Radical Balmain–Leichhardt tour a hit

March 22, 2022
Cockatoo Island strike
Painters and Dockers strike at the naval shipyards at Cockatoo Island in 1989. Photo: CockatooIsland.gov.au

Green Left hosted its inaugural radical guided tour of Sydney's inner-city port suburbs of Balmain and Leichhardt on March 20.

The tour took in some of Balmain's key political landmarks, starting with the Issy Wyner and Nick Origlass memorial plaque near old Mort's Dock and Issy Wyner Reserve, on the corner of Mort Street and Curtis Avenue in Balmain — across the road from the former office of the Painters and Dockers union. The tour also visited Elkington park, overlooking the famous Cockatoo Island.

Issy Wyner joined the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union of Australia in 1939, eventually becoming its secretary in 1974 and later its president. He worked closely with Nick Origlass for decades, most famously in a struggle against the Communist Party of Australia for leadership of the Balmain docks.

In later years, Wyner and Origlass were active in local council. Wyner was an alderman and councillor on Leichhardt Council from 1959–91 and mayor of Leichhardt from 1989–90. With Origlass, he was involved in important struggles for community services, and over urban and industrial development and the expansion of Sydney airport.

Wyner wrote a two-part history of the Painters and Dockers Union, With Banner Unfurled and My Union Right or Wrong: A History of the Ship Painters and Dockers Union 1900–1932. He also wrote Open Council: A New Era In Local Government.

James Wyner, Issy's grandson, led the Balmain tour. He recounted the rise and fall of Australia’s maritime industries and the industrial Balmain waterfront. He described the highlights of Sydney’s workers movements from the radical 1890s through to the rebellious 1960s and ’70s.

After the Balmain leg, the tour stopped at Leichhardt Town Hall, where Hall Greenland, author of Red Hot: The Life and Times of Nick Origlass, spoke about key battles Wyner and Origlass led against corporate development in the port suburb and surrounds. Greenland was joined by Peter Boyle, who is active in the "YES" campaign to demerge the Inner West Council, in response to the NSW government's forced merger of the Leichhardt, Ashfield and Marrickville Councils in 2016.

The next Green Left radical tour will explore the radical past and present of inner-city Glebe on April 3.

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