In the 1960s, Joy Cummings, a Labor Party activist, locked onto a row of Moreton Bay figs in Islington Park, Newcastle. The majestic trees, which had been earmarked for the chainsaw to widen the road, were saved and still stand today. Cummings went on to be elected to Newcastle Council and in 1974 became Australia’s first female Lord Mayor.
Forty years on, however, a Labor mayor presides over the destruction of a swathe of parkland in Newcastle’s East End (which, ironically, includes a public walkway named after Joy Cummings) to convert it and the historic Newcastle East Heritage precinct into a race track.
The willingness of Labor to participate in such state government-initiated vandalism has prompted local activists Steve O’Brien, Sam Ashby and Gayle Dedman to stand for Newcastle’s Ward One in the local council elections on September 9.
“Newcastle residents are right to say that the SuperCars, state government and city council have put private profit before community,” said Steve O’Brien, who is also standing for Lord Mayor.
“The three-day car race, set down for November, has been imposed on residents with a lack of transparency around process, health, noise, cost and environmental impact.”
The event requires six months of intrusive construction works in Newcastle’s East End.
O’Brien told Green Left Weekly: “Liberal/Labor should end their love affair with the car. The more money they pour into roads, car parks and car races the worse the traffic gets.”
According to O’Brien, Ashby and Dedman, who are supported by Socialist Alliance, Labor cannot be trusted to stand up to the Liberals.
“Now that the rail line into inner Newcastle has been closed, for example, Labor has changed its tune. Originally they were opposed to any development on the rail corridor, but now appear to be willing to allow developers and the state government to build on it,” said O’Brien.
The vision supported by the Socialist Alliance Ward One team is future focused according to O’Brien, who argues: “We need to look beyond cars and help people get around safely through investing in better connections between transport modes, running light rail down the existing rail corridor, promoting disability access, developing cycleways as well as building sporting facilities that encourage broad and active participation.
“The old BHP steelworks site, which lies within Ward One, for example, should be returned to the people and transformed into a sustainability precinct with mixed housing, parklands and park and ride facilities to reduce traffic congestion in the city.
“The area has access to wharf and rail infrastructure, which could catalyse the development of clean technologies and jobs.
“Newcastle’s heritage was saved by the actions of residents, activists such as Joy Cummings and the green bans imposed by unions such as the Builder’s Labourer’s Federation.
“We need to return Newcastle to a vision that builds community rather than destroy and denigrate it.”