During most of the twentieth century community life centred on the churches, and protest groups seemed unnecessary through the long reign of the Labor Party. In the 1970s, however, Labor could not defend its flock from the Department of Main Roads (DMR): in the 1980s it did not resist “urban renewal”. New community formations appeared.
In 1971, as Resident Action Groups (RAGs) sprang up across Sydney, the Ultimo and Pyrmont Residents Action Group (UPRAG) emerged, advocating policies to enable people to live and work in the same area. Its organiser, Michael Matthews, was the first independent member of the City Council. Green Bans helped people to resist the DMR, and when legal tenants were squeezed out, UPRAG endorsed squatting as a way to protect houses.
There was no concerted opposition to the development of The Star complex. However, in 1988 the State government chose to transform the peninsula, and opposition became more urgent – and more difficult. The peninsula was reshaped as the Powerhouse Museum, Darling Harbour Leisure Centre, the ABC and the Maritime Museum caused property prices to surge, and Lend Lease began to rebuild the CSR site as a high-rise precinct.
The Department of Planning embarked on thorough “urban renewal”, through the City West Urban Strategy (1991) and the City West Development Corporation. In 1992 the Commonwealth tipped in Building Better Cities funds. These authorities needed local bodies with whom to liaise: so in 1994 the City created two Precinct Advisory Committees.
While Ultimo’s PAC operated quite well, Pyrmont’s was wrecked by internal divisions. The PAC gave way to Information Sessions, in which planners explained their work and – relentlessly – sought residents’ consent. More popular than Information Sessions were the small-scale Point Street Tenants’ Association and the Pyrmont Community Group (PCG).
PCG adapted and survived into the 21st century beside new organisations formed by newcomers. Of these, the Friends of Pyrmont Point most closely resembled the older bodies, defending public land, and achieving a new public park.
Two ambitious groups emerged in the 2000s: Pyrmont Action (PA) and Pyrmont Progress Inc. (PPI), lobbying for better services and the engagement of residents in planning. Those ambitions have been replaced by ad hoc groups responding to specific issues. PA is still active, but PPI dissolved: its members moved on to create the Pyrmont Community Bank and Pyrmont Cares.
With one notable exception, recent community groups respond to specific local issues including plans to transform Blackwattle Bay or Glebe Island, to demolish the Powerhouse Museum, or build a tower at The Star. The Friends of the Pyrmont Community Centre lobby for better social services. The Coalition of Ultimo and Pyrmont Associations (CUPA) informs groups of each other’s activities, and coordinates campaigns.
The great exception is the Australian South Sea Islanders - Port Jackson, a local body which is also a national lobby group campaigning for governments to compensate its members for historic injustices.
Recent community groups are more social than political. Pyrmont Supports organises mutual aid. Another group with a social mission is the Friends of the Pyrmont Community Centre. The Coalition of Ultimo/Pyrmont Associations (CUPA) informs groups of each other’s activities, and coordinates campaigns.