SquatSpace was born from the energy of artists and activists of the Broadway Squats. The organisers cleared out an old locksmith shop and launched a dynamic art and event space in December 2000. The gallery played host to political film screenings, free dinners, durational performances, experimental sound nights, site-specific installations etc etc.
SquatSpace has always opposed the prevailing “pay-as-you-show” system used by many high-rent artist-run-galleries in Sydney. It was pivotal in raising awareness for the ongoing campaign to save the Broadway Squats from eviction.
The Broadway Squats: In February 2000 people started living in empty South Sydney City Council-owned buildings on Broadway.
Residents cleaned up the places, and made them habitable. On 23rd August 2000, just before the Sydney Olympics, the squatters were discovered. From that point onwards the Council attempted to evict the squatters, but were met with fierce resistance.*
On September 26th, the council returned with tradespeople to ‘secure the buildings’. But early rising squatters were already on the barricades, blocking entry. The CFMEU Union organiser quickly arrived on the scene and spoke with the tradespeople about why they should not continue to work this morning. Workers were sympathetic and left by 9am. Squatters were informed that Council would not be resuming work that day.
At 3pm the Council arrived backed up by a van load of police. By then approximately 70 supporters had linked arms to barricade the squats, including union members from nearby building sites, and two unionist Para-Olympic athletes.
After an hour of negotiations at the barricades the squatters won another day.
The Broadway Squats were the first squats in some time to be open about their autonomous occupation. Due to the criminal trespass laws which apply in Australia, squatters are usually quiet and unassuming and quickly evicted once discovered. At Broadway the squatters mobilised broad community support from both homeless people and housing organisations, unions, and many members of the broader community. A ‘re-cuisine machine’ dumpster cafe opened up in one of the squats, and the Broadway squatters invited people to get involved.
Throughout the long, visible campaign the Broadway squatters were developing a caretaker lease, which would enable the squatters to stay in the buildings for ‘peppercorn rent’ in exchange for looking after the buildigns and essentially bringing the public liability insurance payments down for the owners. A win-win situation for both parties and for the empty buildings. Eventually the squatters were granted their caretaker lease, and subsequently evicted, in July 2001.**
The caretaker lease has since been used as a precedent for other housing cases in Sydney.
*adapted from SHAC (sydney housing action collective) media release April 2001
**adapted from media release to http//:squat.net
Following the eviction of the Sydney Broadway squats by the South Sydney Council former residents and their supporters kept the pressure up. One squatter, in the book How To Make Trouble and Influence People, recalls a particularly frenzied protest action as follows:
“South Sydney residents received an invitation from South Sydney Council to join Mayor John Fowler and councillors in a Centenary of Federation Cricket Match. Not many attended the game at Sydney Park on Sunday 21st. Well not to play cricket… Shortly after the catered, ratepayer funded lunch, with the Mayor’s XI batting, and the General Manager’s XI bowling, there was an eruption onto the cricket field with three oversized inflatable yoga balls, by the General Mangler’s versus Mayhem, who were celebrating the Squatspace Commemoration of Invasion Soccer Match.
The council greeted the soccer interventionists with profanity, pushing over players, running off with the game balls and booting them off field. Soccer star, Minnie Temple was attempting the rescue of one of the balls when she was accosted by the Mayor, who threw his glass of bubbly in her face and grabbed her by the arms yelling ‘Get outta here’ until she demanded he stop assaulting her.
Meanwhile amidst council shouts of ‘You need a D.A to play here’ and ‘Look at your hair and your clothes’, Tony Spanos of the Council plagued Graffitti Hall of Fame, was drop tackled by cricketers as he attempted to hold ransom the cricket wickets for the safe return of the soccer balls. But alas, the inflatable balls fell victim to the sharp end of the retrieved wickets, as overheated council folk speared them. The ball deflation brought forward the presentation of the giant cardboard trophy bearing the words ‘Awarded to the Mayor, John Fowler on the occasion of the Commemoration of Invasion for the short sheeting (blanketing) of homelessness in SSCC, harassment of street workers, closure of the Graffitti Hall of Fame, sustained campaigning against the Broadway Squats and the Aboriginal Tent Embassy and Outstanding Development in the field of Development.’ The Mayor thanked the presenters but would not accept the trophy.”
Other links: http://workers.labor.net.au/75/news8_squats.html