism related gentrification and speculation saw developers and the state government continue to move working class Sydneysiders out of the suburb. On July 19th 1981 members of the The Rocks Push and Squatters Support Group barricaded themselves into an empty building at 138 Cumberland St to highlight the fact that 59 properties in the area were sitting empty, including one from which squatters had recently been prevented from using as a community centre. The following photos and articles appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and Telegraph.

Rocks 1981 008 Rocks 1981 009 Rocks 1981 007An attempt at humour on behalf of the Telegraph… Read more »

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2003, Sydney: The Balloon Factory social centre, social movements and space

The following text is an excerpt from Jeremy Kay’s Honours thesis, entitled “Politics of Appropriating Social Space: The Balloon Factory and Beyond”, which was completed in 2004. The thesis is a study of how social movements view and use appropriated space. It drew on the author’s experiences with the 2003 Balloon Factory squat and can be downloaded from  here.

balloon moz

Photos by Moz. More images of the Balloon Factory can be viewed here.

Prologue: The Balloon Factory
Walk up King Street today and you can still catch glimpses of Newtown’s radical counterculture and working class history – if you look hard. On the walls in between the ultra-trendy music shops, designer hair salons and overpriced cafes, political posters and graffiti appear every now and again (although on closer inspection some of those stencils are actually viral marketing for the latest ‘urban’ clothing brand). And when ‘Gloria Jeans’ opened up on King Street (the first of the multinational coffee chains to appear in Newtown), it got plastered with anti-corporate stickers. The winding rows of leafy terraces behind King Street are home to quite a few students, punks, greenies, socialists and unemployed – the people whose lives ‘don’t add up’ as Howard warned in his antiterrorism kit. Of course it seems like these households are always getting evicted to make way for renovation and resale to some yuppie who loves the Newtown ‘bohemian village feel’. Every now and again a whole row of terraces gets knocked down and ‘developed’ into yet another block of apartments – an efficient way to raise and multiply the number of rents collected. Like hundreds of similar neighbourhoods in cities around the world Newtown is going through a furious (and extremely profitable) process of gentrification; its working-class roots and subversive culture are being sterilized and repackaged, commodified and co-opted in a bourgeois re-territorialisation of the inner-city.

If you keep walking up King Street past the police sniffer dogs at Newtown station and towards St Peters, you’ll see one of the aforementioned apartment blocks being built. 622 King Street will be as square and bland as the others. But if you’d been standing outside 622 King Street on the evening of Thursday 11th September 2003, you would have seen instead a slightly run-down two storey building, painted with hundreds of coloured balloons on an electric blue background. A vast sign advertising ‘Balloon Inflation’ would loom above you but a smaller notice on one of the shop’s windows reads ‘We have moved to Enmore’. In fact, the building you’re looking at has been empty for over a year – the previous tenants (a balloon decoration company and a fruit shop) were evicted to make way for a ‘development’ which has not yet arrived. Curiously, in spite of this fact, the door to the building is open.

Read more »

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2014, Sydney: Hat Factory Eviction

After being squatted for 13 years the Hat Factory was evicted on 31st July. Around 50 police cordoned off half of Wilson St, Newtown from 3.30pm, but due to extensive barricading took three hours to get through a door with a circular saw and then secure the building. Originally used for housing, in recent years the space had also served as a social centre hosting a free library, bicycle workshop, gig space and an open kitchen. No one was in the building at the time of the eviction. Squatters had thwarted two previous attempts by council health and safety officers to inspect the property before the owner sent in the police. They are planning to appeal their eviction to the Tenancy Tribunal as the owner had previously given them permission to use the site. An interview with a former resident can be heard here.

hat factory 2 mcmcillan

hat factory 1Photo by Annabelle MacMillan

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1988-1989, Melbourne, Squatters Union of Victoria activity

More chronologies from Squat It! outlining the SUV’s activities during 1988 and 1989. Unfortunately the chronologies for September-October 1988 are missing as we do not have a copy of issue #16. If anyone can help out then please contact us at ozsquat@gmail.com


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1987, Melbourne, Squatters Union of Victoria activity

The Squatters Union of Victoria was highly active during 1987, the UN’s International Year of Shelter for the Homeless, as the following timelines from the group’s zine Squat It! demonstrate.

Timeline 1 1987001

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1985, Canberra: Cambodian Embassy Squat

A year after the ACT Squatters Union set up a Homeless Embassy in the abandoned South Vietnamese embassy they moved into the similarly disused, and somewhat plush, Cambodian Embassy. This story appeared on the front page of the Canberra Times on 28 June, 1985.
friday 28 june 1985

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2000-2002, Sydney: Squatspace Actions

A video showing a variety of actions undertaken by Sydney’s Squatspace collective including them setting an Unreal Estate agency in Newcastle’s Hunter Street Mall in 2002.

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2010, Sydney: Radio Interview with Squatters and the story of Kinema

 For 6 months in 2010 a household of squatters lived in a fairly fancy property in Sydney and hosted some film nights. Uilleam tells the story below. For an interview with him and another squatter about a long term squatted home and cafe that appeared on Community Radio FBi, visit here. For more tales of squatting and advice on utilities visit the Squat Sydney Blog here.


Kinema, Our Squatted Cinema

When we finally broke into our building we walked upstairs. We knew that the bottom floor wouldn’t be practical to use, but had no idea what would be at the top of the two flights of carpeted stairs. Up there were two perfectly sized bedrooms, a roomy living area with a kitchen, and a huge empty hall (pictured) that must’ve been an office.

Looking at all the space, making our two bodies look tiny, we were both pretty excited. The last few months we’d been kicked out of everything we squatted within weeks and had been sleeping in living rooms, and now we were in a huge building with loads of potential. The sobering reality that we were squatters in this joint, and with it being in a fairly prominent location meant a lot of our initial ideas were not going to be realised. Read more »

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