Society > Evictions

Evictions

Poor people in Pyrmont - the great majority - relied on precarious incomes from insecure jobs. Living close to their place of work, they rented cramped cottages from absentee landlords, in constant fear of eviction. As industries grew from the 1860s, so did the working population, and the housing market tightened. Whenever men lost their wages, landlords turned them onto the streets with their families and furniture. In the aftermath of the Maritime Strike of 1890, seamen and waterside workers became homeless in large numbers, especially in Pyrmont and Ultimo.  

Radical commentators, like the writers for Truth, blamed hard-hearted landlords individually, and dwelt on the dismay of families brusquely made homeless. In reality the pressure came from the relentless expansion of factories, wool stores and railways. A railway line to Darling Harbour destroyed Murray Street Public School, 150 houses and land of St Bartholomew’s church. Soft-hearted journalists and politicians might regret the consequences of economic development – and they did – but they could not resist the logic of development, expressed baldly by Sir Allen Taylor who demanded “slum clearance”, or the Construction and Local Government Journal on behalf of developers. When 500 people were evicted, (Sun, 25 August 1920), Alderman Lambert denounced the wool industry, and opposed a concession to build a wool store in Bulwarra Road. Alderman Marks responded angrily: “wool is absolutely healthy. Pyrmont must be the main wool centre, and it is impossible to get the stores nearer the railway.”

People in distress were generally and generously supported by neighbours until they found other homes; and the police who supervised the evictions seem to have been as gentle as was possible. But they could only soften the blow. In the 1930s, the Communist Party came to the aid of homeless workers, arguing for tenants’ rights, building some new houses and (through Mr Shaunessy) persuading the courts to allow tenants time to vacate. Only in the 1950s was pressure released, as industries ceased to expand.

Threats of eviction resumed in the 1970s, in very different forms. The Department of Main Roads wanted to clear a path for new roads, and squatters mounted determined defences. In the 1990s “urban renewal” began to displace cottages with high-rise apartment blocks.

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