Saturday, 9 December 2017

'The departure of the Australian contingent for the Sudan'

Down in the lower-ground floor of the Australian War Memorial (AWM) behind the current exhibition that has been set up to illustrate the lives of the Special Forces there's another gallery where you can see exhibits dating from the earliest years of Australia's "official" military experience. There is no acknowledgement for example of the frontier wars fought by the colonists against the Aboriginal inhabitants of the continent.

This oil painting by Arthur Collingridge (1853-1907) was made in 1885 and shows a scene at Circular Quay on the holiday that had been declared to celebrate the occasion of NSW sending a contingent to help suppress the Mahdi rebellion in the Sudan. The contingent comprised an infantry battalion of 522 men and 24 officers, and an artillery battery of 212 men. You can see the Mort's wool stores flanking the dock at the left where expensive apartment buildings are situated now. I have blown up some sections of the painting to better show the detail of this work, which documents the first time Australian forces were sent to fight in an imperial war. The plaque next to the painting says:
The dispatch of a small New South Wales military contingent [on 3] March 1885 was an important moment for Australia. For the first time, one of its colonies had raised a force of soldiers for active service with the British Army. Sydneysiders gathered to watch the soldiers march through the streets and embark from Circular Quay.
You can see in the picture below the transport in the background is listing to one side because all the passengers on the deck are crowding to that side. The detail available in this rather small painting, which the AWM bought in 1968, is remarkable. The hot European-style clothes people wore even in the summer months must have been very uncomfortable.

The AWM's page that talks about the Sudan campaign is here. The contingent arrived in Suakin, Sudan's Red Sea port, on 29 March 1885, so it took just over three weeks to get to north Africa by ship. They started their return trip to Sydney on 17 May and arrived in Sydney on 19 June. "They were expecting to land at Port Jackson and were surprised to disembark at the quarantine station on North Head near Manly as a precaution against disease."

Collingridge was a founding member of the Royal Art Society of NSW in 1880 and was a trustee of the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1900-1907. He was born in Oxfordshire, worked on the London Graphic and the Illustrated London News, and came to Australia possibly earlier than 1879. His brother Charles was chaplain to the NSW contingent.



Above: An officer's wife kisses her husband goodbye while their child weeps, holding his father's hand.


Above: Three substantial burghers of Sydney stand in a group talking among themselves.


Above: A woman and an older man (probably the father and sister of a soldier) stand talking with an officer on the dock. The men are shaking hands.


Above: Soldiers in their red coats stand on the deck of one of the troop transports, waving at people on the dock. 


Above: A woman standing on the dock uses a handkerchief to wave at a soldier on the transport.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Gorman House Arts Centre, Braddon

Yesterday morning when checking out of the hotel I got directions to Lonsdale Street where the clerk told me I could get a coffee. I drove south on crowded Northbourne Avenue and turned left into Girrahween Street, Braddon. I found a parking spot on Lonsdale Street and paid the fee. In the café with nothing to do I sat and looked at the Wikipedia entry for Braddon. 

The suburb has changed a lot in recent years. They had a party on Lonsdale Street after the result of the same-sex marriage survey was announced last month by the Bureau of Statistics. The demographics show why. There are a lot of young professionals who rent in the area. Most of the car yards that used to characterise Braddon have been developed into high-rise apartment buildings with shops on the street frontages. But some of the history remains. I found the Gorman House Arts Centre featured on the Wikipedia page and because I had time to spare I asked the woman at the counter if it was far to walk. She found the building online and printed me out a map, so I set off on foot, heading south.

The Gorman House Arts Centre is on a major road – Ainslie Avenue – and there is a construction site on the corner of Cooyong Street where presumably they’re building more residential units. Gorman House takes up an entire city block.



The building was put on the ACT’s Heritage Places Register in 2005. The listing document says that the complex was built by the Federal Capital Advisory Committee in 1924 and was originally called Hostel No. 3. The building is the work of architect J.S. Murdoch “in a Garden-City setting, on a major axis of the Griffin Plan for Canberra”.
It reflects an interesting combination of traditional Georgian and Inter-War Mediterranean sentiment, with the Prairie-Style. The key elements of this combination are the horizontality of the group of buildings, the interconnected pavilions in a symmetrical layout, formation of landscaped areas between the pavilions, the use of terracotta roof tiles (since replaced), red brick details, six-pane double hung windows, and rough caste walls. The Brunswick green and cream colour scheme revives Georgian fashions. 
The garden setting of Gorman House is reflective of the 1920s style of low hedges and planting against buildings. Later plantings and maintenance have continued this simple style. The plantings provide contrast with the horizontal character of the buildings. The original Crataegus crus-galli [cockspur hawthorn, a North American native] provide an impressive focus for each of the courtyards. 
It has technical interest, which expresses the economic difficulties of its time of construction as well as the use of locally produced materials that have contributed to an identifiable local architectural fashion.
The website for Gorman House shows that the complex of buildings is now connected with the Ainslie School – a building constructed in 1927 – which are both run as arts centres.

To get back to the car, this time I walked up Doonkuna Street which has wide grass verges and enormous, spreading oak trees. There are two massive oak trees also outside the War Memorial, which was my ultimate destination for the morning.





Thursday, 7 December 2017

Finally we vote for marriage equality

On 17 April 2013 New Zealand's Parliament voted to allow people of the same sex to marry. When the law was passed people in the public gallery stood up and spontaneously sang a waiata, a traditional Maori song of celebration, 'Pokarekare Ana', which is said to date from the time of WWI. It is a love song. Today, in Parliament, as soon as the clerk proclaimed the new law passed, people in the public gallery stood up and sang the chorus from 'I Am Australian', a song of The Seekers:

We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We'll share a dream and sing with one voice
"I am, you are, we are Australian"

The words reflect what the prime minister had said just before the law was passed in the day's final division (which saw a mere four members voting 'No'). But the selection of this song is certainly striking because the places that responded strongly 'No' in the postal survey that led up to today's vote were places where the concentration of new migrants is the highest, notably in western Sydney, as I outlined in a blogpost last month.


Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Tanner the dog in Pitt Street Mall

In July I wrote twice about meeting Tanner and his owner on my walks around the place and yesterday when I was in the CBD I saw the two of them again. Tanner was making a splash and getting a lot of attention, and his owner was trying to get him to sit down so that passersby could take photos of him. He's such an enormous, shaggy animal!

I was in town to go and meet with my lawyer because I had to get a copy of my driver's licence certified. I need this document to do a GIPA application to request information from the state government. It's because of the series of blogposts about brutalist architecture that I'm writing. I'm trying to find the development application (DA) and building application (BA) files for the Sirius Building in The Rocks; the city council does not hold them as it was not the consent authority. The authority that used to own the property - the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority - has been wound up and so I have to go to Property NSW to find where the file now resides.

After the meeting with my lawyer - which took about 30 minutes because we had a bit of a chat about stuff, including my researches into the NSW BLF (which I wrote about on the blog yesterday) - I went to an event I was covering as a journalist. It was at Barangaroo at the offices there of accounting firm PwC and it was the launch of a study conducted into Asia-Pacific real estate trends by PwC and the Urban Land Institute. This US-based body contacted me through LinkedIn to cover another event that I went to back in November, and so this was the second commission for me from them.

When I crossed George Street it was very windy and the dust blew down the street from what had been the construction site for the light rail. The section of road outside the QVB has now been finished so you can go there and see what the whole of George Street will look like after 2019, when the light rail to Kensington will be completed. They have paved the entire roadway with flagstones so it looks as though traffic will be restricted, but I haven't heard anything about car access yet from official sources.

This afternoon I will be driving to Canberra to attend a talk at the Australian War Memorial about a new Aboriginal painting that was commissioned from Indigenous artists living in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands in remote South Australia.


Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Book review: Green Bans Red Union, Meredith Burgmann and Verity Burgmann (2017)

Subtitled ‘The saving of a city’, this book started out as a doctoral thesis and was first published in 1998. When Meredith Burgmann was elected to the NSW Parliament to represent the ALP in the lower house she had things on her plate that prevented her from turning it into a book and so her sister – political scientist and labour historian Verity Burgmann – agreed to work on the book. This is their second edition. The book chronicles the changing fortunes of the New South Wales Builders Labourers’ Federation (NSW BLF) during one of the city’s construction booms – from the mid-1960s until 1975 – at which point in time the NSW BLF was finally deregistered in the face of stubborn government, media and industry opposition to its tactics. The story substantively starts in 1968 when Jack Mundey was elected secretary of the NSW BLF.

The first of the “green bans” ranged the BLF against developer AV Jennings over a piece of pristine bushland in Hunter’s Hill called Kelly’s Bush, when the BLF for some years had been publicly visible as a champion of progressive social causes. Local residents approached the BLF in mid-1971 and talked with them with a view to asking for their help to stop the development from going ahead. These were middle-class housewives who lived in relative comfort but the union took on their cause and refused to work on the job and the developer capitulated and agreed to abandon its plans to build 25 homes on the land in question.
It was not simply that the NSWBLF pledged itself not to provide labour for the destruction of Kelly’s Bush; its industrial power and its preparedness to use that power deterred the developer from even attempting to find other labour for that purpose. When Jennings reacted initially to the union ban by declaring it would build on Kelly’s Bush using non-union labour, builders labourers on a Jennings office project in North Sydney sent a telegram to Jennings’ head office: ‘If you attempt to build on Kelly’s Bush, even if there is the loss of one tree, this half-completed building will remain so forever, as a monument to Kelly’s Bush’. The union executive assured Jennings that any attempt to violate Kelly’s Bush would indeed result in the withdrawal of BLF members from all Jennings building sites. This ‘firm action’ had ‘a sobering influence’ on AV Jennings. The Battlers [for Kelly’s Bush, the residents’ action group] could see that the union’s decision ‘frightened the previously tough developers’, who ‘were accustomed to buying what they wanted’. Premier Askin, who had sweet-talked the Battlers, now condemned the unionists, who had kept their promises.
From the point of view of posterity, now, 40 years after the facts recounted, the stakes were even higher in fights against the state government in The Rocks – which was to be redeveloped with high-rise offices and hotels by the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority – and Glebe – which the Department of Main Roads wanted to split in two for the easement for the planned Northwestern Expressway.

In Woolloomooloo also, the BLF supported local residents. Here, developer Sid Londish wanted to raze part of the suburb – which had not yet been gentrified – and build high-rise apartments. There was also the plan for the Eastern Suburbs Expressway to Bondi Junction which would have led to significant parts of the eastern approaches to the city being flattened. And in Victoria Street, Potts Point, there was the sinister developer Frank Theeman who wanted to build apartments where 19th century Victorian houses stood. There was also a state government plan to build a sports centre at Moore Park including a swimming pool on part of Centennial Park, and a plan to build a carpark under part of the Botanical Gardens near the Opera House.

These are a few of the more noteworthy matters the BLF adopted as causes for its militant union action, and we should be thankful to them that none of these projects went ahead. As well as supporting the goals of residents in these areas, the BLF also took the unprecedented step of relying on National Trust listings to decide which projects would go ahead, and which would not.

The book’s subtitle is indeed accurate. Large parts of Sydney’s valuable natural environment and heritage were threatened by profit-hungry developers aided and abetted by corrupt state premier, Robert Askin, who would use the police to remove tenants from properties or to harass union members on building sites. The press was largely ranged against the NSW BLF, including the Sydney Morning Herald. Naturally, the Australian and the Daily Telegraph – organs of arch-conservative Rupert Murdoch – were also vocal against them. (The DT was owned by Frank Packer’s Australian Consolidated Press until 1972, when it was bought by News Limited. Sir Frank’s son Kerry was also against the NSW BLF, which is germane as the Packers ran Channel Nine.)

Askin lost power in 1975 and the new government of Neville Wran quickly moved to prevent developers from knocking down heritage buildings. From the book:
With the Askin Government at last defeated at the polls, the Wran Labor Government from 1976 embarked upon significant legislation to protect heritage more adequately. In its first year it announced the preparation of laws under which developers would risk six months gaol plus $10,000 fines for demolishing historical buildings, and if a developer did damage an historical site the government would have the power to ban all development on that site for ten years.
The New South Wales Heritage Act was passed through Parliament in 1978. In 1979, the Wran government also enacted the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act and the Land and Environment Court Act.

This is a superbly-written book that is by turns engaging and gripping. It does have the peculiarity that it relies a little heavily on acronyms – which I also found in China Mieville’s October (reviewed on this blog in October); it seems that those whose views rest on the left in politics have an affection for abbreviations. You are unwilling to turn to the list of abbreviations when reading the Kindle version because the navigation between pages is so poor on the Kindle, but you need to look up “BTG” (which stands for Building Trades Group, a part of the trade union movement that the NSW BLF belonged to).


Above: An illustration from the book shows Jack Mundey being arrested during ‘The Battle for the Rocks’, October 1973.

Monday, 4 December 2017

The opening of Trades Hall, Sydney

From Herman Morton’s 1956 book, The Architecture of Victorian Sydney:
On 26th January 1888 the Right Honourable Charles Robert, Baron Carrington, G.C.M.G., Governor of New South Wales, in full panoply and with a retinue of all the governors of all the Australian colonies, rode in state to the north gates of Centennial Park to declare open the great space which the foresight and energy of Sir Henry Parkes had reserved for the people. 
The park was opened with a simple ceremony and the governors, and Lady Carrington, planted memorial trees. A newspaper reporter who was present thought it all very splendid, or again he may have been seeking entrée to Government House, for he eulogized, “The day bright, beautiful as it dawned, was not more radiant than her ladyship.” 
Two days later the Governor was at the corner of Goulburn and Dixon streets to set the memorial stone of the Trades Hall. This building was intended for meetings held by working men, and it was also “to be an institution where lectures could be given and instruction in literature could be obtained”. 
John Smedley, who won the competition for the design of the building, presented the ceremonial trowel and mallet to His Excellency on the great day. No less than twenty-eight industrial organizations, with a total of nine thousand men accompanied by thirty brass bands, marched past in procession and cheered the opening of their new headquarters. Smedley’s building comprises only the corner section and most of the frontage to Goulburn Street. Though the Trades Hall has been enlarged three times, Smedley’s design has been closely followed for the additions.
The Wikipedia entry for the Trades Hall notes that a lack of funds meant that the construction of the building was delayed, despite the foundation stone being laid in 1888. The building finally opened in 1895. In his book, Morton with a characteristic flourish describes 1888 as “the high summer of Sydney’s Victorian Age, an era when past struggles were forgotten and future difficulties not even glimpsed through the golden haze of the present”.
Sydney had become the metropolis of a rich land and, as the centenary of the founding of the colony approached, the citizens prepared both to celebrate that important event and to express their pride in a century of achievement. To enhance the holiday spirit all sorts of ceremonies were planned. 
Those who were building exerted every effort to finish the works in the centenary year so that the magic numerals 1888 could be carved over ornate doorways or be lovingly moulded in cement high on the parapet to boast the fact to the world. 
Sydney was proud of its physical being: the past decade had given it the great public and private buildings that had turned it into a true city; a good substantial city in whose 2546 acres of commercial district there was scarcely one building of mere wood. The city and suburbs boasted two cathedrals and 133 churches. Each municipality had, or was building, its town hall. In Castlereagh Street the Theatre Royal attracted audiences smaller than those of Her Majesty’s in Pitt Street only because the latter was the larger theatre. 
The parson of the Pitt Street Congregational Church complained that the devil was pressing him close, for the Criterion Theatre abutted one side of his church and the Gaiety leant against the rear, but the citizens loved the excitement and glamour of it all. After the theatre there were Quong Tart’s elegant refreshment-rooms where supper could be taken amidst gilt woodwork, ferns, and palms, with golden carp swimming in fountains.
Trades Hall has been conserved and adapted for contemporary use by a professional architectural firm. The Museum of Sydney has published a good webpage on the building.




Sunday, 3 December 2017

Design of the Pyrmont public school

In his 1956 book, The Architecture of Victorian Sydney, architect Herman ‘Mick’ Morton tells the story of how so many schools came to be built in NSW in the last decades of the 19th century.
Sir Henry Parkes brought down his Education Act in 1880, to counteract the condition whereby twenty-six per cent of children of school age were illiterate. Nowadays, of course, conditions have changed and nearly everyone can interpret the cryptic print of the sporting pages of the newspapers. Though there had been many schools before this time, now their number was to be increased so that each centre of population in New South Wales was to have its State school. To the horror of little boys, attendance was compulsory.
And later:
The Education Act of 1880 naturally stimulated the building of schools in Sydney. [William] E. Kemp was appointed architect to the Department of Public Instruction, and by 1883 he had completed, amongst others, schools in Young Street, South Croydon, and in Bourke Street, Surry Hills, between Mort and Ridge streets.
Morton writes that “more important in the flow of Australian architectural evolution is his public school at Pyrmont. [His Sydney Technical College, Technological Museum], and Croydon public school were conceived by a mind imbued with all the love of fussy detail which the Victorian held was the true measure of architectural richness.”
Walls, as they are in those two buildings, were considered attractive if they were built of at least three different materials, with square-headed windows in some parts, large and small arches in others, with panels, strong courses and carved capitals to the piers, and elaborate wooden divisions in the windows. All the smaller bits were intended to be essentially interesting in themselves. 
But by the nineties architects were becoming restless in this myopic view. They began to feel that form, the whole mass of the building, should be more important than the parts. Architecture is an art which manipulates form and space – for useful purposes – and if the bulk of the building is not designed with skilful proportions to present a harmonious whole, then no amount of clever decoration will ever make it successful architecture. 
Something of this spirit must have moved Kemp when designing the Pyrmont school, for here decoration has been reduced drastically, and the result is much nearer to being architecture than his larger buildings.
The building was completed in 1891. Morton was born in 1903 in Woollahra and studied architecture at the University of Sydney, graduating in 1930. He died in 1983.


Saturday, 2 December 2017

Brutalism nine: Hyde Park Square

This is the ninth blogpost in a series about brutalist buildings in Sydney. This post deals wtih the two buildings at 201 and 227 Elizabeth Street, one being the former T&G Building and the other being the former Aetna Life Building. They are located opposite Hyde Park.

Unusually for a development application (DA), the city council’s file contains a separately-bound report, which has been carefully typed out, and that details the new project.
This report briefly describes the proposed redevelopment of the whole of the block bound by Elizabeth, Castlereagh, Bathurst and Park Streets, Sydney for our clients the Australasian Temperance and General Mutual Life Assurance Society Limited and the Producers and Citizens Life Insurance Company Limited.
The report was prepared by Alexander Kann, Finch & Partners of 32-36 Martin Place with consulting architects Peddle Thorpe & Walker, who had their offices in the new AMP Building at Circular Quay. While Alexander Kann, Finch & Partners worked as the main point of contact for the city council and other authorities involved in the discussions leading up to the construction, the report also notes that the architects for the P&C Tower (which would be renamed during the planning process the Aetna Life Building after a company name change; US-based Aetna had bought a majority interest in P&C in 1968) were Roy Grounds & Company Ltd and Cheesman Doley Brabham & Neighbour, as joint architects.

The site was at 201-227 Elizabeth Street, 190-226 Castlereagh Street, 120-130 Bathurst Street, 37-53 Park Street, which would involve the demolition of nine buildings owned by T&G as well as eight buildings, at the Bathurst Street end of the block, owned by P&C. The report was enthusiastic about the prospects for building something meaningful in the city.
The site improvements generally are proposed to be completely demolished to permit reconstruction and a feature of the design will be to integrate the two sites so that although they remain under two separate ownerships, an ideal environment will be created for the various functions to be incorporated in the scheme. 
A major factor in considering the design of the proposed T. & G. Building and the proposed P. & C. Building arises out of the mutual desire of all concerned to achieve a solution which will provide not only the ideal environment from the Societies’ point of view, but also the ideal environment from the civic point of view.

The above drawing in the DA file shows the locations of the two proposed buildings on the city block.

The report notes that the DA was the second to have been submitted for approval, after the first had expired. The new DA “incorporates both ownerships in order to achieve maximum benefit with a common plan of development and the ideal from a community viewpoint with the integrated layout at and below ground level”. The motion to approve the DA was carried by council on 5 April 1971.

The DA proposes excavating the whole site to provide three basement levels, the two lowest of which would be for car parking, with 250 spaces under the T&G Buildings and 64 spaces under the P&C Building. The original plan specified the driveways being parallel to Castlereagh Street, and the footpaths brought inside the site boundary “to avoid their crossing both in and outgoing traffic routes”. This part of the design ended up taking a long time to finalise, partly because of the difficulty brought to bear on the plans by public utilities, such as water mains, which had to be significantly altered in order to accommodate the new driveways. The architects also didn’t want to position the ramps on opposite sides of the open space between the two buildings as it would provide “a ‘moat’ effect and visual separation of the Plaza and public areas from the footways and the public at large”. The solution the architects ended up with, in consultation with the city planner, J.J. Doran, the important Heights of Buildings Committee of the state government, and the Police Traffic Branch, places both ramps in Castlereagh Street.

The architects also secured a higher floor space ratio of 12:1 by providing for pedestrian movement, light and ventilation. To qualify for the greater FSR, a 15-foot plaza was incorporated in the design around the perimeter of the site at footway level.

The architect’s report also notes that:
All vehicles providing service to the buildings would be encouraged to enter the basement areas to be dealt with at goods loading areas (with goods hoists) to avoid, and if possible eliminate, the necessity for any kerbside parking.
The shopping arcade on the first basement level would connect with Museum Station via a tunnel under Elizabeth Street. A second tunnel, connecting the site with the other side of Park Street, to the north, was also discussed, (although it never eventuated).
This through route for pedestrian traffic provides a substantial contribution to civic amenity and public safety and we commend the proposal to the [State Planning] Authority for their approval.
Another tunnel, under Castlereagh Street, to end up at the colonnaded area of the Park Regis, was also discussed but never eventuated. The city planner and the city engineer consulted with the controller of parks to decide on the final design of the tunnel entrance in Hyde Park. It appears that an entrance to the tunnel was planned to be built “immediately east of the Bathurst Street Obelisk”, but this plan seems to have fallen through. The Department of Railways had further agreed to demolish the Goulburn Street entrance to Museum Station.

The controller of parks sent a note to the town clerk on 27 July 1973:
The Minute and comments by the City Planner on the Hyde Park Square Pedestrian Underpass have been noted. 
It is reported that funds are not available in this Department’s current Revenue Estimates and no provision has been made for expenditure in the draft estimates for 1974, as this type of work would be normally charged to capital.
The report is enthusiastic about the shopping arcade:
Above the car parking decks a shopping mall is indicated, and the whole of the space at this level is devoted to retail facilities and public movement. 
The shopping or retail areas are designed to provide a “balanced” facility to the community with a good cross section of retail facilities, which, it is hoped, will cater for the lack of service shopping created by the growth of the many large buildings in the city. The extensive open spaces will themselves be landscaped and planted, they will be provided with fountains and seating, all with the intention of giving to the general public a pleasant atmosphere in which to shop or stroll and with shelter from the hot sun or winds. The Plaza at ground level is integrated with the shopping levels below and provides a maximum of open space between the two buildings.
The T&G Building would be designed in two parts. One section of the building, comprising the lower six floors, would house the offices of dentists currently using space in the existing buildings, and also dentists “from other buildings being demolished in the city”.
The Dental Section of the building is completely self-contained and is provided with lifts solely for the use of its tenants and their patients. These lifts serve the shopping level (in addition to the escalators) as well as the car parking floors, but do not proceed above the sixth (6th) level. 
The remaining 32 occupied floors have been planned with two rises of lifts, all as shown on the plans and with plant areas provided at the appropriate levels to cater for lift machinery and air conditioning equipment.
T&G made plans to enable the dentists operating in the existing building on the site to continue their practices undisturbed while the “low rise section” of the new building was completed. They were then moved into the new building while it was still under construction, so that the old building could be demolished.

The total cost of the entire development was estimated at $25 million. Dillingham Constructions Pty Ltd was contracted to prepare the site but Ford Excavations Pty Ltd, of 28 Stanley Street, Peakhurst, also worked on the site. A noise complaint emerged:
On the 29th February, 1972, Mrs. Jeanette Simpson, Unit 321 Park Regis rang to complain of work being carried out at this site up to 11.00 p.m. the previous night. 
Upon investigation I was informed by Mr. Mills of Mills and Broadhead Pty. Ltd., who are demolishing the premises, that not any demolition work was carried out the previous night but that this company did remove demolished material from the site[. W]hen Mr. Mills was advised that not any work could be carried out beyond the approved hours with Council’s consent he stated that he would immediately instruct his workmen to this effect. 
On the 1st march, 1972, Mrs. Simpson again rang to complain of jack hammers operating at 6.00 a.m. that morning. Mr. Mills was again interviewed and he was very upset to know that his instructions had been disregarded. He stated that when he arrived on the site at 6.50 a.m. that morning he found that two new Australians had commenced work without his authority and in consequence he felt that he was not responsible for the noise. He further stated that he immediately stopped the compressor and sacked the two workmen involved. 
There have been no further complaints of noise emanating from this site and Mrs. Simpson has confirmed that she has no further reason for complaint. 
In view of Mr. Mills obvious attempt to carry out work within the specified hours further action was not taken.
Thomas Anderson & Partners, consulting engineers, made mechanical drawings for the T&G Building. Concrete Constructions (N.S.W.) Limited was also employed. In a letter to council from the company, a request was made to extend the permissible working hours for the site:
We have been contracted for construct for Producers Properties a new building on the corners of Bathurst, Elizabeth and Castlereagh Streets, Sydney. 
We understand that your approval for construction of the works included a restriction of working hours applied to buildings approved after June 30th, 1969. 
We appeal to your Council for dispensation of these limitations. The nature of the work involves some complex load bearing precast concrete units and we envisage that we may need to transport and off load these outside of normal working hours. 
As you are probably aware the building is 27 floors and the volume of this work will span over the time needed to complete its structure. The structure itself is concrete and with this comes the problem of deliveries and planning, particularly pours. 
On this basis we ask Council to consider an extension of the working hours from 6.30 A.M. to 8.30 P.M.
It appears that permission was granted, but in a letter to the town clerk dated 22 January 1974, a project administrator for the company again asked for permission to extend the hours available to deliver materials to the site, this time on Sundays.
Further to your communication dated 17th August, 1973, Ref: 827/71:SFB, acknowledging receipt of our letter dated 14th August requesting an extension of working hours from 6.30 a.m. to 8.30 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, we also would require employing our men on some Sundays between the hours of 7.00 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. 
Having already commenced precast erection on site, your decision on these matters is urgently required and your early consideration of this would be greatly appreciated.

Above: The former Aetna Life Building on Bathurst Street. The former T&G Building is visible behind it.


Above: The former T&G Building as seen from Hyde Park near the War Memorial.


Above: The two buildings seen from Elizabeth Street, looking north.


Above: The entrance to the former T&G Building on Elizabeth Street.


Above: Looking down into the shopping plaza on the first basement level.


Above: The exit from the underground parking garage on Castlereagh Street, looking north.


Above: The period wall decorations in the tunnel underneath 227 Elizabeth Street. You can also enter the lower-ground floor of the building at 231 Elizabeth Street from further down in the tunnel, using escalators.


Above: The tunnel leading under Elizabeth Street to Museum Station. There is an entrance on Elizabeth Street next to Hyde Park to the tunnel and the station.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

You shouldn’t need to tell people to distrust Nazis: a report from the front line

A piece appeared recently on the New York Times’ website about a neo-Nazi living in Ohio.  The newspaper had commissioned the report and sent a journalist out to the Midwest to interview Tony and Maria Hovater. The report garnered adverse reactions on social media and the paper wrote a follow-up piece to engage with its audience but the negative tweets continued to appear.

I noted on Twitter that I found the report “anodyne” and this sparked comments from one respondent, who said, “I think there’s an awful long list to exhaust of people who need to be written about from a position of empathy before you feel the need to write a sympathetic piece on a nazi. The fact that someone felt the need to start there says something in itself.” I had suggested that the Times’ piece was reasonable. Then I said:
The problem that the elites, including the media, have ignored is that the working classes in the developed world are suffering from gross inequality. This chart shows how wages globally have changed since the 1980s.
I attached a chart to the tweet showing how wages have changed across the world over the past 30 years. The chart was presented by Professor John Romalis of the Department of Economics at the University of Sydney on 25 October this year during a talk on globalisation (which I covered on this blog). You can see big increases in wages for low-wage earners in the developing world – for example China and India – but big drops for lower-wage earners in the developed world. Wealth is gradually being moved from wealthy nations and deposited in poorer nations, so that all will eventually look the same in terms of wealth distribution (everything else being equal).


The chart is mirrored by one on Wikipedia’s page on the subject of inequality in the US, which shows how increases in productivity since the late 1970s have not been matched there by wage increases.


Further evidence on how the wages in the developed world have been affected by globalisation appeared yesterday on Twitter in an animated GIF, which I employed to make these images. The animation is based on information derived from the Pew Research Center. The images show how the wealth of the middle classes in the US has been eroded since the 1980s. As in the Romalis chart, these charts show a big increase in the wealth of the very-wealthy in the developed world.




What my interlocutor had ignored was that Nazism arose in Germany in the period between the wars following the great stockmarket crash of 1929, which started in New York and spread globally to cause the Depression. Added to that were crushing war reparations that had been imposed by the victors of WWI at the Treaty of Versailles, which saw Germany forced to pay vast amounts of money to its former enemies. In Germany the result was spiraling inflation, where whole stacks of banknotes were needed just for grocery shopping. In this environment of extreme discontent due to material hardship stemming from the Depression added to the humiliation that was linked to the reparations, the still-living memory of the defeat in WWI, Hitler and the Nazis in the 1930s found fertile soil for their radical ideas about the nature of humanity and the relationship between the government and the governed.

Similarly, in the post-GFC world, Donald Trump and his neo-Nazi, white-supremacist followers have found fertile soil for their ideas among the discontented in America. And Trump even wants to make inequality worse by cutting taxes for the very-wealthy!

But I think there’s another problem at work, and that’s to do with the inability of some people to “read” irony. They want everything richly flavoured and highly coloured and so the Grey Lady – the New York Times – seems too difficult for them. The paper is objective, fair and independent. It lets the reader make up his or her own mind. What many people seem to want is to be told exactly what to think, to have all the buttons pressed for them, to have the whole package presented, complete. Otherwise they don’t “get” what you’re saying. Personally, I prefer to get just the facts and make up my own mind. Not for me the Guardian or Breitbart; I prefer the Sydney Morning Herald. I think there’s a market for this kind of writing, but it’s in a rarefied arena it seems. 

I was looking back at my blog for mid-2008 yesterday when I was writing this blogpost and I found a review from August about Chloe Hooper’s creative nonfiction book The Tall Man, which was published in that year. I had written:
Just prior to reading this book I finished a biography of the literary journalist Martha Gellhorn. The contrast between the 'old school' of Gellhorn - who did a lot of coverage of WWII - and Hooper's equitable method is tonic. 
Gellhorn never didn't take sides. Hooper refuses to, and her book - which in her cover blurb Helen Garner says is "enthralling" and "studded with superbly observed detail" - is all the richer for it.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

‘Mr Eternity’ street art

On Sunday when I was walking to the shopping centre I came across this stencilled design on the pavement outside Channel Ten in Pyrmont. There were other occurrences of the same stencil on Bay Street, Ultimo, near Broadway, and it was also stencilled twice on the pavement on Broadway between Bay Street and Mountain Street. I had written about the ‘Yes’ graffiti that had been written on the pavement on Bay Street in September during the period when Australia was still participating in the same-sex marriage postal survey the coalition government insisted on subjecting us to. That graffiti had been written in the same style as the word ‘Eternity’ that had come to be an icon of Sydney in the middle of last century, when it was written again and again at different places in the city starting in 1930, by Arthur Stace, a reformed alcoholic. There is a Wikipedia entry about Stace, who became known as “Mr Eternity”, and who lived in Pyrmont. He was inspired to write the word after hearing a sermon at St Barnabas Church, on Broadway.


Monday, 27 November 2017

How Queensland electors voted this time

At first glance it seemed that minor parties did well in Saturday’s Queensland election, especially the right-wing, nationalist, xenophobic Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (PHON) and the progressive Greens – in other words, parties at the extreme ends of the political spectrum – but so far it is doubtful either will actually get any seats in Parliament. Or if they get any, it will be one each. Minor parties in Queensland do not have the option that is open to minor parties in other states and the Northern Territory, and federally, of holding the balance of power in the upper house (the house of review) because Queensland has only one chamber in its Parliament, where the upper house was abolished in 1932 by popular vote.

The minor party that has actually won seats at this point in time is Katter’s Australia Party, an agrarian-socialist outfit set up in 2011 by oddball conservative and north-Queenslander Bob Katter. The head of the KAP in Queensland is Bob’s son Robbie. The long-winded Bob is the sitting member in the federal Parliament for the north Queensland seat of Kennedy.

With power in the state Parliament so finely-balanced, the way that KAP politicians vote on key issues might turn out to be critical for the Australian Labor Party, which looks likely to form some sort of government this time. Whether the ALP under leader Annastacia Palaszczuk (pronounced “pala-shay”) will be able to form a government in its own right is another question. To have an outright majority, the ALP needs to have 47 seats in the Parliament. At the time of publication it had secured 43 seats, with 13 still undecided.

PHON got 13.7 percent of first preference votes and the Greens got 9.8 percent, and both had swings in favour. KAP got only 2.1 percent of first preference votes but it only ran candidates in a few northern seats, so its result is more focused than those of the other minor parties. The conservative Liberal National Party (LNP) saw its first preference vote drop by 7.9 percent. The ALP lost a little bit, mostly outside the populous south-east corner of the state. (The conservatives in power federally hold the balance of power in Parliament by the slenderest margin. Opinion polls for the federal Coalition are dire and have been dire for a long time.)

Muddying the waters a bit in the weekend’s Queensland election is the fact that the ALP government changed the voting system in 2016 to “instant-runoff voting” (according to Wikipedia). It’s known in Australia as “compulsory preferential voting”. It differs from the “single transferable voting” system used by all states for upper house elections and for the Australian Capital Territory (which has a unicameral parliament), and for the federal Senate, because it makes the voter mark a preference for each candidate listed on the ballot.

Candidates with the lowest totals get rejected and the second preferences on those ballots are allocated to the next eligible candidate, and this happens again if necessary until a single candidate can claim to have at least 50 percent plus one of the votes. Ballots that are not filled in correctly are not tallied and their total number is reported only as “informal”.

In an article published in The Conversation on 13 November this year, James Cook University’s Doug Hunt wrote :
Compulsory, or full preferential, voting requires an elector to number every box beside each candidate on the ballot paper sequentially in order of the voter’s preference. If no candidate achieves a majority of “1” votes on the first count, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated from the ballot, and their votes allocated to the remaining candidates according to the eliminated candidate’s second preference. 
This process continues until one candidate reaches a majority (50% plus one) of votes. The aim is to elect the most preferred candidate, rather than the simple plurality required under first-past-the-post voting.
In some Australian elections, preferences are decided between parties in deals done on a seat-by-seat basis, so the LNP might swap preferences in a job lot in a seat with PHON in the same seat, but for Queensland this time around the only thing that parties can do is suggest preferences on how-to-vote cards that are handed out by candidates and their flocks of volunteers, who hover around voters entering polling stations. There is no obligation for voters to follow these suggestions.

Because its Parliament is unicameral, the lay of the land democratically in the sunshine state is more like the way it is in the USA, where the major parties always dominate the final outcome at elections.

In addition to the minor parties – which did especially well in the headstrong north – there are several independents in this election, some of whom have a chance of influencing the drafting and passage of legislation in Parliament.

One of these people is Sandy Bolton, who is set to take the seat of Noosa on the Sunshine Coast. The 53-year-old was an independent councillor of the Noosa Shire Council from January 2014 to March 2016 and ran for the post of mayor in 2016 but was beaten by at a poll by independent Tony Wellington. She then decided to throw her hat into the ring for state government representing her area. At the time of publication, it was too early to know which of the lower-ranked candidates would be knocked out in the count, so second preferences had not been allocated for the seat on the Brisbane Times’ election website:


Another regional electorate where the result was still to close to call at the time of publication was Rockhampton in central Queensland. Here, the ALP candidate was ahead of independent Margaret Strelow, the former (ALP) mayor of the town of the same name. Her home page says she is “of a certain age” and notes that she was married in 1978 and has four grown-up children. It was too early to know which of the other candidates would be knocked out, so it was impossible to know at the time of publication how voters’ second preferences would be allocated:


Another central Queensland electorate that was too close to call was Mirani, where the ALP candidate was just ahead of the PHON candidate. It was possible at the time of publication that Mirani would go to PHON, based on expected second preference flows from LNP voters:


Further north, in north Queensland, there were four electorates where it was still too close to call at the time of publication. These included Cook, where the ALP was coming first but it wasn’t clear which of the next-running candidates would be knocked out, so their second preferences could not yet be allocated:


The other close races in the north were Hinchinbrook, where the LNP was ahead of the PHON with 29.9 percent of first preferences, Mundingburra, where the ALP was ahead of the LNP with 31.7 percent of first preferences, and Thuringowa, where the ALP was ahead of the LNP with 32.3 percent of first preferences.

Further south, in Bundaberg, the LNP was ahead of the ALP with 35.7 percent of first preferences.

In the southeast corner, where the bulk of the state’s population is, there were three electorates on the Sunshine Coast with tight races: Caloundra (LNP ahead of ALP with 38.8 percent of first preferences), Noosa (already mentioned), and Pumicestone (ALP ahead of LNP with 36.3 percent of first preferences). Here is the detail for Pumicestone, showing that the seat could go to the LNP on the back of PHON second preferences:


There were also two electorates on the Gold Coast with tight races: Bonney (LNP ahead of ALP with 43.8 percent of first preferences), and Gaven (LNP ahead of ALP with 46.4 percent of first preferences). Here is the detail for Gaven:


The “preference count” shown on the Brisbane Times election website means total votes for each candidate after distribution of second preferences on ballots where first preferences had gone to eliminated candidates, in these cases the ONP’s Greg Fahey (Pumicestone) and the Greens’ Sally Spain (Gaven).

In Brisbane, the seat of Maiwar was a might-win for the Greens, but again the result would depend on where individual voters put their second preferences:


By 11.24am on Sunday, the Brisbane Times reported on its website that ABC psephologist Antony Green had given 48 seats to the ALP. "I think they have a certain 46, and they only need one more vote," Green said. "At the moment we are giving them another two on prediction.” The ALP’s state secretary, Evan Moorhead, publicly claimed victory at 12.59pm on Sunday.

It should be remarked that the advice given to voters by parties regarding preferences was usually predictable, for example the Greens preferencing the ALP ahead of the LNP (as in the case of Gaven, which would become an ALP seat on the back of Greens preferences), and PHON preferencing the LNP ahead of the ALP (as in the case of Pumicestone, which would become an LNP seat on the back of PHON preferences). And because progressives tend to preference progressives, and conservatives conservatives, voters would be naturally inclined to give preferences conforming to the official party advice contained in how-to-vote cards.

The Brisbane Times is a Fairfax-owned news website that was established in 2007. Its editor is Danielle Cronin, who provided information about the new Queensland voting system for this report. The site ended its live election coverage at 6.16pm yesterday with the same 13 seats still to be decided.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Muzak in Darling Harbour

I had noticed these speakers the other day when I was walking through Darling Harbour on my way to Oxford Street to get some lunch. They are positioned on top of marine bollards and they match the new speakers that are positioned on the light poles on Pyrmont Bridge as well. The city council has seen fit to intrude into the neutral space that everybody can enjoy by playing inane muzak in the open air. Currently, the tunes are Christmas tunes but no doubt they will change with the season. It's bureaucracy gone mad, and no doubt part of the surveillance state, with the speakers undoubtedly doubling as a PA system in case of emergencies. Once you get past the stupid music piping out of the speakers and intruding on your personal space, you reach the zone under the motorway where the white noise of cars and trucks and buses passing overhead drowns out the idiocy. On Pyrmont Bridge the senseless noise pursues you all the way to the end of the structure.


Saturday, 25 November 2017

Mapplethorpe at the Art Gallery of New South Wales

I wandered up to the AG NSW yesterday and had a look at the Mapplethorpe exhibition that is on. A few weeks ago I had gone to a talk held at the gallery led by curator Isobel Parker Philip with the participation of contemporary Australian photographers Samuel Hodge, Paul Knight and Spence Messih, that was held to complement the exhibition. That talk was interesting but a bit unfocused, but yesterday I saw the actual photos of the famous American photographer on the walls. Here are a few of them (you are able to take photos of the photographs as long as you don’t use a flash).

‘Dominick and Elliot’, 1979. This is a sadomasochistic picture showing a man upside down strapped to a crucifix. Another man has his arm between the restrained man’s legs, his hand cradling the upside-down man’s genitals. The standing man has short hair and a hairy chest, and the hair on the restrained man is also a feature of the work.


A photo of a bruised Catherine Milinaire (1976) is as direct and unadorned as the more famous photos of Patti Smith. This photo has a history behind it. The text accompanying the photo tells the story: During a visit to Paris, Mapplethorpe organised to take photos of the American actor Denis Hopper, who was living with fashion editor Catarine Milinaire. Mapplethorpe socialised with the couple at their apartment and arrived there the next day and found it in disarray. Milinaire was hiding in the bathroom, her face “battered and bruised”. She agreed to have her photograph taken “to expose the reality of violence against women and its prevalence, irrespective of socio-economic status”.

There is also a photo of Mapplethorpe’s mentor John McKendry dated 1975 which is wry, showing a half portrait of the man’s face next to wall sockets. A 1981 photo of Deborah Harry has a severe directness to it as the young rocker looks straight at the camera, unflinchingly. ‘Nick’, 1977, shows a young man with tattoos and a full beard staring at the camera over his shoulder. Over his shoulder the young man holds a leather jacket and he wears a studded belt.


Photo of Marcus Leatherdale, 1978, shows a naked young man, his body facing to the right but his face looking directly at the camera over his left shoulder. Over his shoulder the man has draped a dead rabbit. The corpse’s cotton tail is situated precisely adjacent the man’s nose. Another photo is a photo of Alice Neel, dated 1984, which shows an elderly woman with her eyes closed and her mouth open. Her white wispy hair is not completely in order and you can see the top of her bottom teeth.

‘Calla lily’, 1986 has the flower caught in a bright light that comes from directly above the subject. The flower’s shadow looks like a wisp of smoke trailing away to the shadow of the stem.


‘Ron Simms’, 1980. A naked backside with the man’s hand falling relaxed next to his upper thigh, with the man facing to the left. The sheen and lustre of black skin. The light is coming from the left, so the shadow of the man’s arm falls across his left buttock, incising for the viewer the contour of the gluteus maximus.


‘Grapes’, 1985. The dark fruit hangs from a point outside the frame. There are two light sources. One light source is from in front and above. The second light source is from below. The grapes look like they are carved from granite.


The more risqué photos are kept in a separate room, off to the side of the main gallery that has been set up, and there is a guide stationed at the entrance. I asked her if she was there to keep the kids out and she told me, with a smile, it was to, “Answer any questions people have.” These photos are hung in a different way, all in rows (as shown below), rather than individually, as are the other photos in the exhibition. Along the other wall in this small gallery are examples of the original albums that were used to publish these parts of Mapplethorpe’s opus.


To accompany the exhibition, there is a book available in the gallery shop which was published by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, which is the source of the photos in the exhibition. The book was published in 2016 with text by Paul Martineau and Britt Salvesen. You can buy the book and read their introduction if you want more information about Mapplethorpe’s life. What comes across in the exhibition of the works, however, is that Mapplethorpe was an artist in a hurry. It only took about 10 years from the mid-70s to the mid-80s for the photographer to cement his legacy, and to take the majority of the photographs that would go on to make him famous. He died in 1989, at the height of the AIDS crisis, after he had achieved material success.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Protecting whistleblowers and journalists' sources in the digital age

As well as Paul Farrell from BuzzFeed we had on the panel host Julie Posetti, Peter Tonoli from Electronic Frontiers Australia, and Elise Worthington a journalist at the ABC who works on investigative pieces. The hashtag for the evening was #protectsources.

The Panama Papers release was enabled using encryption, and was unprecedented in history in its scope. But in India they are creating the biggest biometric database in history using iris scans. India’s equivalent of the high court says that privacy should be enshrined in law. In Australia, the government is introducing biometric passports that will mean that you won’t need a paper passport anymore and the authorities will use iris scans at airports. In 2013, after Edward Snowden’s leak the UN started to get worried about the undermining of fundamental human rights, and contracted Posetti’s work unit to study the environment for whistleblowers and journalists’ sources. The UNESCO study took place over a 10-year period covering 121 countries, and involved 134 survey respondents, and made 33 recommendations.

A creeping effect was noticeable, not just dramatic changes. There is a struggle between the right to feel safe and that of free expression. Journalists are now going back to analogue tactics to protect sources. Often discovery occurs at the point of first contact.

Farrell said that we’re lucky in Australia because the potential cost for whistleblowers was not as severe as it was in some parts of the world, but he said we’re still in a precarious position. He said it was increasingly easy for government agencies to go after journalists’ sources. Worthington said that journalism relies on protecting confidential sources. It is the responsibility of journalists to educate the public and sources on the best ways to contact you. Tonoli said that you are only paranoid if they’re not out to get you. Non-anonymity, he went on, is a problem in social media because of Facebook’s true-name policy and Twitter's verification mark. He added that there is a red flag for journalists who use the secure browser Tor.

Worthington said that she had dozens of people contact them for a 4 Corners story and she had gone to the trouble of setting up a separate device without a SIM card that stays in one location: a dumb phone. She had 30 people contact her on Signal and of them 80 percent had never used Signal before. There is an appetite for these methods of communication in the community, she said. Farrell said that using Signal reduces some of the barriers for first contact, and that mobile encryption is easier to achieve therefore better. Tonoli said that Signal is not just used by whistleblowers but also by normal people in the broader community.

The panel then discussed the issue of the different levels of security that belong to sources. Knowing at what level people who want to contact you are working is important. Worthington said you don’t know what level you’re working at and so it is easy to leave a trail. You need a way to find out easily who people are. Tonoli said that Signal is pretty secure but that the organisation that owns it has in the past been subpoenaed by the government.

Posetti went on to say, pointing to the journalism that Farrell had produced, that the Australian government had started to treat offshore refugees with the same sensitivity as subjects that have traditionally been considered to be part of national security. Farrell noted that he had covered a story once about the Australian authorities turning back boats and had found subsequently out that the AFP had launched an investigation into his research. Then, he started writing about this. He discovered that the AFP had illegally accessed his phone records. Worthington said that there is good reason to be paranoid. She added that during the Panama Papers investigation she had found that the encryption that they had to use was quite cumbersome but it was critical otherwise they would never have got access to the information. She worked on the project full time for a month then part time for six months.

Tonoli said you should use method with a small digital footprint. Send a letter, for example, if you are a whistleblower. For journalists, he said you should put your Signal information on your Twitter bio. Farrell noted that law enforcement agencies have finite resources, and are not interested in a lot of these communications, but he added that using Signal is a good starting point. Tonoli said you need all journalists to use encrypted methods to get herd immunity. Worthington noted that the encrypted data deposit method called SecureDrop is very expensive to implement. Farrell said that as a journalist you should make yourself as accessible as possible for the community. He pointed to the Tails operating system that you can boot from USBs and DVDs. Tonoli noted that the Tails operating system has tools that let you anonymise images.

There were some no-shows for the evening hosted by the University of Wollongong at their Sydney Business School at Macquarie Place, next to Circular Quay. Peter Greste was sick and unable to attend, the ABC’s Caro Meldrum-Hanna was on assignment and couldn’t make it, and Gerard Ryle from the ICIJ couldn’t make it because he was just off the plane.


From left: Peter Tonoli, Elise Worthington, Paul Farrell, Julie Posetti.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Homelessness "can happen to anyone"

This is the latest in a series of blogposts about homelessness. For this post, I spoke with Mekonen, who is the CEO of the Station, a drop-in centre at 82 Erskine Street, near Wynyard Station. I had found that people begging on the street in the city often go to the Station for a meal during the day, so I wanted to find out more about it.

MdS: Ok, [the voice recorder is] recording. So, I was interested the other day we talked and you told me a little bit about the history of the Station. Can you just quickly tell me a little bit how it started up and when it started up?

The Station started up in 1978 by a group of people who had an alcohol problem at that time. The centre was at that time closed so they asked the government if they could use the building for their meetings. And they were just using it as a meeting place and it just developed from there to becoming what the Station is at this moment.

MdS: So originally who was funding the Station when it was first started up? Was that the state government?

The state government, yes. The Department of Health in the first instance. But at the moment it’s funded by federal and state governments.

MdS: What type of services do you provide for homeless people?

We don’t claim to do miracle things but we are very good in crisis intervention. The basic things what our rough sleepers and complex-needs clients need, that is a place to come to have a cup of tea, a cup of coffee, breakfast, lunch, laundry facilities, showers. They just come in and rest and watch TV and meet someone. So we are very good at that kind of crisis intervention. On top of that we have a mental health counselling service, drug and alcohol counselling service, housing support workers. And on top of that we have legal advice, the St Vincent mental health team come there once a week, we have stakeholders like Centrelink they come once a week, doctors, psychiatrists. We do the whole lot, almost the whole lot at no cost to the client.

MdS: So how many clients do you see in a day or in a week?

In a day between 100 and 110, 115, it depends.

MdS: There’s about 105,000 homeless people in Australia according to the 2011 Census. The ABS uses different categories to count homelessness including sleeping rough but there are also other categories too. How important do you think it is to use all those different categories to count the homeless?

There are two things in homelessness. One is homelessness: people are homeless, they sleep in the street. And the other one is all homeless people who are sleeping in other agencies, overnight, for three nights or other homeless people who are staying in boarding houses, or there are also clients who don’t have adequate housing. So the number is, I’m not sure what the number is, but I’m just a bit sceptical about the number because it’s really hard to count the number of homeless people because [of] where they have been, where they find them, where do they sleep. There are homeless people sleeping in the train for example, moving from here to Lithgow and sleeping overnight there. People are on the move from Central to Sydney CBD. So really it’s very hard to get the homeless number right. You can’t just leave an application form, [and] say, “Where did you sleep last night?” They move, they are transient. They can move from here to Queensland tomorrow, or they can move from here to Wollongong tomorrow. They are always on the move. They are very transient, so it’s very, very hard to put a number. I would be very careful to put a number on homelessness. I would be very careful, yeah.

MdS: The figures for the 2016 Census will be released later this year, I’ve already been in touch with the Bureau of Statistics. Do you think the number is going to increase compared to 2011?

I don’t know but from what we see on the ground, it’s increasing. It’s not decreasing. I’m talking about the Station. But I wouldn’t have a clue how they put a number, they might have their own method, but from the Station’s point of view it’s increasing. We are getting more clients and younger clients now.

MdS: What are the main reasons that people give for being homeless? Are there any patterns that you can see?

Mostly it’s drug and alcohol, mental health issues, sexual assault. All those multi-issues are the cause of homelessness. Homelessness is something that can happen to anyone, no-one starts [out] to be homeless but something happens on the way and people can’t cope and they become homeless. But there is a combination of all those issues that people … The other [thing] that is very important is the affordable accommodation, also. Rent is expensive, the lack of government housing stock, the waiting list, all those kind of things, you know. Also the budget of people who are unemployed. It’s a combination of those issues.

MdS: What do you think that should be done to help alleviate the problem of homelessness? What types of policies do we need to introduce?

There is a need of more affordable housing and support with it if we are going to reduce homelessness. Affordable housing, governments, and also the outreach work because most of our clients don’t understand about budgeting, living skills and things like that. So it’s not a matter of just putting a homeless person in a house and expect them to live there for longer, or whatever. There has to be support and outreach service supporting them on their needs, whether it’s budgeting, cooking, paying their bills, just to make sure they keep that accommodation for a longer period. Without a roof over your head it’s very hard to work on their personal issues. So, as I said, housing is very important. Outreach support is also very important.

MdS: I think I’ve finished asking questions, is there anything else you think that I should know to tell my readers about homelessness? I’ve been writing about homelessness now for a couple of months on my blog and there’s a lot of interest out there in the community for these blogposts.

The public has to understand that homelessness is not a choice, it can happen to anyone. We have got electricians, plumbers, public servants, welfare workers who are homeless at the moment because something just happened. So we can never be judgemental about the homeless because it can happen to anyone. That’s what I would say to the public. Support the homeless, that’s all.



The Station is located on the corner of Clarence Street and Erskine Street, near Wynyard.