1972-1987, Sydney: A short history of the Glebe Squats

A short history of the Glebe Squats 1972 to 1987

By Bill Holliday.

In 1948, associated with the County of Cumberland plan, the Department of Main Roads (DMR) drew up plans for radial city expressways two of which were the Western Expressway and the North Western Expressway.

Both expressways were to leave the city at Fig Street Ultimo, the flyovers over Darling Harbour are the first stage. The Western was to carry on through Glebe and then through Leichhardt and west towards Parramatta, much the same route as the M4. The North Western was to arch through northern Glebe and then lay waste to Rozelle west of Victoria Road, heading towards Hunters hill and Ryde. At that time the inner city terraces were considered slums and the road was slum clearance.

These expressways would have divided Glebe into three parts. When the DMR got around to actually starting them in the early 1970’s, people were starting to realise the value of living in the inner city  and opposition was forthcoming from locals and university students for whom Glebe was home.

The Glebe Anti-Expressway Committee was formed by students and demonstrations such as marches down Glebe Point Road were held. Meanwhile the DMR was buying up the houses it needed to demolish (many forced sales at undervalued prices) and had left them empty. These houses had been broken into and everything of value had been stripped out of them: marble fireplaces, doors, skirting boards, plumbing, wiring, stoves and water heaters. Even houses which had not yet settled with the DMR, had this treatment.

The Glebe Anti-Expressway Committee managed to get the Builders Labourers Federation to put a Green Ban on any demolition for the expressways in late 1972 and in 1973 instigated the first squat of one of the empty houses in order to prevent further deterioration and an excuse for the DMR to call in the bulldozers. These squatters were evicted and charged but got off. Subsequent squats were not challenged except for two in the original stately home of the area, Lyndhurst in Darghan Street, where the squatters were twice evicted by the cops but not charged as the media was calling it an attempt to save the historic building.

The Glebe Society, the local residents group, were supportive but their support did not extend to squatting.

In 1974, the DMR brought in the bulldozers to demolish houses in Fig Street Ultimo and the Glebe Anti-Expressway Committee got wind of it the day before and organised a blockade to prevent demolition. Thirteen demonstrators were arrested on the roofs of the houses and from the path of the bulldozers and there was extensive coverage in the media. This Whitlam Labor government was in power in Canberra and Tom Uren’s department told the DMR that they would not get any more federal roads grants if they went ahead with the expressways.

Fig St II

As demolitions had been halted, squatting from 1974 onwards was low profile but hectic. It was not unknown for would-be squatters to select a house in the morning only to come back with their stuff in the afternoon to find another group had beaten them to it. In most cases the services had been disconnected so squatters used garden hoses and extension cords from still connected houses. Others dug up the street to reconnect to the water main or dug down to the sewer line to remove concrete tipped there by the DMR. Very soon every house was being lived in.

The houses remained in squatters’ hands for 13 years until 1987 when the DMR finally acknowledged that the expressways were never going to be built in that location and handed the houses over to the NSW Housing Commission. The squatters then became Housing Commission tenants and were moved to other houses nearby while the Commission did total renovations on the structurally sound houses or built new infill housing. These houses still stand today.

Over 13 years, babies were born, children grew up and people started and finished university courses, got jobs and generally got their lives together. A notable success story is Karl Kruszelnicki, originally known as Chevy Karl, for the car that he drove.

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South Vietnamese Embassy Squat, Canberra, 1984

Having been abandoned in 1975 after the South Vietnamese government lost power the regime’s former embassy in Canberra sat empty until it was squatted during a demonstration against homelessness by around 200 people in 1984.  Embarassed by the action the Federal ALP government took ownership of the buildings later in the year offering the squatters places in public housing.

April 1984 Canberra squat16 June ACTnla.news-page000013977214-nla.news-article137173709-L3-06d84012adbb740f4a1846d0bd2609d7-0001

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Homeless Persons Union of Victoria, Collingwood Occupation, Melbourne, 2016

12719172_1708595659381883_6219719764092469227_oThe Homeless Persons Union of Victoria and supporters have been occupying six disused properties in Bendigo Street Collingwood since March 30th 2016. The houses were originally purchased by the Victorian state government so that they could be demolished as part of the East-West Link tollway project which was scrapped following a hard fought campaign of opposition including daily pickets which disrupted preparatory work in 2014. Since then these six houses have remained empty. Following the eviction of squatters from one of the properties the HPUV launched an ongoing occupation demanding:

• Immediate release of all information relating to the current ownership of all properties acquired for the East-West Link, with full transparency about all acquired land and no more dishonesty.
•The 6 unused houses on Bendigo St to be made into genuine public housing and allocated to some of the 35,000 people on the public housing waiting list. Occupation will continue until the first keys are handed over.
• All unoccupied properties acquired for the East-West Link that are still in the government’s possession to be added to the public housing register.
• Minister Martin Foley to come to Bendigo St and be interviewed by people with experience of homelessness.
• The Andrews government to say how they intend to provide housing for 25,000 homeless people while there are 80,000 unoccupied dwellings in Melbourne.
Weekly meetings and other events are being held at the occupation. For more information and updates visit:




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1984, Melbourne: Footscray Tent Action

sun 3 feb 84 p 13

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1985, Sydney: Castle Cove Squatters

An article from the Sydney Morning Herald about those who were living in abandoned houses in the bush near Manly during the mid-1980s as well as the history of squatting in the area.


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1970s-1980s, Sydney: Becoming extra-legal, squatting inside and beyond the law.

Gavin Sullivan’s 1999 MacQuarie University thesis examines how squatters in Sydney navigated New South Wale’s criminal trespass laws in the 1970s and 1980s. In doing so it also provides a history of campaigns that occurred in Woolloomooloo, Pyrmont, and Glebe. Click below to download it in PDF form.

Becoming extra-legal squatting inside and beyond the law Gavin Sullivan 1999

CitySquatterThe cover of a newspaper produced about the Victoria Street squats in 1974.

Source: www.ianmilliss.com

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1929-1935, Melbourne: Lock Out The Landlords, A Walking Tour of Unemployed Resistance in Brunswick

The economic depression of the 1930s saw mass unemployment across Australia with working class areas hit hardest. These depredations did not go unopposed as across the city pickets, occupations and protests were organised to demand jobs and welfare as well as disrupt and prevent the evictions of unemployed people.  A history walk visiting some of the sites of some of Melbourne’s fiercest unemployed and anti-eviction battles in the northern suburb of Brunswick was originally held in 2009 as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival. A version was recorded and edited by Nicole Hurtubise, produced by Jane Curtis and Community Radio 3CR, and funded by the Office of Public Records Local History grant program. It was originally hosted on the People’s Tours website. To listen to tales of the Barkly Street Commune, Phoenix Street Free Speech fight and more click here.

Feb 4 1931 warBrunswick-Coburg Gazette, February 4 1931

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1984, Sydney: Pyrmont Squats

A day in the life of Pyrmont Squatters, as seen by the Sydney Morning Herald.

smh 1984 day in life-2

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1946, Sydney: The Squatting of Maramanah

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.

The Squatting of Maramanah
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.

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Sydney, 2000-2001: SHAC and the Broadway Squats

The following pieces concerning the Sydney Broadway Squats and actions by the Sydney Housing Action Collective (SHAC) originally appeared in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) newspaper Direct Action in 2000 and 2001. For plenty more on SHAC just click on the tag Sydney below.

2000 Read more »

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