Yellowcake!

Radioactive Convoys

Sydney’s Inner West residents are familiar with the colourful mural fronting the Crescent at the foot of Johnston St. Annandale, opposite Rozelle Bay. Among the local events and characters commemorated in the quirky sketches is a reference to the mysterious and highly dangerous night-time transport of uranium yellowcake from the Lucas Heights reactor through the streets of the Inner West to White Bay. Although the mural was repainted in the 1980s and political slogans referring to the 1975 sacking of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam by the Governor-General, John Kerr were painted over, a reference to the yellowcake protests was included in the new work.

 

Ban Yellowcake

The front page screamer in the weekly Guardian of July 12, 1978 was the first most residents of Newtown and Marrickville knew of the midnight yellowcake convoys, although political activists in Annandale had been actively protesting them a year earlier.

Yellowcake powder is an intermediate form of  uranium, produced from crude ore, but needing further processing to be suitable as nuclear fuel. The yellowcake transported secretly through Inner West streets to the White Bay  container terminal to be shipped overseas was produced at the Lucas Heights reactor near Sutherland.

“Convoys of yellowcake have been racing through Marrickville streets early in the morning. But nobody knows anything about it.

Neither the Marrickville Council, nor the Newtown police have been told.”

“If there should be an accident involving yellowcake, there is no organisation to cope with it.

“Newtown police say they would get in touch with Marrickville Council. “However Marrickville Council officially knows nothing at all about the shipment.

“Its workers have received no training in handling a substance like yellowcake, and the council has no protective clothing for them.

“Shire Engineer, Mr Bob White says an accident would be the responsibility of the State Emergency Service, which would initially call on council trucks and workmen.

“The State Emergency Service has an office in Newtown Town Hall — but it is hardly ever used.

“So far there have been seven convoys of 15 trucks, each convoy carrying up to 2000 tonnes of yellowcake. They travel through heavily populated suburbs of the municipality.”

In ‘Yellowcake’ we hear about the midnight convoys from Tom, chatting over a beer at The Courties (Courthouse Hotel):

…real cloak an dagger stuff: convoys of

radioactive uranium yellowcake racing

along narrow Newtown an Marrickville

streets before dawn, with no-one know-

ing a thing about it.

‘…I could just see a bunch a hoons in a hot

wired car runnin a red light an crashin

into one of those convoys—huge pileup—

radioactive dust flyin every-bloody-where.

Contamination of a nation—

The Guardian’s editor wrote a strong comment about the lack of information surrounding these mysterious convoys, and the unknown levels of danger they danger they flirted with.

. . . Nobody is willing to admit responsibility for the uranium convoys racing through Marrickville streets late at night;

Nobody knows what will happen if there is an accident.

All three levels of government simply refer enquiries

back to each other. It’s like an endless piece of string.

What happens when that string breaks? Nobody knows.

 

You can read more about Newtown Voices, about me, and where to buy the book at newtownvoices

The Fitzroy Street Massage Parlour

Vice Squad acts

Another front page screamer in the weekly Guardian, this time on June 7, 1978, above a cartoon of several women of varying bust sizes lounging outside a house. A large one says to one of the others: “Stop littering! You’ll give the street a dirty name.” The cartoon refers to the story below the subhead:

Investigation into massage parlour

[‘Massage parlour’ was a euphemism for ‘brothel’, which were still illegal in the 1970s. Brothels in NSW were legalised in 1988.]

 ‘The Vice Squad is investigating the activities of a Newtown massage parlour. This follows complaints to the police and South Sydney Council about the parlour, situated in Newtown’s narrow Fitzroy St.” [Fitzroy street runs behind Alpha House apartment building in King Street.]

“Chamber of Commerce President Joe Meissner says there is heavy congestion in the street as a result of the parlour’s business activities. In addition, local residents have complained about noise and abuse in Fitzroy St.

“In fact, businessmen want the parlour closed down. They believe it is damaging the reputation of the area.

“A proprietor of a nearby business said professional men were starting to move into the area and some were undertaking restoration work on the historic buildings. But, he said, the massage parlour was detracting from the reputation of the area.

“Later he contacted the GUARDIAN and asked us not to use his name. ‘It’s not worth the hassle,’ he said.”

No.2 Fitzroy

Three weeks later, the Fitzroy St massage parlour was closed down by the Vice Squad, but as the Guardian noted, two new ones opened up nearby.

Massage parlours were not only illegal, they were often venues for other types of crime. The Guardian repeatedly refers to allegations of stand-over tactics, bashings, hard drug pushing* and even bomb threats emanating from these premises.

These news stories are referred to in passing in a couple of Tom’s poems – eg– ‘Big Boys and Small Fry’, and in a light-hearted way in ‘Sauna Mystery’:

…But that No Standing sign is only yards from the front door

Of the famous No. 2 Fitzroy Street, well publicised recently

For ‘home comforts’ allegedly available there…

The Guardian’s editor often focused on crimes allegedly being committed in massage parlours and gambling dens around Newtown and Marrickville. There are lots of amusing now, but deadly serious then, reports of bribery, corruption, stand-over tactics and brutal murders, as well as bombings. The editor spoke out strongly, but was clearly frustrated by what he called “Newtown’s wall of silence”.

The editor’s ‘rants’, deserve several posts of their own. I’ll focus on them in later posts.

*Legalising brothels apparently didn’t stop drug pushing in brothels.

A story in this week’s Inner West Courier (Tuesday December 5, 2017) is headlined
‘Drug concerns cited in brothel raids’

“Police were granted powers to raid the brothel in the back streets of Marrickville, following alleged discoveries of illicit drugs on the premises.

“The raid, in the early hours of November 24, followed earlier raids which uncovered drugs such as cocaine, “ice”  and cannabis in unattended rooms and among employees belongings.

“There seems to be an ongoing drug supply operation being conducted in this brothel despite police surveillance and repeated searching”, a representative of the Supreme Court said.

“The Inner West Council has slapped a proposed closure on the business in Sydenham Rd.”

You can read more about Newtown Voices, about me,  and where to buy the book at newtownvoices

Life wasn’t meant to be easy

PEOPLE KICKED OUT OF HOMES
While people sleep in the streets, government migrant flats have been standing empty

Kicked out of homes

Once again, a screamer headline across the front page of the weekly Guardian, this time on October 25, 1978, teamed with an incongruous photo of a Surf Rescue speedboat breasting the waves at Bondi, (a piece of advertorial)

No houses for the poor

Steep rise in rent cost

“While people sleep in the streets, government migrant flats have been standing empty for up to three years.

 “The Marrickville area has one of the highest percentages of people looking for emergency housing in the State.

 “According to a recent survey, 40 family groups, involving nearly 100 people sought emergency housing within a month.”

The Guardian estimated that “one and a half percent of the Marrickville population —a third more than the State average” was homeless. It quoted the NSW homeless organisation Shelter, that

“people are now sleeping in cars and parks —as in the 1930’s depression. Meanwhile government flats at Annandale and Marrickville are standing vacant.”

This story, and several others about poverty, homelessness and evictions— especially ones related to Sydney University’s expansion beyond its 1860s City Road site —led me to put much of this material in Buzz’s voice, in ‘Life wasn’t meant to be easy.’

If you haven’t met Buzz yet, she’s a social justice warrior who lives in an anarchist squat and teaches car maintenance at WEA (Workers Education Association). She’s very outspoken about the injustices she sees around her, and frequently quotes items she‘s read in the Newtown Voice.

“Life wasn’t meant to be easy” was a famous quote in 1971 by Australian Federal Liberal Party leader (later Prime Minister)  Malcolm Fraser. A wealthy grazier and powerful politician, his quote was resented by ordinary Australians  who understood it to mean “stop complaining about your lot.”  Buzz wasn’t going to take that lying down!

Jeez, Harry, when Malcolm Fraser told us

life wasn’t meant to be easy—the smug

patronisin bastard—I didn’t think it was

gunna get this bloody tough.

… Seems like things are almost as

bad as in the Depression, specially in

Newie an Marrickville. Welfare groups say

lotsa people are sleepin in parks an cars.

An guess what? Accordin to The Voice

there’s plenty of places empty that are

owned by the government—blocksa flats

for migrants in Marrickville and Annandale,

But never been used. Jeez, Harry, I dunno,

where’s this country goin? What happened

to the lucky country? To a fair go for every

one? I reckon we need a bloody revolution!

An I mean Bloody!

Sadly, many of the issues that affected people in 1978 have come around again.

Buzz has some strong words to say about Sydney Uni’s relentless expansion beyond City Road into surrounding streets, and the added effect of students sharehousing on the shortage of affordable housing in the area. I’ll cover the Uni effect in later posts.

You can read more about Newtown Voices, about me, and where to buy the book at newtownvoices

.

The Mad Bombers!

“A new wave of bombing has hit inner Sydney, the latest in the heart of Newtown shopping centre, early on the Australia Day holiday.”

 

Horror Headlines from Daggy Old Newtown

The stories behind the poems in Newtown Voices

In May this year (2017), my verse novel Newtown Voices was published, and launched at Better Read Than Dead in Newtown (Sydney). Set in the late 1970s, it looks at life through four characters in an environment of poverty, crime, bombings, corruption, racism and homophobia – and disco dancing.

While my four characters: Tom, Buzz, Jaroslav and Harry (Harriet) are fictional, their surroundings and the crimes and social issues of the time are not. They are all taken from the headlines and news stories of the time. In these posts I show those headlines and the poems they triggered.

THE MAD BOMBERS!

 A screamer headline across the front page of the weekly Newtown Guardian newspaper on February 1, 1978, under a photo of smashed glass windows and debris.

 

 “A new wave of bombing has hit inner Sydney, the latest in the heart of Newtown shopping centre, early on the Australia Day holiday.

 “The Newtown blast demolished a jeweller’s store and florist shop, partly wrecked the local Rural Bank branch and 10 other buildings, and flattened three cars. Damage is estimated at more than $100,000.

The article continued: “Police closed King St between Erskineville and Missenden Rds for 10 hours on Monday while Disaster and Rescue Squad men cleared away wreckage and searched for casualties under tons of rubble.

“Cracked second-storey brickwork on one of the shops hung precariously over the footpath for several hours before the owner and South Sydney Council building inspector could be summoned.”

The Sydney Morning Herald ran a follow-up story on January 31, having initially covered it on the morning after the explosion.

Mad bombers damage

 

“Police were still trying to determine late yesterday the cause of the explosion that destroyed three shops and damaged other buildings, including three on the other side of the street.

“The explosion, which occurred about 12.50 am, ‘was like an earthquake’ one resident said.“Immediately afterwards, a yellow Ford Falcon car was seen speeding from the scene along King Street.”

SCOOP!

These news stories gave me the basis for journalist Tom’s poem ‘Scoop!’ Six weeks after the Newtown bombing, on February 13, 1978, Sydney’s Hilton Hotel in George St was rocked by an explosion, and two people killed. The hotel was hosting CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting), which both Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, and Indian PM, Morarji Desai were attending.

For dramatic tension, I changed the date of the Newtown bombing, putting it after the Hilton, so Tom can say:

…mine’s

a hummer of a yarn, my bomb blast

coming just three days after the Hilton

in George street copped a bomb,

with all those foreign nobs. They say

that’s down to the Ananda Marga.

Maybe mine is too. I can see the headline:

Mad bombers in Australia!!


You can read more about Newtown Voices, including Tom’s ‘Scoop!’ and where to buy the book at newtownvoices