A theatre for the dispossessed




SYDNEY - The owners' plan for the Grand Midnight Star would have been nothing like it. Rather than becoming just another block of flats, the enormous Heritage-listed art deco theatre on Parramatta Road in Homebush has become a "social centre" for community activities and political organising.

The new occupants, a collection of activists who make up the Social Centre Autonomous Network (SCAN), have reinvented the space. The downstairs bar has been turned into a place where activist groups can meet and where people can eat and chat, the lobby has been fitted with a dozen computers, an empty side room has become an art gallery, the industrial-sized kitchen has been taken over by Food Not Bombs and the cavernous ballroom, complete with chandeliers, will become a venue for gigs and raves.

SCAN's Vicki Sentas said the group's aim in taking over the deserted theatre is to reclaim public space, which "no longer exists under capitalism".

At a media conference and guided tour on February 25, the social centre's participants stressed that it is open to broad community participation.

Activist groups are welcome to hold meetings and events there, offers have been made to people in the neighbourhood to drop in and use its facilities and most, if not all, events will be free.

The social centre is not a squat, stressed the participants. While volunteers are rostered on to keep it open around the clock, no-one will live there: partly to avoid "power imbalances" between residents and non-residents and to avoid any sense that newcomers aren't welcome.

Police have been sniffing around but have as yet made no attempt to evict the Grand Midnight Star's new occupants.

The centre is at 55 Parramatta Road, Homebush, and is very close to Homebush station. Visitors are welcome. SCAN's web site, at , includes a listing of events at the centre.

From Green Left Weekly, March 6, 2002.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.