A celebration of activism

November 17, 1993

Radical Melbourne 2: The Enemy Within
By Jill and Jeff Sparrow
Vulgar Press, Melbourne
256 pages, $50

Monumental propaganda — this is what I have in mind ... In many prominent places, on suitable walls or on some special scaffolding there should be scattered short but telling phrases, expressing the essence of the more involved texts giving a condensed version of one or another historical event ... Monuments with inscriptions: busts, full figures, perhaps bas reliefs, groups.

That's how Lenin wanted to decorate Petrograd in the years after the Russian revolution.

Of course, it's easier with the working class in power. In Australia, the history of the left often slides from view. The monuments and statues throughout the country commemorate generals, judges and politicians, rather than socialists, strikers or suffragettes.

That's why it's important to remember the places throughout our cities with a historical connection to the radical left. Such sites remind us that great struggles have rocked Australia in the past and will rock it again in the future.

In 2001, my sister Jill and I published Radical Melbourne: A Secret History, which looked at 50 locations linked to struggles from the first 100 years of white settlement. This year, we're launching a sequel to take the story up to the year 2000.

Radical Melbourne 2 begins with the extraordinary story of Cooks' Cottage, both a nationalist icon based upon a more-or-less conscious campaign of fabrication, and an important site of Aboriginal protest. It ends with the S11 blockade in 2000 of the World Economic Forum at the Crown Casino, a demonstration that signalled the potential for left revival.

Along the way, it takes in the coffee shop where gays and lesbians found haven during the intolerant fifties, the nightclub where teenage gangs brawled in 1965, the headquarters of The Association (a group of army officers who set up plans for a military coup during the late 1940s), the hall in which the Communist Party launched Australia's first ever Jazz Convention, and the church gargoyle with the uncanny resemblance to former Premier Jeff Kennett.

Many of the stories from the past contain lessons for the present. Today, ASIO possesses extraordinary powers of surveillance and detention, enabling the government to spy on and outlaw organisations.

Radical Melbourne 2 uncovers the underground bunker where the Communist Party of Australia printed its newspapers during its period of illegality in 1941. It looks at the suburban house from which undercover police infiltrated the activist community during the 1990s (running the breakfast show on radio 3CR, making furniture for Friends of the Earth and delivering lectures for feminist groups). It also examines an extraordinary activist campaign to snoop on the snoopers during the 1970s.

On a more light-hearted note, the book documents Melbourne's role in some of the earliest examples of computer hacking, culture-jamming and the adventures of the Cave Clan in the tunnels beneath the city.

With over 150 photos, the book is a celebration of 60 years of activism.

[The book will be launched at 6pm on May 7 at Trades Hall, corner of Victoria and Lygon Streets, Carlton. Phone Vulgar Press on (03) 9348 2140 or visit <http://www.vulgar.com.au/forthcom.html>.]

From Green Left Weekly, April 29, 2004.

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