What a difference a community campaign makes

[By Sue Bolton] Residents were shocked the day before the May council meeting to see workers arrive unexpectedly to dig up a small and much-loved local park, Methven Park in Brunswick East. It turned out that the workers were there to start building a public toilet on the only part of the park that gets the afternoon sun and in the middle of one of the two small strips of grass.

While some of the people living adjacent to the park were consulted, park users weren’t consulted about the location. There was no sign in the park.

The May council meeting voted 6 to 5 to ignore the residents’ concerns and go ahead with constructing the toilet in the location that residents didn’t’ want. The residents were distraught but they swung into action to save their park. They got media attention, and they organised a protest in the park on the Friday afternoon.

As all “legal” and “bureaucratic” channels to reverse the decision were closed off by the council vote, the residents decided to picket the site to stop construction from Monday, May 15, even though they had never been involved in a picket before. It took until the following morning before the council relented and agreed to stop construction and hold a meeting with the residents to discuss alternative options.

Residents have won a reprieve, and likely a victory. The whole exercise raises questions about council’s consultation methods, which I intend to follow up on council. The residents’ campaign proves the old union sayings “Ïf you don’t fight you lose” and “Dare to struggle, Dare to win”.