Community Groups

From Protesting to Lobbying

During most of the twentieth century community life centred on the churches, and protest groups seemed unnecessary through the long reign of the Labor Party. In the 1970s, however, Labor could not defend its flock from the Department of Main Roads (DMR): in the 1980s it did not resist “urban renewal”. New community formations appeared.

In 1971, as Resident Action Groups (RAGs) sprang up across Sydney, the Ultimo and Pyrmont Residents Action Group (UPRAG) emerged, advocating policies to enable people to live and work in the same area. Its organiser, Michael Matthews, was the first independent member of the City Council. Green Bans helped people to resist the DMR, and when legal tenants were squeezed out, UPRAG endorsed squatting as a way to protect houses.

In 1988 the State government chose to transform the peninsula. Soon the new Powerhouse, Darling Harbour, the ABC and the Maritime Museum caused property prices to surge; and Lend Lease began to rebuild the CSR site as a high-rise precinct, with an affluent population.

The Department of Planning embarked on “urban renewal”, through the City West Urban Strategy (1991) and the City West Development Corporation. In 1992 the Commonwealth tipped in Building Better Cities funds. These authorities needed representatives with whom to liaise: so in 1994 the City created Precinct Advisory Committees (PACs) for Ultimo and Pyrmont.

While Ultimo’s PAC operated quite well, Pyrmont’s was wrecked by internal divisions. The PAC gave way to Information Sessions, in which planners explained their work and – relentlessly – sought residents’ consent. More popular than Information Sessions were the small-scale Point Street Tenants Association and the Pyrmont Community Group (PCG).

PCG adapted and survived into the 21st Century beside new organisations formed by newcomers. Of these formations, the Friends of Pyrmont Point most closely resembled the older bodies, campaigning to protect public land, and achieving a new public park.

Two groups emerged in the early 2000s: Pyrmont Action (PA) and Pyrmont Progress Inc. (PPI), lobbying for improved services and the active engagement of residents in planning. That over-arching ambition has been replaced by ad hoc groups responding to specific issues. PA is still active, but PPI dissolved: its members moved on to create the Pyrmont Community Bank and Pyrmont Cares.

Pyrmont Supports is a mutual support group. Another group with a social mission is the Friends of the Pyrmont Community Centre. The Coalition of Ultimo/Pyrmont Associations (CUPA) informs Pyrmont and Ultimo groups of each other’s activities, and coordinates campaigns.