We delve into the treasure trove of the City of Sydney’s oral history collection to mark History Week and this year’s theme, ‘Voices from the Past’.
Jim Piotrowski moved to Erskineville in 1990. Already an activist, he found the socio-political nature of the neighbourhood suited him and his work life. In this interview, Jim talks about his involvement in a local campaign to save 2 parcels of vacant land from being developed, which brought the community together. Support for the campaign unexpectedly came from a bus full of ‘random’ activists and their children who camped for several months on the vacant land. Jim talks about how the local community embraced these activists in surprising ways. After a long 4-year grass roots campaign, the vacant land was saved from development and turned into Green Bans Park.
Jack Mundey was the leader of the NSW Builders’ Labourers’ Federation and central to the famous Green Bans of the 1970s which defended Sydney’s built heritage and open space against development. In this interview, Jack discusses the strong rank and file support, alliances formed, the threat of development in Millers Point and community division. He also talks about the key issues in the Green Ban movement that prevented demolition of The Rocks, adjacent to Millers Point, in the early 1970s.
Ian Milliss was active in the Victoria Street squats movement of the 1970s and recalls finding some touching reminders of the evicted tenants. The squatting action followed forced evictions which made way for large-scale residential development in Potts Point. Ian also talks about politics of the day, art, personalities and background to those and other related events.
Harry Allie joined the Royal Australian Air Force in 1966. In this interview he talks about his early life, his decades in the Defence Forces and the Coloured Digger movement in NSW. Harry also talks about his family members’ commitment to the Defence Forces at home and abroad. This interview is part of a project called Honouring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Men and Women who Served their Country.
Ina Heitman grew up in inner Sydney in the 1940s in a Communist household. Ina’s widowed mother was active in the Communist Party and was a trade union activist, while also working as a cleaner. Following in the footsteps of her mother, Ina joined the Communist Party soon after she started working for a trade union. Ina describes her association with the Communist Party and her long involvement with the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia.
The historic Pitt Street Uniting Church in central Sydney was almost lost to the wrecking ball in the early 1970s but was saved by a Green Ban. In this interview, Uniting Church Minister Dorothy McRae-McMahon talks about her personal religious development, the church’s long history in Pitt Street and its well-known members. She also discusses the church’s relationship with contemporary politics and its human rights activism.
The City of Sydney’s history team has been conducting interviews since the 1980s as a part of a vigorous program of publication, research, websites and exhibitions. The Sydney Oral Histories website showcases some of the team’s interviews and makes them readily available to the dedicated researcher and casual browser alike.
History Week is on from 2 September to 10 September. Check out events that are happening in Sydney.