Out-Squatting The Squatter. By D.Max
From the onset of Australia’s settlement in 1788, with the claim by Captain James Cook that the land was “ Terra nullus”, unoccupied, began a ‘squatocracy’ that has evolved into the building of nationhood and a way of life for all migrants, including myself.
It is no coincidence then that in a bay where some of the initial 1788 squatters happened upon, when looking for timber to build with, that this tradition is being kept alive and well, complimenting it’s varied and colourful history.
Blackwattle Bay and in particular, the Jubilee, Federal and Bicentennial Park end of the bay, is where an interesting history of sorts, has added to it’s plethora, a stand-off between an artist and a truck rental company.
The history of the bay is such that it was Wangal land of the Eora Nation. Later, with settlement the bay devolved from pristine creeks and overflowing natural habitats, to open sewers, industrial run-off and offal from a slaughterhouse that was situated in Blackwattle swamp from 1835-60. Timber yards, soap factories, “crowded and filthy slums”, added their notoriety to the area, which in time as Sydney grew, dissipated into what it is today. (Andrew Bassett, www.fineframing.com.au)
The mangrove swamps that were reclaimed with silt from harbour dredging, became Wentworth Park, Jubilee Park and what is now Federal and Bicentennial Parks. With the expansion of the State Railway system late in the 19th century and early 20th century, an ambitious, curved, brick railway viaduct or land bridge was completed after the First World War, in 1922, running from Pyrmont through Wentworth Park, Glebe and into Annandale.
The viaduct running through Jubilee park and Federal/Bicentennial Park Annandale, is said to be one of the largest surviving examples of this type of structure in New South Wales, with over three million bricks from the Homebush brick quarries, used in it’s construction. ( Heritage Council www.visit.heritage.nsw.gov.au )
It is under the archways of this engineering marvel, that some enclosures to a few archways, were constructed to house club rooms for teams representing Glebe, for example, St. James Sporting Rugby League club from as early as 1941. Other community based clubhouses have also been granted archway spaces alongside this former rugby league clubhouse, while across the meandering Johnston’s Creek, in what is Federal and Bicentennial Parkland, exists another five enclosed archways, at the extreme opposite end of the same viaduct.
These five enclosed archways, have always exuded a sense of mystery from behind their corrugated walls, shrouding it’s activities from the general public. What is known of this lot, is that it was once State Rail property that has changed hands from Leichhardt Council, to Sydney City Council. However, the lot was leased to a truck rental company for the past several years. And this is where our story takes an interesting turn, since it seems that from behind the ‘iron curtain’, a certain person emerged, through a large, iron door, that opened to the park. He had been doing so apparently, for the past eight years, stealthily like the local fox that inhabits the parklands and at odd hours, to offer passers by, a glimpse into the end archway. Lord alas! Here an artist of some unknown repute, inviting us to share in the space and to share also in his vision for a community arts space and gallery.
Stefan von Reiche, a former employee of the truck company in question, had inhabited the space after his employer sublet it to him. Over the years he transformed the end archway from a disused industrial workshop space, into his personal art studio, using it to weld his steel sculptures, paint large canvases and to photograph in. He invited other artists to participate in the use of the space, taught art workshops and held a number of activities, including fashion photo-shoots, film-shoots, poetry readings and much more.
But all these good things came to a point of ending, when he was faced with eviction early this year, from his former employer/landlord, who it turned out, was not licensed to sublet the property to begin with. Given this knowledge, the artist being now aware of his status as ‘squatter non-gratis’, as he was a rent paying squatter, was in effect, renting from a squatter! And as often is the case when money, influence and power confronts, the wealth of culture, creativity and community, that an interesting mismatch is vetted on and wagered on by those on the sidelines, witnessing again, the timeless struggle between David and Goliath. For some in the local area, memories of the former Blackwattle Bay Studios battle to stave off developer greed, is likened to this showdown… This time however, the artist along with his partner and friends, are rallying behind a savvy online and community based campaign to secure the archway for local community artistic use.
“The locals have been very supportive of the idea as they lack this type of facility and incentive in what is a beautiful parkland”, said the artist. “I would be honoured be made a caretaker of what is part of an historical construction and area and to facilitate the creative needs of the local community.”
In the meantime, a proposal sent to council, is yet to be approved, while it seems that a protracted stand off between former employer and employee, landlord and tenant, capitalist and artist, is warming up to be another colourful story to add to the character of a bay that once ran red with blood.
For further information on this campaign, please visit: