In 1973, along with many others, I became involved in a battle to save Victoria Street, King's Cross. More than 300 tenants were evicted to make way for high rise developments. In August that year, we squatted to protect the terraces which were being gutted from the inside by heavies hired by the developer Frank Theeman. After we were evicted, Victoria Street resident Juanita Nielsen continued to campaign through her local newspapers against developments in both Kings Cross and Woolloomooloo. In July 1975, she disappeared, never to be seen again. An Inquest later found that she had died as a consequence of her opposition to Victoria Street development and that there had been a police cover-up.
Tonight the NSW Greens will hold their annual lecture established in her memory and to commemorate the Builders' Labourers' Green Bans without which much of inner Sydney including The Rocks would have been razed. Writer and filmmaker Ruby Hamad and NSW Greens candidate for Newtown Jenny Leong will discuss the current situation with our 'right to protest', a most appropriate theme for a lecture in memory of Juanita Nielsen.
I thought readers would be interested to catch a glimpse of NOW. NOW was owned and edited by Juanita and produced in the front room of her small terrace house, 202 Victoria Street. It began as a small free newspaper focused on businesses and life around Kings Cross but changed into a newspaper supporting resident action and tenants' rights movements after she became a supporter of the Greens Bans.
The first image is from one of the last newspapers she published before her disappearance in May 1975. She wrote about a reprieve from demolition as a result of intervention by the Building unions. On the right hand side of the page you will see that Rocks residents were campaigning to save their low cost housing from commercial development. This fight still goes on, demonstrated by recent NSW government moves to evict low income residents from the Rocks.
Juanita's disappearance was at the tail end of the Victoria Street struggle. It's just a small but important part of the bigger story of the struggle to save Victoria Street. After she was disappeared, members of the Victoria Street Action Group and other friends and supporters published an issue of NOW which included lots of material about her disappearance and the role of her newspaper. This image is of the front cover of that special issue.
We did not include the names of people involved in this publication, which perhaps gives readers now a glimpse into how vulnerable those of us continuing to oppose the Victoria Street developments felt at the time. We wrote on page 2:
No one was ever charged with the murder of Nielsen although three men were charged with conspiring to abduct her a week or so earlier. One of those was Eddie Trigg who pleaded guilty in 1983. He was the last man to be seen with her at the Carousel Club which was managed by organised crime figure Jim Anderson who worked for organised crime boss Abe Saffron. Both Saffron and Anderson had connections with Frank Theeman. Anderson's alibi for his whereabouts on July 3, 1975 was never properly investigated by NSW police. At the time of his death in 2013, there were reports that Trigg had left a manuscript with information about the murder. Any statement from Trigg would have to be treated with extreme caution.
I did not know Juanita Nielsen well. She was more closely connected to the Woolloomooloo Resident Action Group (RAG) rather than the Victoria Street RAG. Shortly before her death, she attended a ceremony to celebrate the Whitlam Commonwealth governmen's agreement with the NSW gpvernment and Sydney City Council to retain public land and housing in the old working class suburb. This area survives today as one of the few pockets of low income housing in the inner city.
Juanita was an independent person and many felt this meant she could be a target. I clearly remember warning her in 1974 that as an individual she could be vulnerable. By June 1975, she had very real and well based fears for her safety and we all wondered why she went to the Carousel Club at the morning of her disappearance.
The NOW OR NEVER publication did not appear regularly. So when we produced further issues, they were called Now & Then. This is image is the front page of Vol. 1 No.3. 22nd February, 1976.
On the back page, these words are found:
(Note: Frank Theeman owned a large slice of Victoria Street.)
Many groups continue this struggle against environmental and social destruction of their local communities across Australia today. What we want now is similar to what we wanted back then: The right of all people to have a meaningful say in community planning which should cater for social needs. Development should be be environmentally sustainable and not determined by the interests whose main goal is to profit from land.
Juanita's disappearance occurred towards the end of the battle to save Victoria Street. Liz Fell, Ian Milliss and myself assisted by many others who were there at the time are working on a web project that will record and tell stories about that struggle. We are starting back before the property boom began in the early 1960s. if you have any information or would like to give us information about life in Victoria Street from the late 1950s to 1976, let us know.