Nita McCrae remembered

Nita McCrae was a community leader who forty years ago helped save a community and a heritage precinct. The Rocks and Millers Point would have been vastly different places without Nita’s intervention.

Yesterday a proposal came before the City of Sydney Council to name the new park in Argyle Street after Nita. Council voted unanimously to adopt the name Nita McCrae Park. Councillors Linda Scott, Philip Thalis and Clover Moore spoke strongly in favour or the proposal. It was great to see this recognition of Nita embraced by all on council.

The park will be officially opened by Clover Moore in late October during a day of community events and celebration – watch for details in a month or so.

Yasmina Bonnet and I were invited to speak to the council before the vote. Yasmina spoke on behalf of the Millers Point Community (formerly the RAG). This is what I said on behalf of the Save Our Sirius Foundation:

“Nita McCrae and Jack Mundey are the two people most responsible for saving The Rocks and Millers Point from destruction in the 1970s, and for saving a community. It was Nita McCrae who contacted unions and anyone she thought might lend support to save The Rocks, but no-one responded until she wrote to the Secretary of the Builders Labourers Federation. Jack Mundey replied and together the unions and the community placed a Green Ban on The Rocks and changed forever the way urban design occurs in our city.

“There is little written about Nita McCrae and few images of her. She is omitted from most histories of the Green Ban movement, but still she is celebrated within the Millers Point community, and people continue to speak highly of her.

“I have spoken to three local residents who knew Nita McCrae well. They were touched by the proposal to recognise Nita in this way.

“The first resident is Myra Demetriou who in a few weeks will be the only public housing resident still living in The Rocks. There were 200 maritime families living in The Rocks in 1968, but fewer than 70 families in 1978 when Nita McCrae and The Rocks Residents’ Group  won the campaign to save The Rocks and its community which would henceforward live in the Sirius apartments and Millers Point. Myra and Nita were good friends and campaigned together on several issues.

“The second resident is Flo Seckold, born in Millers Point and recently displaced from Argyle Place. Flo and her husband Teddy attended the early Rocks Residents’ Group meetings in Nita’s kitchen in her George Street terrace. Flo and Teddy were at the centre of the Battle for The Rocks and Teddy was one of the 57 arrested in 1973.

“The third resident is Jack Mundey who worked with Nita to place the Green Ban on The Rocks and then to lift it four years later so that Sirius could be built for those displaced by The Rocks redevelopment. Jack and Nita developed a friendship during the Green Ban era that continued when Jack moved into Millers Point for several years.

“The community in The Rocks and Millers Point is fractured following another displacement of public housing tenants. The current Millers Point relocation program has been running since 2014 and has resulted in almost all public housing residents being forced out of Millers Point, Dawes Point and The Rocks.

“Recent arrivals and future residents of Millers Point know those being displaced only slightly. Many have not yet completed restoration of their properties. Most of the maritime community and the public housing tenants will have been displaced by the time they arrive.  However, many of these future residents have expressed interest in embracing the history of this heritage precinct, and this includes the Green Ban era and the efforts of Nita McCrae.

“Nita’s story is an important one for understanding our community and its history  and we commend the proposal to name this park in her honour.”

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Nita McCrae and the campaign to save The Rocks is at the heart of the book Sirius to be released 8 November. See here for details.

Photo: still from “Rocking the Foundations, a history of the NSW Builders Laborers’ Federation and the Green Bans”, a film by Pat Fiske.

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