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.
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.
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.
Photo by Annabelle MacMillan
Categories: 2010s, Photo, Sydney
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 email@example.com
Categories: 1980s, Melbourne
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.
Categories: 1980s, Melbourne
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.
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.
Categories: 2000s, Sydney, Video
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
Categories: 2010s, Sydney
This story from Angry People magazine in 1992 discusses, in the context of moves to sell off parks, the first time shopfronts Sydney’s Broadway were squatted and evicted by South Sydney council. The squats were reoccupied in 2000 and held for a number of months.
The Brisbane Solidarity Network have produced an excellent squatting handbook for Queenslanders which can be downloaded from here. Their practical and insightful 128 page Crisis guide also provides survival strategies and information for Brisbanites finding themselves without housing or on the edge of homelessness. To download a copy or find out about the group’s campaign work click here.
The economic depression of the 1930s saw thousands of Australians thrown out of their homes and into the streets. These actions however did not go unopposed. Across Australia pickets, occupations and protests were organised to disrupt and prevent evictions and auctions. Where these failed some took matters into their own hands wrecking the properties of landlords and real estate agents in revenge. This pamphlet, originally written in 1998 and updated ten years later, chronicles just some of the many struggles that took place. It includes a chronology of actions as well as photos and quotes from those involved providing an insight into the events of the time. It can be downloaded here. A history walk and podcast visiting some of the key sites of unemployed and eviction campaigns in Brunswick can be accessed here.
Woolloomooloo anti eviction rally, Sydney early 1930s