Battle of Fig Street

As the Department of Main Roads ploughed through houses, hotels and other buildings (including the Boys’ Brigade centre) there were several confrontations with residents, unionists, environmentalists and squatters.  One pitched battle in the spring of 1974 was reported at length and with relish in the University of New South Wales students’ paper, Tharunka (9 October 1974).  The location was Fig Street, which DMR was bulldozing and enlarging as an expressway.

Our painted slogans are a mixture of bourgeois demands — ‘Save our houses!’- and trade union pleas – ‘Solidarity with the B.L.F. [Builders Labourers Federation]’… [Our motives vary] to save a working class district from extinction, to stop the expressway on its road of ‘progress’, to protest against the breaking of the BLF ‘Green Ban’ …

The reporter quoted W.H. Auden; but the DMR’s workers were deaf to the politics of protest while the demonstrators were well organised and articulate.

The protesters occupied houses until they were cornered and evicted: then the bulldozers did their work. The action did no more than delay the destruction – and publicise it. Off-stage, the Whitlam Government’s Department of Urban and Regional Development and Minister Tom Uren were creating the Australian Heritage Commission which initiated a Register of the National Estate. Uren encouraged the restoration of derelict inner city areas. NSW Premier Askin could ignore this trend, but enthusiasm for heritage and rehabilitation grew too great to ignore in the long run.