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The City Squatter 1974

The Barricades
Ian Milliss

Milliss comment

Then passed along the order
That a fortress should be made
And soon, with planks and palings
We constructed the stockade.
We worked in teeth set silence,
For we knew what was in store:
Sure never men defended
Such a feeble fort before.

from 'A Ballad of Eureka' by Creeve Roe, 1901

Work began on the Victoria Street barricades early in December, and continued for three weeks. It commenced with the indications that squatter Cox's appeal was to be dismissed, and that police action against the rest of the squatters would probably follow.

Initially we had fantasies that our work would compare with that done by French architecture students in 1969. They had taken over several derelict buildings and rebuilt them as community centres for migrant workers. When the authorities moved in they were so well barricaded that the buildings had to be demolished around them.

While the Victoria Street barricades were aesthetically pleasing and structurally decorative, they were comparatively useless, as even the strongest only lasted an hour and a half. You may learn from our mistakes.

Nine houses were defended but the amount and type of barricading in each house varied, depending on the occupants' attitude.

The most determinedly barricaded houses were nos 59, rear 111 and 115. Nos 59 and 115 are large early Victorian mansions. The rear of 111 was a small brick duplex. 

No 115

The only vulnerable French window (opening onto the front verandah) was boarded up and braced with 9" x 2" Oregon (Diagram A).

The front door was similarly but more massively barricaded. It had several braces, but was not as well built as the other. It collapsed after only twenty minutes of chopping and pounding by the thugs. Once these barricades had been erected the only access to the building was through an exterior staircase at the rear. A barricade (Diagram A) was nailed into position there when we knew the thugs were on the way. Unfortunately they never went around the back.

All barricades were built with holes in them to allow us to fend off the thugs with long poles. This idea was pure romanticism (as some said all along). The only squatter foolhardy enough to try this was smashed in the jaw with his own pole when a thug hit the other end with a sledgehammer. A layer of corrugated iron nailed to the door would have been a better idea.

The only vulnerable window in the building was nailed up with one inch plywood (used for concrete formwork), and braced against a nearby wall with 4" x 4". Some of the doors had barbed wire nailed to them, but since the thugs used axes this was a waste of time and materials. 

No 111

These flats had the advantage of being fairly small and were completely barricaded with scaffolding. There were already iron bars on the windows, and these were backed with 1" ply (which it is almost impossible to chop through: it must be sawed). The ply was supported with scaffolding (Diagram B).

The front door, which opened into a narrow hall, was blocked by removing a brick from the-wall on either side and inserting a bar into the space (Diagram C).

The building was impenetrable, so the thugs knocked a hole through the roof into the top flat, and there tore up the floor to get down into the bottom flat. This took over an hour and a half. Lesson: The roof is the ultimate weakness on an otherwise well barricaded building.

No 59

A scaffolding frame was built around the front door of 59. Its horizontal bars were bolted into place at the last moment. (Diagram D.)

The outside of the door was armoured with corrugated iron to prevent its demolition and protect, the scaffolding. The windows were all nailed up with ply and braced against the opposite wall with scaffolding to take any pressure. (Diagram E.)

The upstairs verandahs were strung from top to bottom with barbed wire.

The thugs got in through one of the four french windows, barricaded as in Diagram A, skew nailed and butted into the window reveals, and braced twice. It did not collapse but was chopped to pieces in approximately 35 minutes. We had optimistically supposed that the thugs' conditioning would lead them to come through the better barricaded front door — six feet away. It didn't. A layer of corrugated iron and possibly hardwood instead of oregon, would have slowed them down considerably.

The only tools necessary for the job were a tape measure, a hammer, and a good cross-cut saw. A chisel would be useful but not essential. Tin snips and pliers were used for the corrugated iron and barbed wire. A spanner and hacksaw were used on the scaffolding.

The timber was mostly scrap from city building sites (dismantled formwork, etc.). In lieu of sympathetic builders' labourers, it could be scavenged in the street, from old fences and buildings which have been partially demolished. Corrugated iron came from the roof of a burnt out building in the street. Although scaffolding made by far the best barricades we used it sparingly. It cannot be used efficiently in every case, and impossibly large amounts would have been necessary. If you hire it, you will lose the enormous deposit required, because after the battle you can't dismantle your scaffolding and take it with you into the paddy-wagon. If you 'borrow' it, like we did, you can lose the friends who 'borrowed' it for you. Perhaps the best idea would be to 'borrow' it directly, but don't get caught.

It is far more important that a barricade should be well-built and braced than that it should look intimidating.

The barricading was only one small facet of what Victoria Street was all about, but it illustrates some of the elements that made it work.

1. The best solution to any problem was always the immediately improvised one, within the limits imposed by all the available materials, people, etc.

2. The most direct contacts were the most useful, e.g. going straight to the men on the job sites rather than union officials.

3. Possibilities were discussed rather than decisions made. When necessary, people made their own selection from the available options, e.g. the people in each house made their own decision as to how much barricading they were able or wanted to do, and how they would do it.

4. Don't rely on 'experts'. Help from builders labourers was well intentioned but not much use. We knew what our problems were better than they did, and we came up with better solutions.

© Ian Milliss