The following article by Elliot Lamb discusses the squatting of a 20 room mansion in Kings Cross in 1946 and the campaign that grew around this action. It is available here as a fully footnoted PDF: The Squatting of Maramanah.
The Squatting of Maramanah
Less than a year after the end of WWII, a group of returned servicemen and their families began squatting in Maramanah, a 20-roomed mansion in Kings Cross, Sydney. The house had been bought two years earlier by the City Council, who had imminent plans to demolish it at the time of the occupation. For three months the squatters successfully lived there rent-free, before being charged hostel rates as a result of fierce campaigning by local politicians. Examining newspaper reports and letters to the editor from the time, the story of the Maramanah squat can be pieced together. In its first week it was subject to national media coverage, with the inhabitants often being portrayed in a surprisingly sympathetic light. Reports of donations and working bees as well public expressions of admiration for the squatters’ controversial response to the very real problem of a lack of housing in postwar Australia reflect a high level of public support. However, their actions were largely condemned by politicians, some of who sought to paint the squatters as lawless communists and vandals. When two more squats started up in Sydney during the week following the seizure of Maramanah, fears of a squatting “epidemic” were expressed by politicians and real estate agents, followed quickly by reports of communist activity in the squat, the veracity of which was dubitable. Media coverage of Maramanah petered out soon after and it is uncertain who lived there during the eight years that it functioned as a hostel before being demolished in 1954.
On Wednesday 20 March 1946, between eight and ten people began squatting in Maramanah, a council-owned mansion of 20 rooms in King’s Cross, Sydney, which was in danger of being demolished to expand the neighbouring Fitzroy Gardens. The occupation of the building was not without precedent, as Australia had seen extensive anti-eviction campaigns as well as instances of people squatting new houses during the Great Depression of the early 1930s. The original squatters of Maramanah, at times referred to as the “invasion force” by the media, were described by The Argus as “two young married couples, with two other men, all carrying hurricane lamps, stretchers, blankets, and candles” as well as “four other homeless people.” The Argus’ sympathetic portrayal of the squatters revealed that they were two law students, a chemical worker, an airman, an ex-soldier, and an ex-RAAF serviceman. One of the law students, 21-year-old Alexander Dunlop, explained that “We have done everything to find a home, but it is hopeless, so we decided that this was the only way out [...] We can sleep here. We cannot sleep in parks,” probably referring to the City Council’s plans to demolish the building to make more room for the park next door. Other reports do not pay much attention to the voices of the squatters, but still reflect the necessity behind their actions, describing them as “house-hungry,” “home-hungry,” or “homeless,” and lent them a level of legitimacy by stating that among the squatters are returned soldiers, such as Ted Loughran, an ex-RAAF member, who was widely reported to have promptly begun an application for legal tenancy at the mansion. These same reports from the first days of the squat quoted Lord Mayor Bartley as saying “the city has not yet been given over to jungle law,” an unwavering censure of the squatters’ actions.