Taming the concrete jungle, 1973
Source: Australian Building Construction Employees and Builders Laborers Federation, NSW branch, July 1973
Source: Book, 135pp, July 1973
Transcription, mark-up: Steve Painter
For want of houses, the NSW Housing Commission alone has (as we’ve seen) a waiting list of 40,000 families; Sydney suburbs could by 1980 have a shortage of 4000 hospital beds; there aren’t enough schools and some existing schools are in gross disrepair — but, in late 1972, more than 150 office-block and other commercial construction projects, worth more than $600 million, were either under way in Sydney or were in proposals before the Sydney City Council. Such is the distortion of building resources and effort that goes these days by the name of “development”. An industry gone mad.
It is people who give a city life. But Sydney and other capitals have become — or are on the way to becoming — stark canyons of glass and concrete, of buildings that lack grace or distinction, like upended matchboxes, and with the pockmarks of excavations in readiness for new high-rise ugliness.
Voices are raised in dismayed protest: voices of architects, of conservationists, trade unionists and many others. In an address under the auspices of the Australia Party in 1971, the noted architect Mr Harry Seidler said:
Our cities are rapidly becoming more and more chaotic.
Some people tend to delude themselves into believing that our increasing building development symbolises progress and a buoyant economy. To those, however, concerned about the long-range effects of the development taking place, it is a source of increasing alarm and even despair considering the incredible lack of overall direction and planning. Our metropolitan populations will double by the year 2000 … This means that we will have to build more cubic space of building in the next 32 years than we have built since this country was first populated.
One would think this to be a great challenge … Given, however, the existing apathy and staggering unenlightenment on the part of our bureaucratic machinery which controls physical environment, it seems there is only room for despair.
Professor Peter Scott, one of Australia’s leading town planning academics, said in September 1972 that, despite the experiences overseas, Australia still seemed mesmerised by freeway systems, inner-city parking stations, large-scale shopping centres and massive city centre development. His immediate reaction on returning to Australia from a visit overseas was despair at the comparative lack of any forward planning in our cities. Even the small amount of planning that was going on seemed to be caught up in the high-rise buildings, freeways and traffic systems, which allowed for a greater volume of traffic, human and otherwise, but in the process destroyed a city’s personality.
Australian cities have failed to learn from what has painfully happened overseas. A London group called Counter Information Services — a Nader-style organisation — wrote of the situation there: “The problems of London are massive … The stranglehold of the developers and land monopolisers makes any solution in the interests of the people, any other outcome than chaos, an impossibility.”
Leaving housing to be determined by the market, it said, meant that “there will never be an end to slums, homelessness and human misery”. But developers in Australia, with the encouragement of smirking authorities, go right on creating that situation here too.
A correspondent to The Bulletin wrote of Sydney heading “straight into a third-rate copy of New York, Chicago, Boston and a dozen other North American cities”, and said that “the only planning being done is on balance sheets — how to squeeze higher rents out of existing areas”.
Michael Kartzoff, in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1972, deplored Sydney’s planlessness. He wrote:
Sydney 40 years ago was a pleasant city, with tremendous possibilities for development, if only imagination and sound planning were used as a guide, instead of pursuit of financial gain …
The great cities of the world — Paris, Rome, Berlin, even New York — have their character, their soul, because of the people who live in them.
But, he said, Sydney after business hours was an empty shell, while the sprawl of suburbia extended to Parramatta and Cronulla. Greed triumphed over planning. Farmland and bushland, which could have provided breathing spaces between centres of population, had been swallowed up.
An editorial in a 1972 bulletin of the National Trust said developers were ripping the civic heart out of Sydney with persistent and relentless assaults on fine old buildings. It said also:
Unless the present wave of destruction is halted, Sydney will never achieve the historical depth which gives the older cities of the world so much appeal, and our descendants will look back on the present generation as greedy tasteless barbarians …
Fine old city buildings become obsolete and are torn down, not because they no longer serve a useful purpose but because they do not exploit to the full the earning capacity of the site.
Mrs Edna Roper, a Labor politician, said in the NSW parliament in August 1972:
I love Sydney, but at the moment it is a vile place in which to walk. There is no level ground on which to put your feet, and everywhere your ears are attacked by the ghastly noise of jackhammers.
Some of the developments have lain idle for years, and there is dust and noise everywhere else. Ugly hoardings and unpleasant sights and odors assault the senses.
An Edgecliff man complained in a letter to the press: “I used to be able to walk down Phillip Street in the city and see Sydney harbour. Now all I see is a motorway on top of an elevated railway line.”
In a foreword to the City of Sydney Strategic Plan (1971), Lord Mayor Sir Emmet McDermott said: “Over the past 20 years, redevelopment has gone on in bits and pieces, without benefit of any overall guiding strategy.”
The Sydney City Council’s Strategic Plan says sombrely: “By 1969, significant areas of the city had been haphazardly redeveloped by the unco-ordinated acts of private developers and separate government authorities.”
That Strategic Plan says also: “Every individual has ideas on how to improve the quality of his or her life but some ideas are common to all: freedom to choose from a range of jobs, services, homes and leisure-time opportunities; ability to carry on everyday activities in pleasant and stimulating physical settings; freedom of movement to, around and within the city in a convenient, comfortable and safe manner; freedom to communicate, to mix or to be alone.”
But the plan acknowledges that “unclean air, noise, continual delays and obstructions, and overcrowded streets and footpaths contribute to the dangerous, inconvenient, uncomfortable and undignified environment” — with, of course, pedestrians having been “given the last priority and left to fend for themselves”.
The editorial in a National Trust bulletin said fine declarations in the city council’s strategic plan were “mocked by subsequent events and threatened future developments”.
“Nowhere to eat in a desert of office blocks,” said a glum Financial Review headline in March 1973.
In Sydney’s mid-city, the AMP’s Centrepoint project has been allowed to grab air space over crowded streets and use it for unsightly bridges to Farmers and David Jones department stores.
This goaded a correspondent to write to The Bulletin in 1972 that those “dreadful bridges” across Pitt and Castlereagh Streets “were approved by those three friendly city commissioners” (the troika appointed by the Askin government for the period when the government kept Sydney deprived of a city council). The bridges, the letter added, “represent the pure commercial greed of Farmers, David Jones and the AMP Society”.
Do the companies, he asked, pay rent for the space they are occupying above the city streets?
Distinguished painter John Olsen, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, recalled Premier Askin “preening himself’ on the extent of new construction in central Sydney. John Olsen said about this:
I wondered then what this achievement means to the people of Sydney in terms of lifestyle.
I only know how I stiffen the sinews and gird the loins and how my pulse-rate accelerates when I am forced to make one of my infrequent visits to the city. Tensions flash through my mind — “where shall I park?” — and when I arrive, through all the unspeakable traffic hassle, I know I am small and insignificant in these vast, sunless, glass valleys. Not one bar or coffee shop that I used to frequent remains.
The city, John Olsen said, “is a physical and moral disgrace”. He went on: “We have sold our heritage to a bunch of money-hungry “developers”, may the Lord forgive us, and we need not doubt how mercilessly our descendants will judge us — we will appear as confused but crass materialists, possessed by the Devil of Destruction.”
Institute of Real Estate Development president Allen Vogan wrote in a Financial Review supplement on March 6, 1973: “Developers are anxious to work with government in every area to ensure that the people of Australia get the best possible quality of life — the best kind of total environment — at a price they can afford.” Admirable words, but look at the realities.
Gavin Souter wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1971:
For the past 10 or 12 years, Sydney City — that little expanse of asphalt and concrete bounded by Circular Quay and Central Railway, Kings Cross and Darling Harbour — has been an urban hell. It has never ceased reverberating with the din of pneumatic drills, gelignite, cranes and rivet guns. We have become used to hoardings on the pavement and dust in the air, but only because we had no option.
Who has not at some time or other cursed the developer and all his works? At pavement level, where builders’ lorries and concrete agitators continually barge in and out, he resembles nothing so much as a public nuisance.
This is progress, we are told …
But, whatever Gavin Souter wrote with such feeling, the “official” line showed up in a caption to a picture accompanying his article. “Progress and public inconvenience,” the caption said smugly, “are inseparable.”
In a 1968 address, Mr L.J. Hooker himself tipped a bucket over lack of planning control for Sydney. Sydney, he said, was developing into an uncontrolled, uncontrollable jungle; it was devouring its land and was building for itself problems that one day would become insurmountable. He asked:
Where are the controls that should have prevented the cheap, ugly developments which are the slums of tomorrow?
Where is the organisation that should have prevented the shoddy sprawl out in the hot western plains of Liverpool and Bankstown, where teenage violence now rises in rebellion against this thoughtless and dead environment?
This Hooker outburst brought a counterblast in a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald tartly describing the Hooker headquarters in Sydney as “a construction which could hardly be described as having any architectural merit, in a locality that is most unsuitable, Angel Place having very poor and limited vehicular access”.
It said, too: “In addition, the building itself was planned and erected without providing car parking space for either employees or visitors.” Altogether, a “singularly striking example of indiscriminate development.“ )
Among the targets of Mr Hooker’s blast were “aldermen who have direct interests in land speculation and development, and whose interests can colour decisions.” Such people, he said, “should not be permitted on any council”.
Architect Harry Seidler has said “there simply is no effective town planning in this country”. Politicians, he said, invariably regard constructive guidance towards a functioning total environment as being contrary to the precepts of a “free society”.
He spoke of “real-estate-agent-dominated local councils” that “protect parochial interests”, and he added: “The state government, which has ample powers, does nothing so as not to alienate the powerful landholders, insurance companies, retailers, etc.”
In healthy contrast, in South Australia the Dunstan Labor government has legislated to set up a committee of government and city council nominees to screen proposed constructions on a set of standards including the aesthetic and sociological viewpoints. Deputy Premier Corcoran said: “We cannot afford to allow a city so excellent in original conception and design to become an aesthetic wasteland of discordant architecture in which civilised values of design and beauty are stifled.”
In all this situation, the building spree of office-block and other commercial construction in Sydney and most other cities goes on unabated.
The Sydney Morning Herald said in 1972 that in 17 years — starting with buildings such as the Commonwealth Bank’s Market Street branch and Qantas House — 185 new buildings had sprung up in Sydney’s central business area. Most of them were office blocks and most were in the northern section between Market Street and Circular Quay.
After the downtown boom, Sydney’s southern city area started to sprout upwards. Projects there include a Central Square office project (on the site of the old Tivoli Theatre and the Hotel Sydney), a 28-storey Sydney Plaza office block in Goulburn Street and a 13-storey Macquarie Studios office block in Liverpool Street, as well as a 23-storey State Government Office Block in Rawson Place.
In mid-1972, the Sydney Morning Herald said that five years earlier, office accommodation in Sydney had been so short that space in planned buildings was booked years ahead. But now — while so many new office blocks were under construction — about 20 per cent of existing new office space was unlet.
By September 1972, the office glut — which so many had for so long been denying would ever occur — left Sydney with an estimated million or more square feet of unused office space, and it was anticipated that by 1974 there might be three million square feet of unused space.
A few months later, in February 1973, the Sydney Sunday Telegraph said that at least two million square feet in Sydney office space was unlet and another four million square feet would be built during the year, with a further eight million square feet in four years. It was estimated that half the city’s needs for the next 15 years was already built and empty or was in the construction pipeline.
Some Sydney towers built in the previous 18 months were 50 to 75 per cent empty. Others of better quality were 30 to 40 per cent empty. In April 1973, the Financial Review mentioned that, despite constant denials by the industry that oversupply was approaching glut proportions, one developer had blown the lid off by advertising office space in North Sydney with the first six months rent-free.
In the following month, the Financial Review was writing of Sydney’s central business district being “plagued with an unprecedented over-supply of office space — a situation certain to worsen during the coming three years”.
In Melbourne, in September 1972 it was estimated that about a million square feet of office space was available, with another 1.8 million square feet expected to come on the market in 1973.
The Melbourne Age wrote glumly in January 1973 that there could be about $15 million worth of rentable office space vacant by the end of 1973, and it could be ten years before it became occupied. The empty space could be 3.5 million square feet by the end of 1974 and between four and five million square feet by 1975. But, in the face of this, about 13 million square feet of office space was expected to be built in the city centre within three years — almost double the amount built between 1966 and 1971.
In Brisbane, the Courier-Mail in March 1973 said that office projects listed were at least $100 million. It optimistically anticipated that the present “temporary surplus” would be occupied by the time the new buildings came on to the open market.
As for Perth, the Financial Review reported in March 1973: “There is at least 1.5 million square feet of vacant office space in the centre of Perth — yet the building boom in office blocks continues”. Offices already built and now empty could take from three to five years to fill. Developers’ budget estimates allowing at least two years before buildings are fully let were beginning to seem optimistic.
A report in June 1973 about work having begun on what would be Perth’s tallest and biggest office building, Allendale Square, said it would add 250,000 square feet of lettable space to a market already over-supplied. But the sponsors (including MLC Assurance) blithely said that the building was planned for the future — mid-1975 — “when the balance between supply and demand for space could be more attractive.”
In Sydney, the property investment manager for one of the most eager builders, the enormously wealthy Australian Mutual Provident Society (Mr R.0. Powys), said in March 1973 that he was on the side of the pessimists, the Jeremiahs, on the office glut. He said none of the capital cities would escape the glut. Perth might be threatened even more than Sydney, and Melbourne was fairly bad and getting worse. Gritting its teeth, Hooker Corporation in its half-year to December 1972 included a special contingency charge of $500,000 to allow for anticipated surplus office space.
Federal Minister for Housing Les Johnson, said in a speech in May 1973 to the Master Builders Federation that in March building approvals for Sydney private offices reached the level of $82 million for one month. He went on to say:
One must question the wisdom of building more and more glass and concrete towers, which contribute towards the growing glut of office space …
Already there is about one million square feet of office space in the central business district of Sydney, which has not yet been let … There are 152 office block projects, worth over $620 million, under construction in the centre of Sydney. When these are completed, there will be between eight to ten million square feet of unlet office space.
Then he put it squarely to the Master Builders Federation:
Does your federation approve of this trend? Even though — with a few exceptions — you are the instruments of the giant corporations which decide to build these projects, is it not time to consider your overall social responsibility?
Is it socially just and economically equitable to follow this trend when over 93,000 families languish on the Housing Commission waiting lists throughout Australia? Is it wise to build thousands of acres of prestige office space when over 400,000 of your fellow citizens are waiting for adequate reasonably priced shelter?
The Master Builders Federation personages may have squirmed a bit. But when it comes to a choice of profit versus social responsibility, it’s a one-horse race.
The continued building of more and more office blocks even while there is so much unlet space does not necessarily mean that the developers have blown their minds. They have added up figures and done sums and come up with conclusions that, for them, it all means more money — whatever the social consequences of it may be. By building now, they are trying to keep a jump ahead of inflation.
They are putting money into property and construction before the value of that money slides further downward and before building costs go higher.
Then, too, on current rents as against costs, owners of the big office blocks can get by even with only a small proportion of the space occupied. No matter how much space is unlet, you still don’t see any big developers jumping out of their top-floor windows.
Federal Housing Minister Les Johnson, however, in his May 1973 speech to the Master Builders& Federation said: “It must be questioned whether avarice outstripped business wisdom.”
The state governments, he said, could have exercised controls to divert funds towards low and medium cost construction instead of office blocks and other similar projects. If state governments did not want to co-operate in this, the federal government could apply financial incentives and controls.
In February 1973, federal Urban and Regional Development Minister Tom Uren, in ordering an investigation of the office glut, blamed insurance companies and foreign investors for the situation. Then, in May, Mr Uren announced the government’s intention to turn off the tap — or at least turn it down — on money flowing into city office blocks. The cabinet, he said, intended to seek to have investment funds of insurance and finance houses switched instead to construction of cheaper homes.
Some of those who are in the big-time of city development have long been getting some fruit through housing, too.
Others in mid-1973 thought it time to get into this. For instance, Mainline in April 1973 acquired 51 per cent ownership of the Melbourne-based Glenvill Homes (Australia) home-building group, the No 2 in Victoria in number of homes built. And we’ve already mentioned CSR’s move into the Home Units Australia group.
Meanwhile, in at least some of the cities, the fact of office-space supply having outrun current demand has started a downward slide in city rents.
The Financial Review said in November 1972 that office rentals in Sydney’s central business district were dropping for the first time in several years and “it is now bargain-basement shopping time for business tenants.”
Rentals in some newly built office blocks, it said, were as low as $5.50 a square foot. At one 12-storey Clarence Street block completed in early 1972, rentals fell during the year from a minimum of $7.25 a square foot, and most of it at $8, down to $5.95.
Christopher Jay later wrote in the Financial Review: “Thanks to the enthusiastic over-building of office space in Sydney, property developers in the central business district — like Pharaoh’s Egypt in the time of Moses — are facing seven lean years.” He quoted a W.D. Scott (management consulting firm) spokesman saying that survey figures indicated enough office space to satisfy the demand for the next 7.5 years was already in the construction pipeline.
But don’t run away with the idea that you can get everything at bargain rentals everywhere in the city. Mrs Edna Roper, MLC, told the NSW Parliament in 1972 that the rent of a small coffee shop in Centrepoint was $600 a week.
In Melbourne, a real estate agent said that in the past few years the demand for commercial space has been rising by about 7 per cent annually, but construction has been going up at a rate of about 24 per cent. As a result, rents had been reduced by as much as $2 a square foot to try to get space leased.
In Perth, said the Financial Review in March 1973, developers were “introducing some ingenious schemes” to attract tenants for office space now empty. One has named the total rent he wants over three years, and has left it to the tenant as to the rate at which the payments will be made over that period.
In pure principles of religion, worldly wealth does not rate well. The Bible refers to the rich man being likely to have some bother getting into heaven, like the camel trying to squeeze through the eye of the needle. Mammon (which, according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, is “wealth regarded as idol or evil influence; the worldly rich“) has been spoken of badly.
But this has not prevented some of the churches from getting themselves into the development boom.
In October 1972, the Anglican Church in Sydney announced that about two-thirds of its 24-acre Bishopsthorpe estate in the inner suburb of Glebe would be sold, for an anticipated $4 million.
The Anglican Synod, voting for this, rejected an amendment to defer the sale until the effect on existing tenants was thoroughly investigated. It was told that as many as 600 people could be affected. Of these, about 5 per cent were acknowledged to be underprivileged.
The reason for the sale was to raise money towards a multi-million dollar redevelopment behind St Andrews Cathedral, to include (of course) an office block.
The name of Glebe comes from the original glebe: the house and land to which English law entitles every Anglican church. As well as Bishopsthorpe, opposite Sydney University, the Church of England owns 40 acres of adjoining land, known as St Phillips Glebe.
Some years ago, the Church of England effected a multimillion-dollar commercial and residential redevelopment project on a 22-acre Edgecliff site. It also undertook a $2.5 million 12-storey office block in North Sydney, a $3 million 17-storey block of flats at Parramatta and a $450,000 nursing home nearby.
In March 1973, the Church of England Glebe Administration Board backed off from a plan to erect a 37-storey tower block in Edgcliff but it set about getting new plans for a 20-storey block.
A Canberra man, writing to the Financial Review in 1972, glumly noted that transactions of the Church of England Property Trust in Sydney “are consistently marked by unseemly greed and financial ineptitude. Neither of these are scriptural virtues … ”
He quoted from St Matthew: “You cannot serve God and money,” and then went on:
Despite the prior protestations of the pious, St Phillips has now been destroyed. The sites of St Andrews and the Glebes must not be developed away likewise.
The state government, which permits the convict-era privileges of the church to linger on into a different century, should now step in and deal with the church’s property in the best interests of the whole community.
Moreover, he added, the reverend trustees should turn from their muddling monopoly to the purposes for which they were ordained: “to be messengers, watchmen and stewards of the Lord, to teach and to admonish … to seek for Christ’s sheep that are dispersed abroad and for his children who are in the midst of this wicked world, that they may be saved through Christ forever.”
Plans for development went ahead, nevertheless.
In Perth, the Church of England made a deal with a company in which Lombard had a major share. The deal was for an office project (Mt Newman House) to be built on land owned by the church, which was to get rent and later a share of the profit from the project.
In late 1972, a correspondent to the Sydney Morning Herald zeroed in on Glebe property owned by the Presbyterian Church in Pyrmont Bridge Road. The letter complained of properties being “idle and neglected”, whereas “under inspired leadership, they could be put to innumerable and profitable uses, which would be of service to God, the church and the people generally”.
Thus are “profitable uses” of property pursued for divine purpose. (And can we be confident that Christian principles — such as charity — are the constant guide for the churches in their actions as landlords?)
The Salvation Army also, with various central Sydney city properties worth many millions of dollars, is considering redevelopment. The matter in the latter part of 1972 was under investigation by a property sub-committee of the Salvation Army’s advisory board. One member of the sub-committee was Mr L.J. Hooker.
A Salvation Army spokesman said: “our advisory board is made up of some of the most astute businessmen in Sydney” — somewhat different from the bonnetted misses who shyly shake the box in pub bars.
Salvation Army properties include People’s Palaces in Pitt Street, Sydney, and Manly, and various properties at Redfern, Marrickville, Petersham and other areas, as well as its big Sydney headquarters building in Elizabeth Street.
In Melbourne at one time, when it was revealed that the Roman Catholic Church was to auction three acres of Toorak property for subdivision, following transfer of a church school, developers descended like flies. According to a church spokesman, one developer offered to give a church official the use of his yacht for a weekend. Another offered a vacation at his snow resort.
Priestly principle, however, prevailed over blandishments.
The Church of England is only one of many property developers in Sydney that have moved northward over the Harbour Bridge in high-rise construction.
The Financial Review in September 1972 conceded: “no doubt in an ideal world North Sydney would be residential.” But instead it has become an area of gaunt and towering office development, adding to gluts on the market. A booklet of Jones Lang Wooton’s North Sydney branch in September 1972 listed 20 office buildings in the North Sydney-Chatswood area with space to let.
Those involved either as owners or contractors north of the Bridge include UK-based Centrovincial Estates, Concrete Constructions, Hong Kong-based Jardine Matheson, National Mutual, Mainline, Simsmetal, Johnson and Johnson, Civil and Civic, RLM Properties, Noah (Mainline’s motel subsidiary), and Manchil (which has branched out into cattle-breeding to supplement its property interests).
Derek Hanaghan in the Financial Review described North Sydney as “an area of closely packed office tower buildings, empty and brooding”.
One office block in North Sydney coloured salmon pink brought helpless indignation from some nearby residents. One said: “It’s all very well for the developers to experiment with their ideas for brighter buildings, but I bet they don’t have to spend all their leisure time at home staring at it like we do.” A woman resident said: “the developers don’t damn well have to live with it”.
While the monstrous misuse of the construction industry’s capacity goes on, channelling millions of dollars and a big labour-force into unneeded commercial building projects, the people’s needs are neglected.
We’ve already looked at the housing crisis. The fields of education, health and entertainment, too, are suffering by misdirection of the industry.
Analyses by Builders Laborers NSW industrial officer Bud Cook illustrate this. In 1969-70, the value of completed construction in the Sydney metropolitan area was $556 million. Of this, only $51 million, or about 9.2 per cent, went to education, health and entertainment projects. The following year, although the total was up to $652 million, the figure for education, health and entertainment was less than $53 million, or 8.1 per cent: a drop even from the previous year’s unhappy percentage.
On hospitals, Mr Cook secured facts from various hospitals in 1972 in a survey of the shortages and inadequacies. Here are some of the facts:
Manly District Hospital was built in 1929. In 1972, for a population of 120,000 it provided 237 beds. It had 30,000 new outpatients a year.
St George Hospital served an area with 200,000. It started in 1894 with eight beds, and in 1972 had 560, with 120,000 outpatients a year.
Canterbury District Hospital, built in 1928, in 1972 had 220 beds for an area with 130,000 people.
Western Suburbs Hospital, for a population of about 180,000, had only 127 beds. It had 40,000 outpatient attendances a year. It was built in 1892, and the most recent large extension was almost 40 years ago, in 1933.
Hornsby and District Hospital was built in 1933. In 1972, for a population of 200,000, it had 360 beds, with 120,000 outpatient attendances a year.
Royal North Shore Hospital provided 630 beds for a population of 41,000.
Liverpool District Hospital, for a greater population and in an area with one of the largest road-accident rates in Sydney, had only 230 beds.
A Sydney Daily Mirror story on October 11, 1972, quoted a report by the Sydney Public Hospitals Planning Liaison Committee saying that, unless there was additional construction, there would be a shortage of 4020 hospital beds in the Sydney suburbs in 1980, of which 2471 beds would be in the western area.
On the western suburbs situation, a Daily Mirror editorial on October 10,1972, said “government planning and spending have failed abysmally to keep up the proper provision of public facilities”.
In Fairfield, an angry Action Committee talked of defying the anti-lottery laws and running their own lotteries to finance repairs to what one writer called their “shantytown hospital”, and to establish a new casualty station at it.
As for state schools in NSW, a sampling by the Teachers Federation in 1972 showed an enormous backlog of maintenance in about 50 schools. Some instances were:
Randwick Girls High: New school but foundations eroded and school in danger of collapse.
Blakehurst High: Dangerous floor holes, one corridor unusable, broken windows, etc, representations for repairs since 1971.
Annandale Primary: Leaking roofs and windows, unpleasant, cold.
Richmond North: Dangerous hole in sullage drain.
Fowler Road, Merrylands, infants department: Asphalting in playground dangerous.
Penrith High: Nothing except external painting done towards major maintenance work applied for in 1970, 1971, 1972.
Croydon Infants: Total renovation recommended by Public Works in 1969, but only trivial work done.
Cammeray Primary and Ashfield Infants: Roofs leak.
Faced with the monster of city commercial overdevelopment while real needs are neglected, concerned people have raised various propositions.
Michael Kartzoff, in the Sydney Morning Herald in September 1972, appealed for “a moratorium on growth”. In the inner city, he said, no more demolitions should be permitted and no new buildings approved until the holes in the ground that disfigured Sydney were filled with new buildings and the office space in these new buildings was let. All new approvals, especially in Woolloomooloo, the Rocks and William Street, should contain a substantial amount of residential space. No more green belt land should be released until adequate transport, sewerage and other facilities were provided. There should be, too, physical separation of suburbs by open areas.
Architect Harry Seidler advocated, among other things, adequate limits on the ground area of high city buildings to a proportion of the site so as to create “a new openness“, with plazas, areas of repose, outdoor restaurants and trees.
Mr George Clarke, of Urban Systems Corporation, which led the team of consultants that drew up the Sydney Strategic Plan — “the most important city planning venture since the Royal Commission of 1909” — has said: “Community attitudes are now leaning towards being anti-office development, anti-expressways, anti-cars, anti-pollution and congestion, anti-overdevelopment of the Rocks and Woolloomooloo, and pro-new cities.”
In October 1971, the NSW branch of the Builders Laborers Federation had this written into the transcript of an arbitration hearing on disputes in the industry:
The industrial turbulence which has existed in this industry in recent years stems from the failure of the NSW government in particular, as well as employers, to face up to the nature of the industry in the early seventies.
The unplanned, environment-destroying, unstable, chaotic conditions abounding in this industry must be changed in the interest of all parties associated with the industry as well as the general public, many of whom have suffered great hardship because of some unscrupulous ’developers’ and ’builders who have fleeced home and home-unit owners in various ways.
We have repeatedly challenged the NSW government to hold a Royal Commission into the building industry in this state.
Our union has been inundated with people supporting our call for a Royal Commission and expressing willingness to testify before such a commission.
Finally, we state unequivocally that we will work openly and honestly with all people who are genuinely concerned with civilising this concrete jungle and bringing human dignity to those who now work in this very insecure industry, so that the industry in the future can be considered a decent one and have some attraction to present and future building workers. To these ends we will untiringly work.
The record shows what the union has done to fulfill that pledge.