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Interview with Norm Gallagher


I first heard about the problems of the residents Carlton when I was approached by Councillor Fred Hardy who requested the union to place a ban on the railway land. I also was approached by the developer not to place a ban on the railway land. I'd met the developer in the union office back in the executive room and he did say that if I could see my way clear not to place a ban on the railway land, we could all be running round in Rolls Royces. My immediate reaction to that was 'Well look, there's the door get out.' I took the matter to our union executive. They were very sympathetic. I could see a lot of value in having that land made into a park. Of course the union was very conservation minded and we decided to place a ban on the land. That's how it came about that in placing the ban on the land one didn't really see the problems that we were going to have. We certainly had plenty of problems but I think one can say that the people's action won out in the end. The people especially the Carlton Association and the people of Carlton, put social problems before the developers of this world, who are out to make a quick quid, who wanted to build a factory.

So that's how all the trouble started. As a result of that I was involved in a scuffle up on the land with one of the sons of the developer, which resulted in me getting a couple of busted ribs when the police put the boots into me when I was on the ground. I approached the concreters that were there. The developer's son came up to me and went to push me. With that I just grabbed hold of him so he couldn't throw a punch. Next minute I was on the ground and the coppers were there putting their heels into my ribs. I eventually got fourteen days' jail out of it, and as I walked into Pentridge they started playing 'I Never Promised You a Rose Garden'. I often have a bit of a laugh about it.

It just wasn't the Builders' Labourers' Union that saved the park, it was people's actions. That's very important especially in these sorts of areas where the environment has been affected. Conservation it's only people's actions that saved it in the end. There's no doubt that the developer had the backing of the police, that they wanted to try the union ban on. I was quite confident that we could win out in the end, that it was just a test of strength. They thought that they could get away with pouring the concrete early in the morning when everyone was sleeping.

I really think that dispute was a very important dispute, not only for the people of Carlton, but other conservation groups. They could see what could be done when the people and the unions stick together. Legal action wasn't any use. I can remember a debate I had with some of the Carlton Association people up at the Malone's place one time. I just told them that if they were going to pursue the line of legal action to stop the development at the site, then it wasn't going to get them anywhere. I learned that experience through years in the union that what you can't win on the battlefield, you won't win at the conference table. It was important that we took action to stop the job. Once we'd done that, then you had a better chance of winning a legal argument in the court. If you'd just relied wholly on court action, you were doomed to failure. At the time there was a solicitor involved in the Carlton Association and I remember having that discussion with him. I saw him later on. He admitted that the union was right in the end. My experience with courts is that unless you win the battle outside, you don't win the battle inside.

I can remember when I was charged with assault. I got fourteen days' jail over it and a fine. They brought a magistrate down from Shepparton to hear my case. I was told over the Christmas period I think I was due to come up before the courts in February that the Cabinet had met and I was going to get fourteen days. My reply to that was, 'I haven't even been to court!' The information I got was true I did get my fourteen days! I wouldn't have done it any different. Actually, I think when you look back on that issue, it was the real foundation of the conservation struggle. After that there were issues that developed in Sydney. The Carlton Association were very well respected in the community for what they had done. I've got no regrets whatsoever for what I've done. There were other people who went to jail. There was Mick Lewis. He was found guilty of destroying some steel reinforcing up on the job. I think Mick got seven days.

The unions always had a social conscience. I've tried to get the union away from the narrow economic issues, to involve it in people's actions. My view of the Carlton Association was that the issues they were taking up were correct issues, and I felt that they needed some support. The union has been known to support those types of commit tees in the past.

That's probably one of the reasons why we're so disliked by governments. I can remember, over the question of Royal Parade, we finally got a letter from the Premier, Mr Hamer, whom we wrote to, to say that those boulevards ought to be protected. He wrote back and said that he agreed, and that his Government would make sure that those boulevards remained as they were. So there are many other issues that we've involved ourselves in.

It was a team effort, and only teams win premierships. Dedication, discipline I think that it was a team effort. The union got its encouragement from the Carlton Association, the people of Carlton. They, in turn, got encouragement from the union. So it was a team effort.

Our union had a long history of concern for the environment. The Sydney union in the early seventies raised the question of the name 'green ban'. We were a bit old fashioned. We still call them 'black bans'. For instance, we were involved in the conservation issues as far back as 1940 when they were going to build a small goods' factory opposite the Royal Melbourne Hospital. We put a black ban on it, said that it would destroy the environment of that area. It would have had an effect on the patients of the Royal Melbourne Hospital. We put bans on plenty of other places long before the Jack Mundys of this world came on the scene, but I think his word of 'green bans' helped to lift it. The other thing that we were different in is that we used to take these issues to the members. That was one of the weaknesses in the Sydney situation that it was all done on top. As I said though, we were putting 'green bans' on, in the name of black bans 'round about the 1940s.

I also often go up past the old railway land and have a look at it. I must say it's a very nice park. It's an exceptionally good little area there, which has been preserved for the people of Carlton It was the real basis for the conservation struggle As I said, I'm just happy to have been given the op portunity to play a part in it.