Save the Rocks March 1978 – One from the Vault

20 May 2014 | Posted In: #121 Winter 2014, From the Vault, Housing Types and Issues, Inner Sydney Voice – ISRCSD, Public Housing, Public Housing – Policy changes, | Author: Inner Voice

“Save the Rocks” was the motto of the Rocks Residents Group in the in the 1970’s. At that time the Government plan was to pull it down and build their city renewal equivalent of today’s Barangaroo. Resident action and union green bans saved the heritage building and much of the community we see today. You can read a little of struggle in the letter below from this first issue of Inner Voice in March 1978.

An unfinished saga seemed an apt description when the Government recently moved to evict public housing tenants who make up the bulk of the residents in Millers Point and the National Trust and resident groups protested that the buildings and the community were both part of the state heritage listing.

One of the people who worked on the People’s Plan for the Rocks said it should be relaunched for the new struggle. In summary it said leave it alone; restore, retain and rebuild the vacant sites. Pretty much what resident groups in Millers Point and their supporters are still arguing today about the community and the buildings.

an unfinished saga an unpublished letter: save the rocks

In reference to Trust Protection For The Rocks, S.M.H. 10.3.78:

The National Trust are to be congratulated for speaking out at last.

The Rocks Residents Group, (RRG), formed in 1970, have been going it alone, so to speak. Since our formation, we have been saying many of the same things that appeared in the article. Unfortunately, we do not enjoy the same respectability as the National Trust.

For our efforts to ‘Save The Rocks (our motto), members of the group have been given such titles as communists, ratbags, people with vested interests, low rent payers trying to preserve the status quo, trouble-makers and many other paranoid statements.

In 1973 we were literally at war with the Askin government and the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority (SCRA), with green bans, confrontation, arrests … THE LOT. Residents with unblemished characters are now convicted persons because they dared fight to save their heritage and try to save their community which is their heritage.

The National Trust has our respect for classifying the many historical buildings in the area … residents do live in some of them, but the sad part is that SCRA was formed in 1968, and in ten years a lot of damage can be done.

In 1968 the residential population was approximately 200 families, in 1978 less than 70 families, brought about by such processes as eviction, natural deaths and ‘encouragement’ “You would be so much better off, dear, in a Housing Commission unit” – and then their homes are turned into offices, shops and bistros.

The Residents Group have also protested to the present state government in respect to the demolition of the George Street Edwardian Era shops and hotels.

The state cabinet set up a three man inquiry and the cabinet made the decision to demolish these buildings … without any consultation or participation of the local community. We have lodged further protests to the Premier and his ministers, Mr. Jensen and Mr. Landa. We have requested that no further decisions of this type be made without public scrutiny.

No replies yet.

The Director of SCRA, Mr. Magee, was quoted as saying that SCRA had consulted with the National Trust and that SCRA had no plans for the buildings listed – it should be clearly spelled out SCRA have NO PLANS for anything except to demolish.

For the past 6-9 months that is all the RRG have been told, “We intend to demolish”; we have lodged our protests to the Premier and his ministers, to protest to SCRA is like belting your head against a brick wall. … “We are the experts, dear, you’re wrong.”

Since its formation SCRA have borrowed $44 million, more than enough to buy back the few freehold properties and rehabilitate the whole East and West Rocks Area – this is Public Property; the $44 million is Public Money a but the Public have NO SAY.

So, Royal Naval House is to be saved. Where are the sailors who stayed at John… Where are the police from the vacant George Street station? We could use them to control the pub crawlers on Friday and Saturday nights. And what about the Sydney Sailors Home, founded in 1863? SCRA, by law, resumed the building for $1.3 million. The 40 residents of the Home have received their marching orders from the Sydney Sailors Home Council – although some are old and in ill health – but I suppose they could be carried out.

What are SCRA plans for the site? To demolish? What are the Sydney Sailors Home Council plans for the 1.3 million dollars? Who knows?

In 1972 the Residents Group, with voluntary academic assistance, prepared a ‘People’s Plan’s for The Rocks. It simply said: leave it alone; restore, retain and rebuild on the vacant sites.

The state government should call a Public Inquiry a not a three man inquiry that makes secret decisions to demolish history.

I was always taught ‘It’s never too late’.

Nita McCrae



Source: INNER VOICE – Match 1978 – Reproduced Inner Sydney Voice – Winter 2014