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Elsie

Posted by on July 24, 2011

Well that is the kind of quality scanning you can expect from the Australian Squatting Museum, I guess. Elsie undoubtedly deserves better – it was the first refuge in Australia (the world?) for survivors of domestic violence and, yes, it was originally a squat. Anne Summers describes the opening in her memoir, Ducks on the Pond, under the cut.

Early on 16 March 1974 more than fifty women assembled at a park in Glebe only a few blocks away from Westmoreland St; only those in the core group knew Elsie’s address because we were afraid of leaks. If the police were tipped off they might prevent us from assuming occupancy. I felt a fluttering in my stomach as we turned the corner from St Johns Rd. We were a motley band, heads high, singing, carrying balloons and buckets, streamers and shovels, taut with excitement and anticipation…

The first thing we had to do was chage the locks. That was done in minutes. We had established residency. Then someone noticed that the attached house next door, which was the mirror image of Elsie and shared a common backyard, was also empty. Why not? Who knows how much space we will need, we thought. Another shovel under the windowframe, a quick trip to the hardware store for another lock, and a rather larger than anticipated Elsie Women’s Refuge had come into being.

You should check out Summers book, which goes into a fair bit of detail about founding Elsie (including Summers’ embarrassed admission that she partially funded its early days by selling pot), as well as her participation in the broader women’s and squatting movements.

One thing I found really interesting was that she mentions being relieved when she found the empty that would become Elsie that the landlords “had not apparently learned the developers’ trick of deterring squatters by pouring concrete down the plumbing”. Why is this interesting? There is virtually nothing recorded – nothing I can find – about squatting between the returned servicemen of the 40s and the early 70s. But if developers already had established methods for deterring squatters at the start of 1974, it strongly suggests that squatters had maintained a strong presence in the intervening years.

For more about Elsie you could do worse than the Timeframe transcript at http://www.abc.net.au/time/episodes/ep3.htm.

 

One Response to Elsie

  1. nix

    Great idea for an archive – I look forward to reading more. The last very public squat I remember in Melbourne was students’ occupation of a series of University-owned terrace houses near campus that had been empty for a long time (SHAC). http://slackbastard.anarchobase.com/?p=1309

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