VIEW | Staking Territories, Having A Say

Posted on 04/11/2011


Films and shorts exploring resident and citizen action about urban development. Suggestions from Keg de Souza, Archie Moore, Sarah Barns, Ian Milliss, Darren Godwell and Linda Carroli

by Linda Carroli

This program of films and shorts presents compelling stories about community response to development. Journalism, new media, documentary making and now social media have impacted on the way communities mobilise to oppose development or seek changes to development proposals. It changes the ways these stories are told and this is notable in Inner City Tape (1974) narrated by an activist and produced as part of the community video movement. Compare this to the video posted to YouTube produced by a resident action group in outer suburban Brisbane opposing a proposed quarry extension: this work shows that these conflicts are not just about high rise developments in inner urban environments. Some documentary makers, like Fiske and Zybrycki, have taken an active interest in urban development, adopting an immersive and engaged approach to telling urban stories focused on communities taking on government and industry. They offer critiques of the vested interests in urban development, and the ideological underpinnings of planning; as well as expose the brutality of police. The politics and potency of ‘having a say’ have expanded exponentially with the accessibility of media. Elsewhere, I have written that these urban conflicts are manifesting as culture wars: a clash of values and aspirations greater in scope and scale than the ‘contested spaces’ of localised skirmishes and opposition to urban development. It calls into the question the idea of ‘having a say’ and what that has meant over several decades of urban renewal and development.

In my own city of Brisbane, about 60 resident action groups have formed a coalition of people concerned about the planning and development of this city. With interest, I watched the conflicts over the St Kilda Triangle and Barangaroo unfold as various social networks became integral to the coordinating fabric of resident action. Friends of Barangaroo maintain a YouTube channel which featurings a range of news clips, promos and short videos. Other groups, like Save West End, publish a blog inviting stories and contributions from residents. On facebook, I asked several colleagues for their suggestions about films about resident action and this is what they suggested. There’s more to analyse here than the dynamics of grassroots political organisation; there’s also a planning system. Many believe it is stacked in the interests of developers at the expense of residents, communities and the environment in our cities. There is a wealth of material to look through via social video networks and film and sound archives, and I know there are other works, produced through by independent film makers and artists, and/or  community arts and digital storytelling projects, I haven’t been able to source. I have a shadow of recollection about a Brisbane film titled City For Sale, possibly a response to a series of demolitions in Brisbane (Cloudland, Bellevue and Little Roma Street) and possibly included in the Know Your Product project. (A poster for an IMA film screening is available at the State Library of Queensland.)

This small program emerges from a simple request put to a handful of engaged people after asking for their ideas about what might work in a mini-film festival: suggestions from a diverse group of artists, media makers, writers and organisers working in urban and cultural context. The films draw out relational issues for people, place, poïesis and politics.

Rocking the Foundations

Pat Fiske
92 minutes
An historical account of the Green Bans first introduced by the New South Wales Builders Labourers Federation in the 1970s in response to community demand to preserve inner- city parkland and historic buildings. One of the first women to be accepted as a builders labourer, filmmaker Pat Fiske traces the development of a quite singular union whose social and political activities challenged the notion of what a union should be. Three clips available at Australian Screen. Pat Fiske also made the documentary Woolloomooloo.

The Battle for Bowen Hills

Peter Gray and Garry Lane
21 minutes
Starting in 1972, inner-city residents of the city of Brisbane in Australia struggled against the Queensland Government’s plan to build a freeway that would destroy their community. The Government was cold-hearted and dismissive of the community’s concerns, plus the residents were offered inadequate compensation for their properties. As their voice went unheard, the residents decided to change tact and joined together in and effort to make the Government “sit up and take notice” of them. Video online at Vimeo.


Tom Zubrycki
45 minutes 48 seconds
In the early 70’s the state government initiated a massive scheme to pull down inner city terraces (slums) to build the new public housing estates that the government now wants to redevelop. Waterloo sets out to understand the residents fight-back in terms of the history of the suburb itself: The poverty and overcrowding at the turn of the century, and the impractical, idealistic solutions proposed by the planners. It also looks at Waterloo in the context of urban housing struggles in Sydney: the anti-eviction campaigns of the 30’s, the rise of the Resident Action movement in the late 60’s and the alliance it formed with building unions resulting in the now world famous Green Bans. Three clips available online at Australian Screen.

Concrete City

Mandy King (aka Amanda King) and Fabio Cavadini
55 minutes, 20 seconds
Residents of Pyrmont, a suburb next to the city of Sydney, try to secure meaningful consultation with the various government bodies involved in a proposed redevelopment in their area. Planners and developers also explain their point of view. The documentary uses footage shot at residents’ meetings and of the consultation process with authorities. There is also some historical footage and excellent coverage of the Pyrmont area showing its close proximity to Sydney Harbour and its intimate community life. Two clips available online at Australian Screen.

Tour of Beauty

SquatSpace Collective
13 minutes
A documentary about an onging project of the SquatSpace collective. The artists tour ‘tourists’ around various sites in Redfern and Waterloo, inner city suburbs of Sydney, to meet with various social representatives and discuss the impending redevelopment of the area.

Triangle Wars

Rosie Jones
90 minutes
A fierce battle to decide the fate of one of the most coveted foreshore development sites in Australia – the St Kilda Triangle. In May 2007 the local council unveiled plans for a $300 million dollar development on the Triangle that would include 180 shops, a hotel, a supermarket, eight cinemas, a gallery and bars for 5000 patrons. Local residents were outraged, and with developers preparing to push the project through council, the community galvanised to stop it going ahead. Filmed over three years, The Triangle Wars captures the fascinating battle between a passionate community, an intractable local government and a powerful development consortium, as heads roll and careers are destroyed. (Trailer)

Bald Hills Flats Under Threat

Bald Hills Community
6 minutes, 2 seconds
The Bald Hills Community noted that their video shows that there is not just one concern here. “There are many – too many. We respect Nielsen’s as a business and the associated families who live in this area but we find this proposal completely anacceptable. Every person in Brisbane is limited as to what they can do with their land because of the consideration of their neighbours. This is simply the wrong place to be conducting this sort of activity and it is obvious that the entire community agrees.”

[There will be a Storify version of this.]