Thurina Park and the East Villawood Progress Association

Desmond Moore

In their book Green Bans, Red Union (UNSW Press, 1998), Meredith and Verity Burgmann detailed how, as a last resort to stop the clearing of the land and the building of ‘a couple of hundred high rise units’ at Kelly’s Bush, on the foreshore of Hunters Hill, members of a community organi­sation enlisted union assistance in banning the ‘development’ of the area. The union covering the drivers of bulldozers and graders, the Federated Engine Drivers’ and Firemens’ Association (FEDFA) took the request to the NSW Labour Council, which, on 3 June 1971, supported the ban of Kelly’s Bush. ‘Green Bans’, as this and other similar actions came to be called, were born under the leadership of the Builders Labourers Federation of NSW and its dynamic secretary, Jack Mundey.The use of Green Bans went on to preserve a number of important sites and buildings (especially much of the historic Rocks area of Sydney) from unscrupulous development. However this was not the first time that a community organisation, after seemingly exhausting all conventional means of protest, approached a union to save vital recreational land from being “developed”.

Thurina Park, in East Villawood, is legacy to the success of this earlier campaign conducted by the East Villawood Progress Association (the Progress Association) especially its Honorary Secretary, Mrs Hazel Jones. This campaign was conducted in 1960 – some 11 years prior to the events at Kelly’s Bush. In 1960 EastVilIawood was still a fairly new suburb with few community facilities on the Bankstown side of its border with Fairfield Municipality. Monier Concrete had established a concrete tile plant there in 1948.1 There had been a railway station at Villawood since 1922 but it was really in the 1950s, when the NSW Housing Commission developed a housing settlement there, that the area was developed. This is evinced by the opening ofthe EastVilIawood Public School in 1955.2

The Progress Association was also established in 1955 and, according to a letter it sent to the local doctor, Dr B.C. Sproule,3 it was primarily concerned in “improved sewerage, sealing of road services and (the) installation of street lights, letter boxes and phone booths” (important in the pre-mobile phone era) and it claimed success in expediting their installation over the rate planned by the various authorities. Members of the Progress Association who had expressed a desire for a better bus service had been informed by the proprietor of the local bus service “that as local roads were in such a bad condition, he had not  commenced the South Alcoomie St run”, He added that “when all roads were in a better condition, bus services would improve”. 4 These activities brought the Progress Association into the sphere of local government and until 1960 it actively supported “progress” (usually anti­ALP) candidates for Bankstown Council.

From its inaugural meeting the Progress Association had expressed its concern at the lack of playing fields in East Villawood.5 This issue continued to be raised in subsequent meetings as a matter of urgent concern.6 At a 9 May 1955 meeting the Progress Association also asked the Housing Commission to erect an assembly hall on one of the sites it wanted for recreation use.7 It followed this request with a deputation to the Housing Commission and further letters on the same subject – but to no avail.8 If the Housing Commission dedicated the necessary land and Bankstown Council passed a Development Application, the Progress Association offered a £250 loan towards the purchase of building materials.A local football club was prepared to actually build a hall for local organisations – such as the Progress Association, Police Boys, Scouts and football clubs.9 The local cricket club was also interested in laying down a pitch and marking off a cricket field.10 Clearly, the community of East Villawood needed suitable recreation areas so the Progress Association had this high on its list of improvements for the district.

In 1959 the Progress Association decided to hold a fund-raising fete on the land adjacent to the public school and its secretary wrote to Sir Edward Hallstrom asking him to open the fete. In this letter Mrs Jones raised the problem of juvenile delinquency saying it was one of the reasons that the Progress Association wanted to have a hall erected as a community centre.11 The Progress Association had earlier written to the local MLA, Clarie Earl, acknowledging his concern about juvenile delinquency and suggesting one of its causes was the lack of sporting and social facilities. Its letter continued: “to this we are endeavouring to have a piece of land set aside as a park and sports field, with a hall erected on it where dances and hobby clubs could be conducted”.12

At the same time the Progress Association wrote a similar letter to one local alderman, Norm Baxter, which said: “Mr. Becker (President of the Progress Association) has reported to us (of) your unflagging efforts to try and obtain a hut to use as a Community Hall for the area, in an effort to introduce sport, hobby-clubs and dancing etc for the young people in the area. We feel that these amenities could go far to alleviate the problem of juvenile delinquency, which is a matter of grave concern”, The support of the local Catholic priest was sought with a similar Ietter.13 The reactions to this new approach were not highly encouraging. Sir Edward declined to open the fete and Mr Earl wrote saying the Minister for Housing, Mr Landa, would look into the issue.” 14

Only Alderman Baxter was optimistic when he wrote expressing his belief that the Progress Association would succeed in having the land proclaimed as a Park and Recreation Area.15

However, the NSW Housing Commission had other plans for the land. The President of the Progress Association reported to the February 1960 meeting that the Housing Commission had commenced building 39 dwellings on the playing site adjacent to the Primary School.16 The fete to raise money for a hall was immediately cancelled “pending negoti­ations with the Housing Commission” and the Secretary, Mrs Hazel Jones, was authoriscd to write to “all possible organizations and people asking that they support the Association in their (sic) protests against the resumptions, particularly the Aldermen from the North Ward”.17 Letters to the press were also authorised and the Progress Association commenced lobbying Bankstown’s Mayor and Council for their support.

A flurry of letters seeking support emanated from the type-writer of Mrs Jones and letters of opposition were sent to the Housing Commission.18 In its letter seeking support from the Lions Club the Progress Association stated: “In the original plans of the area three different sites were allocated for recreational purposes. Two have already been built on despite the many specious promises made to us by the Housing Commission”. This letter went on to say that a Mr Dunstan, representing the Housing Commission, had assured the Progress Association’s President, Mr Becker and Vice-President, Mr Canovan, that the last site would be reserved as a playing area but now the Housing Commission was preparing to build on it too.19

The Progress Association’s campaign really was a broad community one. In a letter to the Secretary of the Fairfield Branch of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, seeking its support, Mrs Jones mentioned that support had already been received from the NSW Trades and Labour Council, Bankstown Council, the Chester Hill Branch of the ALP, Chester Hill Progress Association, the Union of Australian Women, East Villawood Junior Soccer and Cricket Associations. 20 Apart from its letter-writing campaign the Progress Association organised a deputation to Bankstown Council to ask it to organise a further deputation to the Minister for Housing and to take out an injunction against the Housing Commission’s building on the last land suitable for recreation.21

This deputation included five members of the Progress Association, the Principal of the Villawood East Public School, Mr Watson, the Church of England’s Minister, Rev.Thorne, and a representative of the Southern District Junior Soccer Association, Mr Lawrenson. Its members were later added to by four members of the East Villawood Soccer Club who, with Mr Lawrenson, were also going to see Mr C. Earl, MLA.22 Mrs Jones, her three children and some of their friends, took a petition around East Villawood over two weekends. It stated that:

  • We, the undersigned, respectfully address the Minister for Housing, and wish to bring to his notice:
  • 1) That the Housing Commission of N.S.W have resumed the only remaining site in the East Villawood Housing Estate suitable for a Community Centre, with playing areas and a community hall.
  • 2) The establishment of such playing areas is vitally necessary for the area, to provide facilities for our young people to meet together in common interests, and so develop socially adjusted personalities.
  • 3) These areas, when established, are also used by schools, and reduce the crowding in the existing playing areas.
  • We therefore respectfully request the Minister to act immediately to prevent the buildings being erected, and to pull down those that have been commenced, to ensure the area is not alienated from its original purpose.

This was an exercise in alerting a wider number of residents of East Villawood to the Housing Commission’s actions and it resulted in collecting the signatures of 778 adults and a further 528 signatures from people under 21 (who, it was argued would be the main beneficiaries of having a sporting field and recreation area) making a total of 1,306 signatures.23Although I cannot find a copy of the initial letter from the Progress Association to the Southern Districts Branch of the Building Workers Industrial Union (BWIU) I assume it was made about the same time as the letter seeking support from the AEU (the union that Mrs Jones, when single, had joined during World War II) as letters of thanks-for-your-support to both unions were dated 27 March 1060.

One Progress Association member, who lived across the road from the land where the Housing Commission was about to commence building, rang Mrs Jones to report that there was some sort of meeting of the workers on the site. Unfortunately there is no reference to this incident which mayor may not have a direct bearing on the next move in this campaign. Letters were received from Mr C. Earl, MLA saying that the Housing Minister, Mr A. Landa, would later direct the Housing Commission to dedicate 16 acres of land for a park and recreation area,24 and this was followed by another letter stating that the land was to be so dedicated. On 20 May 1960 this was officially proclaimed in the Government Gazette.

On 5 April 1960 Mr J Tarlington, Secretary of the BWlU Southern District wrote a letter to the Progress Association secretary congratulating the Association for its campaign: “I am afraid that they (letters seeking the union’s support) reached me too late for our monthly meeting, and the matter had been resolved before we could partake in your fine campaign for the preservation of this recreation area”.25

Despite the success of the campaign outstripping the involvement of the union, its belated response does evidence a willingness to be involved. Docs this mean that the advent of Australia’s Green Bans was delayed by 11 years because of the timely capitulation by the NSW Housing Commission and its Minister to the community campaign orchestrated by the East Villawood Progress Association? Perhaps. In keeping with the street names of the area the new park received an Aboriginal name, Thurina Park, which meant “for everyone” – a fitting name for a park won by a campaign by everyone.

Desmond Moore is a retired history teacher and a long-time member of Australian Society for the Study of Labour History He lived in Villawood at the time of the campaign to save Thurina Park and participated in collecting names for the petition.


  1. http://vww. monier. com. au/Professional/Architectua1Manuel/Downloads! CSR_Roofing_ArchManueLS1.pdf
  2. J. Fletcher andJ. Burnswood , Government Schools of New South Wales 1848 – 1983, Department of Education, Sydney, 1983, p. 177.
  3. Minutes of the East Villawood Progress Association, 13 June 1 Y59, H June 1959
  4. Ibid, 18April 1955.
  5. Ibid, 6 March 1955.
  6. Ibid, 9 May 1955 and 10 December 1955.
  7. Ibid, 9 May 1955.
  8. Ibid, 8 August 19’55 and 9 July 1957.
  9. Ibid, 10 June 1956 and II August 1958.
  10. Ibid, 8 October 1956.
  11. Letter dated 23 September 1959 from Mrs H.R.Jones to Sir Edward Hallstrom.The issue was also raised in a letter, 25 September 1959, from Mrs H.R Jones to the Family Welfare Bureau.
  12. Letter dated 13 June 1959 from Mrs H.R.Jones to C . Earl, MLA
  13. Letter dated 13 June 1959 from Mrs H.R.Jones to Rev. Father McGlynne.
  14. Letter dated 19 June 1959 from C. Earl, MLA to Mrs. H.R.,Jones.
  15. Letter dated 20 June 1959 from Ald. N. Baxter to Mrs H.R.)ones.
  16. Minutes of the East Villawood Progress Association, 8 February 1960.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ibid, 10 February 1960.
  19. Letter dated I5/2/60 from Mrs H.R.Jones to Mr A. Manefield, Lions Club President
  20. Letter dated 18/3/60 from Mrs H.R.Jones to Secretary Fairfield Branch of the Australian Engineers Union.*
  21. Minutes of the East Villawood Progress Association, 8 February 1960.
  22. Minutes of the East Villawood Progress Association, 14 March 1960.
  23. Minutes 14 March 1960 and the petitions which are in Mrs.Jones files.
  24. Letters dated 21 March 1 ‘)60 and 5 April 1960 from Mr C. Earl, MLA to Mrs H.R.Jones.
  25. Letter 5 April 1960 from Mr.J.Tarlington to Mrs H.R. Jones.

*In the printed edition this was incorrectly listed as Australian Education Union.