Money talks at West Village

All that glitters is not gold‘  –  ‘Merchant of Venice’ by Shakespeare.

Jonno looking at West VillagePhoto: Councillor for the Gabba, Jonathan Sri, looks at West Village site (Courier Mail). The hole in the ground is still there but there are now some extra buildings.

In country towns and in cities everywhere there is a new inequality. Workers are moving to where wages are better, while others are left behind. It is a global thing. In towns where Woolworths or Coles move in, all the shops in the main street feel the pressure. Some close.

It is the same in West End in Brisbane. Now that West Village is about to open, older businesses in Boundary Street may be waiting nervously for what is to come. Coffee shops may survive because of the increased street trade seeking the grungy cache of West End. But the Pharmacy, the Delis, the Newsagent, the optometrist and other businesses may suffer.  They may survive by virtue of existing trade + ‘newbies’. It must be the same in Paris and London. Older businesses may struggle, the posh move in and inequality is established.

Councillor for the Gabba, Jonathan Sri, West End Community Centre (WECA) and others have reminded local people that one part of West Village will open soon. It is the privately owned public green space at the Mollison Street end of Boundary Street, just near the WestPac bank.

I lived in the next block, in Russell Street in the 1980s. It was a communal house with six or seven residents at any one time. The West End Post Office is there now. Mr Georges was our landlord; he would come by on Fridays to collect our modest rent and have a cup of tea with us. He would give us $10 back to fix a tap or paint a room. The old Greek lady wearing black next door would cook biscuits and bring them over even though she could barely walk. Aboriginal kids would pass by and one even tried to pinch a typewriter from our front verandah till he realised that the typewriter does not fit through metal bars on the window.

Even though I still cycle past the new West Village development most weeks, the monstrosity of it has been pushed into the background with its high fences and general ugliness. Until recently, that is, when they started blocking off part of Boundary Street to put in services and make last minute preparations for its opening.

West Village will become a place of casualised, uncertain crappy jobs for retail workers, cleaners, baristas, sparkies, office clerks, labourers, chippies and maintenance workers, admin workers for real estate agents etc. Ironically these workers cannot afford to live in West End, just like the construction workers who built the site … but unlike the building workers, these workers will not be members of unions.

So the ‘Posh end’ of Boundary Street will be both rich and poor. When local member and Deputy Premier, Jackie Trad, called in the development and increased the number of levels that even the BCC disallowed, was she digging her own grave? Probably not. Who will the ALP get to hand out their how-to-vote cards? They will continue to pay their office workers and bring union members from elsewhere. Will the ‘newbies’ be Jackie’s and Annastacia’s people? Will the newbies vote conservative? I know, it is hard to tell the difference between Labor or LNP 🙁 these days. Maybe it was really always like this.

Not surprisingly, there is a disconnect between the ‘community’ spoken of by the grungy alternates and future occupants of West Village, new residents who will be ‘serviced’ by low paid workers. Do either workers or newbies share the alternative political views espoused In West End? I think not.

Learning ExchangePhoto: The Learning Exchange in Boundary Street circa 1977.

The ‘grungy alternates’ with their scabby, runny-nosed children have been displaced progressively since Expo ’88. The ‘weirdos’ have left the scene for public service jobs, the daily grind, small business and for some, death.

It may seem obvious to many, but when Jonno, the local councillor, proposes ‘action’ to mark the opening of West Village, the response immediately becomes a political question which is neither a ‘party’, nor a social function nor a musical or art event. But it may turn out that way. By their very existence such action(s) have a political character that recognizes both old and new ‘facts on the ground’.

Old facts
I remember there were warnings during Expo ’88 of dire changes to the character of West End (Kurilpa), the response then was to squat in blocks that were to be redeveloped … evictions followed.

Police and security guards are on the alert for such activity these days, squatting days are over, the fate of ‘Occupy’ demonstrated this, perhaps not so strangely we ended up in West End (Musgrave and then Orleigh Park). Back in the ’80s, that generation of West Enders were forced out into the ‘burbs by the ‘newbies’ of that era; but some remained.

werc-may-1st-club-e1538770237554Photo: West End Resource Centre at 75B Vulture Street where we ran the May 1st Club on Friday nights. This centre was a joint operation run in the early 80s by the Learning Exchange, LeftPress, and Friends of the Earth.

For social functions, music etc, we still have Kurilpa Hall, or do we? AHIMSA house is gone – victim of left-wing corruption never properly dealt with. The markets ar Souths are still part of the old West End. There are nooks and crannies, but not much else.

Perhaps people will accept what comes with West Village? Although it will be a difficult pill to swallow with the increased traffic and bigger crowds. Will they say, ‘Be glad West End isn’t as bad as Surfers Paradise’? The glitter and beaches barely camouflage the corruption beneath. Mind you, the corruption in West End is pretty palpable too. But enough said here … facebook is probably not the place to have this discussion. Plus a lot of people are not on facebook and question its suitability for organising solidarity and resistance.

West End Council
I think Kurilpa should have its own local government, its own council; not to run things like garbage collection and buses but to have the final say over whether people want developments like West Village at all. A right to veto such developments that Jackie Trad and her government has allowed and to express how we think the place should grow according to our alternative ways of being and doing.

I’ve wondered how this may come about. Perhaps we should set up a community kitchen in the ‘green space’ at West Village and encourage all to come and break bread with us. Ask people who wish to resist if they want to start a rates strike where residents and businesses refuse to pay council rates and demand greater say in how public and private space are used.

Come all you radical chic, students, blackfellas, grungy alternates, sacked misfits, low paid, environmentalists, community workers, women’s liberationists let us heed the call and rally against West Village!

Money Talks
And what about the unions, they must have disputes on that work site as well.
What is the dialogue or conversation (if any) that’s happening with union members and organizers. I was only there this morning (9 Oct) and I asked what is going on with the development, interrupting what an ETU union organiser was telling workers at the gate.
I think he may have had some trouble getting entry to the site, I’m not sure.
The union organiser looked at me with doubt, disapproval, and little trust ‘What are you doing here? Who are you?
I said: ‘I’m opposed to this development, it’s a joke!’
The workers nearby laughed.
And then the organisers just walked away.
So I went up to a demountable at the top end of the site on Mollison Street and asked a couple of workers what was going on, asking if the ETU had a blue on at West Village.
They replied ‘you are talking to the wrong blokes‘. I asked if they were union they said ‘Yeah’. So I said I was opposed to the development. They replied ‘Money Talks.’

Sous les pavés, la plage!  –  Paris ’68

Ian Curr
October 2018

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