13 October 2008

The historical significance of the murals

There are quite a few murals in the inner Sydney suburbs. Some are just nice to look at (see the Surry Hills set on my Flickr page), others carry a political message, many come with a message and are nice to look at as well (see the "Newtown area graffiti and street art" page of Wikipedia).

The Woolloomooloo murals, which fall into the last category, are of historical significance because they document a historical confrontation between the coalition of big money and the state on one side and ordinary people and their organizations on the opposite side. The story has been told many times, so I give only a compressed summary.

Woolloomoolo is located at Sydney's waterfront and was traditionally a residential suburb for waterside workers, their families and the people serving the port and the local inhabitants. It adjoins Sydney's Central Bussiness District, which by the end of the 1960s had been filled with high-rise office buildings. Developers had started to look at expansion by buying up property in Woolloomooloo, in preparation of large-scale demolition, and were developing plans for more high-rise buildings. If successful, these plans would have led to a repeat of the story seen in so many cities around the world: Low-income working people would have been evicted and offered accommodation in depressing off-the-rack buildings in the outer suburbs.

By 1970 the local residents had formed an action group to prevent the destruction of the suburb. They raised their voices in vain; developers had the support of politicians who were ready to send the police with orders to enforce the laws of the market and the right of property owners. After much frustration the residents turned to the unions, who declared a "Green Ban" over the area, enforcing a stop of all demolition and building work. The developers tried to bring in non-union labour and the confrontation became violent, with the disappearance and presumed murder of journalist Juanita Nielsen (whose portrait can be seen on the Victoria Street mural). In the end the residents won, through the support of the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) and the Federated Engine Drivers' and Firemen's Association of Australasia (FEDFA).

There is plenty of information on the web that recalls the history of the Green Bans. A small selection is given here:

Greenbans and beyond, a professional development website for teachers;
Green Bans: Campaigns to Protect the Environment
, a history page of the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU); (note added 17 January 2010: This page seems to have disappeared. The union is in the process of establishing a website section "Our proud past"; maybe that will be were it may turn up again.)
Green ban, the Wikipedia page about green bans.

The history how Woolloomooloo was saved provides an illuminating example of the way in which progress is achieved in today's society. The state and its political parties protect big money, which rules the country. The people have the right to cast their vote every few years; hopefully they do not realize that parliamentary democracy is only the modern way to secure the rule of the rich. Real progress – improvements in people's quality of life – comes about through direct popular action. More often than not this action requires the breaking of a few laws (which serve to secure the power of the rich) and leads to violent confrontation with state power.

But the law is not cast in stone. If the people are determined enough in their struggles the law has to follow public norms and amend itself accordingly. Reckless development is no longer acceptable today. In 1998 a Green Ban Park was inaugurated in Erskinville, another of Sydney's inner suburbs, on a site that was rescued from development. (See Green Bans, a PDF document of the CFMEU.) Jack Mundy, the key organizer of the green bans of the 1970s, received an Order Of Australia medal for his services to the urban and natural environment. Urban planners from all over the world visit Woolloomooloo as an example of good urban planning practice. How times have changed! But they will not stay like this forever; remember: If you don't fight, you loose!

1 comment:

Frost Eva said...

A mural is any piece of artwork painted or applied directly on a wall, ceiling or other large permanent surface. A particularly distinguishing characteristic of mural painting is that the architectural elements of the given space are harmoniously incorporated into the picture. Different Mural Designer tend to become experts in their preferred medium and application, whether that be oil paints, emulsion or acrylic paints applied by brush, roller or airbrush/aerosols. In term of Clientsship, Clients can often ask for a particular style or the artistification that may adjust to the appropriate technique. In term of Hotel Mural, The Artwork must be used on a wall such as in the art room or dining room. It does matter when you put the wall art taht it will make sure that everyone can have a chance to be taken on a visual journey when they view it.