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RADICAL SYDNEY (book cover)

University of New South Wales Press

Sydney, 2010


Places, Portraits and Unruly Episodes


Sydney is represented to its citizens and to the rest of the world as a postcard, an impressive, beautiful city, a desirable tourist destination.

But there has always been another Sydney not viewed so fondly by the city’s rulers, a radical Sydney they are intent on ‘disappearing’ beneath concrete and glass. In the arc of working-class suburbs to the south and west, menace and disaffection developed. From the early nineteenth century through to the late twentieth century these suburbs were large and explosive places of marginalised ideas, bohemian neighbourhoods, dissident politics and contentious action.

Through a series of snapshots of people, episodes, and places, Radical Sydney captures aspects of this ‘other’ Sydney, from the days of early settlement through to the late 1970s, from Governor Phillip’s head-hunting expedition to freeing protestors in the anti-conscription movement during the Vietnam War; and in between, resident action movements in Kings Cross, anarchists in Glebe, Gay Rights activism on Oxford Street, Black Power in Redfern.

In the mainstream of white masculine and middle-class history, the voices of Aboriginal fighters, convict poets, feminist journalists, democratic agitators, bohemian dreamers, and revolutionaries are rarely heard. This book restores some of that clamour and disturbance to the history of the city.

While the subject of the book is Sydney, Irving and Cahill make clear in their ‘Introduction’ that the book has been written as a challenge to the mainstream consensus version of Australian history. The consensus version tends to sanitise the past to present a view of Australian history and society proceeding on the basis of cooperation and consensus, a past in which there is little significant political and/or social turbulence. The authors’ view of the Australian past, on the contrary, is one in which significant political and social ferment, dissent, turbulence are not strangers, nor occasional.

'Sydney has long needed a people's political history. This book begins to fill that gap.'

John Pilger, journalist and documentary filmmaker

'It took me by surprise, this hidden history of defiance, crazy idealism and the trashing of cop shops. It's a Sydney of fabulous characters, some fresh from uprisings in Europe, determined to flick away the trappings of avarice and class. Today we are sleepwalkers, comapred to these egaletarian-seeking bookworms and brawlers, who sure knew how to paint the town red.'

Richard Neville, a founder of OZ (Sydney and London 1960s), author and futurist

'The authors, with nearly fifty stories on 'Radical Sydney', have done a wonderful job of capturing the diversity and the spirit of Sydney over two hundred years.'

Jack Mundey, 'Green Ban' pioneer and leader of the NSW Builders Labourers' union

'From the Venerable Boote to Mike Matteson and the bolt-cutters, the authors explore radical Sydney in rollicking and sometimes hilarious detail. Did you know that the first Women's Weekly was printed on Australian Workers Union presses and that Merv Flanagan was killed by a scab in Camperdown during the 1917 General Strike?  Why wasn't this excellent book written ages ago?'

Hon. Dr Meredith Burgmann, radical student activist, historian and Labor MP

See what readers are saying about Radical Sydney, and check out the reviews of the book on the Radical Sydney blog.

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