New Internationalist

The Battle of Alexandra Parade

Issue 092

By the New Internationalist Australasian editor, Bob Hawkins.

The State - Victoria by name. The capital Melbourne - Victorian by transport. It really is a public mobility nightmare. But for the privately mobile, the going is great until those last thousand or so metres into the city heart.

It’s little wonder the ‘private’ way of travel is the popular way. Melbourne is a monument to freeway mania and how not to organise a public transport system. It’s not that hard getting into and out of downtown Melbourne by rail or tram. But try going around the hub of the bicycle­spoke system and you can travel for ever. It’s unfair to knock the tram service - it does quite well. But the rail system is something else. The story goes that one particular route on metropolitan tracks holds the world record for late arrivals with a figure of around 97 per cent. Each morning a list of trains not running is broad­cast. Sometimes it is so long that the commuter doesn’t hear on his radio that his train isn’t running until after it should have left - had it been running.

It was against such a background that three years ago this month, thousands of residents of two of the oldest inner working class areas of Melbourne - Fitzroy and Collingwood - came out against the Victoria State Government’s determination to carve a freeway swathe through their suburbs. Australians, despite their legendary image of ruggedness, are generally an apathetic lot. But in October 1977, after eight years of polite resistance to an advancing F19 freeway, residents of the two suburbs took to the barricades.

Locals still savour the memories of the battles which followed. They recall their own passive resistance; the toughness with which Victoria police ultimately dealt with them; how they stood shoulder to shoulder with the mayors of Fitzroy and Collingwood in defence of a mighty barricade of old cars against what the State Government called ‘progress’. Their objections to the freeway:

  • More leaded air pollution - of which Melbourne has more than its fair share;
  • A noisy end to the lives of pensioner who had spent all their years in the tree-lined Alexandra Parade which was to become the F19 extension into the city;
  • The insensitivity of authorities enslaved to the General Motors, Fords and Chryslers of thus world.

The Victoria Government, with the help of a largely sympathetic press, suggested the freeway protesters had been infiltrated by professional rent-a-riot organisations.

In fact the battle was waged by a wide spectrum of residents of Fitzroy and Colling­wood; there was no city-wide support by those not directly affected by the freeway development. By December the Battle of Alexandra Parade had been lost. With brutal efficiency, police cleared barricades and people. But there was no grand opening cere­mony. Almost by stealth, F19 traffic was let into Alexandra Parade.

Now in 1980, there are mixed feelings on the effect the battles had on state government policies. The Liberal (read conservative) Party Government of Victoria still has freeway plans on the drawing board. But obviously it is much more worried about spending money on the upgrading of the woeful rail system. Perhaps the battle of Alexandra Parade was not lost after all.

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