Unemployed squat in Health Department house

November 13, 1991

Unemployed squat in Health Department house

By Steve Hall

CANBERRA — The Unemployed Workers Union squatted in a house belonging to the ACT Department of Health after discovering that the property, usually reserved for its secretary, had been left vacant for more than six months. We organised an open occupation in the hope of providing suitable accommodation for some of the many homeless or needy people in Canberra.

Best described as opulent, this residence is set in large, well-kept, leafy gardens on half an acre of land with a northerly aspect next to the Royal Canberra Hospital. The building is two stories and has double brick construction, four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a huge living area, wall to wall carpets and curtains on every window. Power was still connected, as were two telephone lines. The kitchen included a refrigerator and microwave oven.

Media representatives were contacted immediately and supporters and friends were mobilised. The event received some positive coverage on both radio and television. As a propaganda exercise, we think our actions helped to increase the consciousness of our community as to what can and must be done to alleviate the housing crisis.

The chief administration officer of the hospital visited us mid-afternoon and asked us to "move on". The police didn't arrive until after six o'clock so as to avoid the evening television news. They were confrontationist, using threats of dire consequences and trying to trick us into inappropriate action.

At about nine o'clock a team of eight police officers and four administration staff came to remove us from the squat. Health authorities had obviously put in a bit of work, as we were read a quasi-legal document requiring us to leave the premises. We convened a hasty meeting, decided no advantage would be gained by getting arrested, gathered our possessions and went on our way.

Discussion of further actions will be held at our weekly meetings, at School Without Walls, Eloura Street, Braddon, at 5.30 p.m. every Monday. Phone 247 9001 for more details.

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