Radical houses in Brisbane in the 1970s

Austral Street St Lucia

The first radical house I lived in was in Austral Street St Lucia in Brisbane. I lived there from 1975 ~1977. At Austral Street I met people involved in agitating for public transport, independent media, opposition to uranium mining and export, radical films, opponents of high rise development and people wanting democratic rights in Queensland. We often showed 16mm films at the house which we borrowed from the various consulates in Canberra.

The house contained seven bedrooms. The rent was $10 each per week and we belonged to a food co-op contributing $7 each. I lived comfortably on the $30 a week. It cost only $2.10 to fill up my 1951 Morris and a tank lasted for a month.

In those years we lived in fear of being raided by police even though we had cordial relations with our neighbours. We ran a number of campaigns out of the house as did people before I lived there. 4ZZZ people used to hang out there. In my era it was about public transport and stopping high development. We assembled a booklet about improving public.

Occasionally people would smoke marihuana at the house which increased our paranoia. Here is one of the stories from the house. We made a radio play about a drug bust by Det. Inspector Kevin Dorries.

To explain, Kevin Dorries was a much feared policeman of the Joh era; he intimidated people who lived in share houses and/or smoked dope (I did the former, but not the latter).  It was folklore that Dories was capable of every act of violence and intimidation depicted in the re-enactment.

A friend ‘Dandenong’ Dave played one of the people that Dorries busted, and I played Dorries (or someone like him) – no technical masterpiece but it reflects fears held at the time. Cops were backed 100% by the government. Police ran the drug trade and the corruption that went with it, something the Fitzgerald inquiry did not explore.

The beginning and end of the re-enactment feature Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish you were here’ which I have added. David Gilmour and Roger Waters collaborated to write the music, and Gilmour sang the lead vocal. In recent years, Roger Waters has come out in support of the Palestinian call for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Campaign against Israel.

Some of the people in Austral Street were ‘Pic’ who was one of the first women employed as a bus driver by the Brisbane City Council. Pic was a volunteer at 4ZZZ and helped lay the bricks for its construction under the University of Qld Refectory. Pic taught me what was required to live and share in a communal house. Previously I had lived, very much alone, on a boat on the St Lucia reach of the Brisbane River.

Photo: Gordon Curtis. Taken most likely in November or October 1975 inside the original studios in the basement of U of Q Students Union complex. Margot Foster and Pic (Brenda Mattick) are laying bricks.
Photo: Gordon Curtis. Taken most likely in November or October 1975 inside the original studios in the basement of U of Q Students Union complex. Margot Foster and Pic (Brenda Mattick) are laying bricks.

Another was Andrew Herrington who put together the book on Public Transport in Australia. People in the share house at Austral Street took up a petition and ran a court case against the very first ‘high-rise’ development on the waterfront at St Lucia. The development was proposed to be 8 stories. The Austral Street mob (Andrew Herrington was the main petitioner) won in the Land court!

“The Drug Bust” would never have made the cut at 4ZZZ which was an alternative radio station that obtained a special educational licence in 1975 and played the Who’s ‘We won’t get fooled again’ at its first broadcast. It had grown out of the New Left’s experience of the Vietnam War, conscription, and women’s rights. 4ZZZ banned the Civil Liberties program in 1977 for fear of losing its licence. Zed fled its haven at the University of Queensland student union building when threatened with eviction by a National Party UQ student president, Victoria Brazil. It eventually set up at the old Communist Party Headquarters at 291 St Pauls Terrace in Fortitiude Valley. Many of the people in share houses listened to 4ZZZ including those at Austral Street.

Like a small number of other houses, Austral Street was known as a political house. Nearby 22 Schonell Drive was also a political house. There were a number of communal houses in St Lucia and West End where people, not always students, socialised their poverty, thus getting by ‘on the smell of an oily rag’.

‘Queenslanders’ with their wide verandahs, multiple bedrooms and plenty of storage space underneath were ideal for communal living. They were not always political, many were social places not particularly interested in left-wing radical politics but more concerned with alternative ‘hippy’ culture, some were involved in the local music scene – against a background of the individualism and consumerism of middle class surburbia. Often the houses were a mixture of all these, many on the ‘social’ left than poitical, depending on who rented them.

Some of the best landlords were the Greeks in West End like Mr Georges who would come around on Friday collect the rent and offer a refund to fix a faulty tap or to paint a room.

All had a fear of the Queensland Police Force and its culture of bashing up those who were different.

Ian Curr
10 Sept 2019

Trifecta at 608 Brunswick Street

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