The wrong side of the river

It is important to get both facts and analysis right. The author claims in The wrong side of the river”: Expo ’88 and the Right to the City that “the Bowen Hills freeway project was only really stalled by the global financial crisis of the 1970s.”

Film flyer for ‘The Battle for Bowen Hills’

The Battle for Bowen Hills and world finance

Firstly it is not clear what the author means by “global financial crisis of the 1970s”.

If he means the  1973 ‘Arab oil shock’ where the price of oil quadrupled overnight, then this may have been a factor. He should explain how. The Queensland Department of Main Roads built an extensive freeway system on the southside of the river in 1974. It was not until 1985 that the proposal for freeway construction through Bowen Hills was cancelled due to community opposition and funding issues.

It is true that protest alone does not change the world.

Look at the map of Bowen Hills today with its maze of fly-overs and by-passes to see how hard it is to halt capitalist development for the rich.

Bowen Hills

However, from memory, it was Tom Uren, the Minister for Urban and Regional Development in the Whitlam government (1972-75), who put an end to the freeway project through Bowen Hills. He did this after working class residents, migrants, old-age pensioners and students battled the police and the Queensland government to stop the freeway and save affordable housing owned by the Qld Main Roads Department.

Yes, Tom was a minister in a reformist Whitlam government that helped rehabilitate the urban public transport system particularly the electrification of the rail system and the upgrading of railway lines in various states. Tom would turn in his grave to hear that Labor governments along with the Tories have sold off public assets like the railway system.

I remember Tom Uren coming to the forum area at the University of Queensland Students Union in 1977 and being arrested on the street marches that followed. The author is saying we should not romanticize past struggles. The people who organised the street marches were not romantics, they were many things but not that. So who is he talking about? Current activists?

I don’t think the people who organised the refugee solidarity protest at KP Prison are romantics.

Struggle is too much of a hard slog for romantics, they may last a week but the street marches went on for two and half years. We had to deal with police, courts, media, government, apathy, racism, opportunists, student centrists, arm chair academics …..

For readers ‘The Battle for Bowen Hills’ is documented by Peter Gray on his website. Here is one of the leaflets put out by the Freeway Protest committee …


The Word From Struggle Street

Text of a talk I gave at the Right to the City/Brisbane Free Uni organised ‘More that Steel and Concrete’ event, held at the Bearded Lady on 31 May 2016

I was invited here tonight to give some thoughts on the history of struggles in West End and surrounds against over development. Just by way of introduction, I am a historian of social movements. I did a PhD a few years back at UQ, looking at Australian protest movements of the 1960s/70s and their global imagination and connections. Currently, I am writing a history of human rights discourse in Australia. What we call ‘Urban history’ figures large in my writing. I’m interested in how people imagine their city and construct meaning of it, particularly through what Henri Lefebvre, who coined the term ‘right to the city’, calls ‘producing spaces’ of opposition and contestation.

My comments will revolve around some documents…

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