We are well organised and we have public support.
We have to win this campaign.
My family background has been formative. Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, I was three when we immigrated to Australia. My parents were European, from Czechoslovakia; my mother from Prague, my father from Bratislava.
My mother was a strong influence. In Afghanistan, she tried to free the women from purdah and continued this ambition from Australia seeking UN assistance for Afghan women. She talked a lot about injustice, both in Europe and Afghanistan. Recognizing that life in Australia is privileged, she fostered the belief that we owe it to the rest of the world to assist in leading better lives.
These and others were early formative experiences. My father died when I was eleven. Sadly, but it meant that my mother’s influence was much stronger. For example, my father, an engineer, was not keen on women being educated; yet my mother had been to university in Europe after the war, was passionate about learning, and was a great reader.
There was conflict when Dad expected his daughters to leave school after second form and go to work to help the family. When Dad died, this wasn’t an issue. Mum had to be very frugal, but gave priority to things that mattered, especially her daughters being educated and getting to university; scholarships helped. Mum loved travelling and always took us on trips to the country for weekends and interstate on school holidays.
Studying politics and Law/Arts, I had six years as an undergraduate at Melbourne University from 1967. This was a hotbed of activism then. There were debates on the Vietnam War, the Housing Commission of Victoria demolishing Carlton and parts of Fitzroy to make way for essentially Socialist towers, and the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works planning to plough freeways through Carlton. There was so much happening. There was lots of theatre with the Pram Factory and La Mama being established. I also joined the group to save the Victoria Market – The Keep Victoria Market Association.
Brought up in a secluded household with my mother and her two studious daughters who loved school, played in sporting teams, and had a quiet life, coming to University was a real eye-opener. I made lots of friends. I joined the judo, basketball, bushwalking and other clubs. I helped form the Political Science Students’ Society; we started the Melbourne Journal of Politics and I was its Business Manager. I was elected to the Law Students Society and was the Law Faculty Eduction Committee student representative seeking law to be taught in a greater social context and to cover environmental law.
We had lunchtime lectures and lots of visiting politicians. Never joining a political party, I went to everything, labour, liberal, socialist … but campaigned for Gough Whitlam in 1972 and was elated when he won. Although I got very involved in student activism, I didn’t fail any subjects and I did well enough to be offered tutoring in the Political Science School and to get articles at one of the prestigious law firms. While doing articles, I was President of the Young Lawyers Association which was successful in achieving the first industrial award for law graduates doing their articles. Being a shop steward for young lawyers, did not make me that popular in my law firm.
Law and legal analysis can be used as a strong tool for social justice, social change and protecting what is valuable. Environmental and planning law are vital to protect the community and heritage. We have saved a lot of heritage in Melbourne that has been destroyed in many cities. But it is sad that so many wonderful buildings like the Menzies Hotel and coffee palace on the corner of Rathdowne and Victoria Street, were not able to be saved.
Offered a job teaching law at Latrobe University, I accepted this as as its Department of Legal Studies taught law in a social context - and as a tool for social change. I fell readily into that. Apart from teaching contract, torts and administrative/consitutional law, I came to specialise in industrial law as a means of improving employer employee relations and employment democracy. We were also involved in setting up legal aid - enabling law to be accessed by the disadvantaged – through the Melbourne University Legal Service, Fitzroy Legal Service, West Heidelberg Legal Service and Aboriginal Legal Service.
In those days of teaching at LaTrobe, I used to drive from Carlton to the University in mum’s old car. It often had to be kick-started. I would park in a median gap in the centre of Princes Street so if it didn’t start and the crank handle failed, I could push the car down the incline, then jump in and kick start it in second gear. Often, I just made my lectures and tutorials. Princes Street was such a quiet street in the 1970’s without parking restrictions. Imagine doing that now!
I didn’t think twice about driving then. But once I moved from Latrobe University to work in the city as an industrial lawyer/advocate, I started cycling to work and have ever since. Cycling gives a wonderful sense of freedom, not having to worry about driving and parking. It is absolute door to door transport, like having a taxi always waiting - but without the cost, physical inactivity and environmental shortcomings.
While teaching, I bought a terrace house in Canning Street, just off Princes Street and joined the Carlton Association. The Association was influential with Councillor members and committed professionals like Trevor Huggard, Peter Sanders, Craig Cook, and the various Beachams. I learned so much. The Association was involved in saving the former railway land on Park Street, Princes Hill from being turned to industrial use, and protecting heritage terrace houses from being demolished by the Housing Commission for highrise housing and freeways. This is happening again now with the current proposed extension of the Eastern Freeway.
As a local resident and through the Carlton Association and Melbourne City Council, I was involved in protecting our heritage suburbs and ensuring sympathetic re-development. Later on, when my children were at secondary school and I had completed over a decade on the School Council and Parents Club, becoming a Councillor and continuing local public involvement was important to me.
After being elected to the City of Yarra in 2002, I became Council’s delegate to the Metropolitan Transport Forum (MTF), representing Melbourne metropolitan councils on transport issues.
Transport is so important for human engagement. Public transport is vital for the independence of children, the elderly, and others who don’t drive or cycle. Reliance on cars in a city like Melbourne of 4 million people is unsustainable and public transport is vital to enable people to engage in society and support the economy and social equity. A friend in Pakenham with five children has to run five cars; their kids are in tertiary education or apprenticeships, they live in an isolated location, and without proper public transport, have no realistic alternative.
This latest transport campaign of Councils and the MTF is because the Premier has announced the government goal to link the F19 Freeway to the Tullamarine Freeway via a road tunnel. There have been various tactics trying to get public acceptance. This link was stopped before, in the 1970s, because of its negative impacts on Carlton. The Eddington Enquiry was set up by the Government to re-examine and report on this East-west link.
While the Eddington report is due at the end of March 2008, it appears that the government has pre-empted the outcome in announcing that there will be a tunnel linking the freeways - as per the 1969 transport plan which was overturned in the 1970s. The community will become radicalised if there is an attempt to construct a tunnel link without a railway line. Many people are opposed to a tunnel in any event, but without a rail service, thousands more will be catalysed into opposing a road tunnel.
Many involved in the 1970’s protest, are active again. Women have been well represented as a catalyst for this. But there is an expanding alliance of progressive thinkers who recognise that cities require more sustainable, economic and equitable ways of transport than excessive reliance on the private car.
Although the Eastern Freeway was built to Hoddle Street, the 1970’s campaign was successful in stopping the freeway going through Carlton. The compromise when the F19 freeway was constructed was for the government to agree on building a rail line to Doncaster. Then the plug was pulled by the government in 1977 and we didn’t get the rail. That was one of the biggest mistakes by the State Government.
If the rail service had been completed, you would not have had the level of congestion we now have on the Eastern Freeway and Hoddle Street. Mass transport is needed to take people to jobs, institutitons and services. The absence of a rail service on this major eastern corridor is a huge gap in our transport system. We also need a tram line on busy Hoddle Street linking Queen and Wellington Parades.
We have 60,000 vehicles a day projected to increase to 100,000 with the completion of Eastlink later in 2008 - highly inefficient and unsustainable. Whereas one train can take 5-8 kilometres of vehicles off the road.
So now, exactly 30 years later, we are back again protesting poor government transport decision making.
Billboards along the Eastern Freeway - supported by the City of Yarra, City of Manninghan and the MTF, urge motorists to show their support on-line for a Doncaster rail line . A banner on the Collingwood Town Hall also urges people to support the on-line rail petition.
Now we are standing on the freeway dressed in Christmas clothes with a banner saying “All I want for Christmas is rail to Doncaster” and asking people to sign the petition. We are well organised and we have public support. We have to win this campaign.
It is vital for Melbourne’s future.
The Economic Benefits of Investing in Public Transport in Melbourne published by the Metropolitan Transport Forum in 2005 set out the program for new rail lines needed to service urban fringe growth areas – Mernda, Aurora, Wyndham Vale, Cranbourne East, Melton, and the Doncaster and Rowville corridors and the website is www.pt4me2.org.au
That is what we are seeking to achieve. We now have a formal Government Inquiry into Liveability for Victoria. But we need Government action that does more than repeat the rhetoric of support for public transport while continuing to expand the road network and only tinkering with public transport improvements.