The struggle against Brisbane's freeways, 1966-1974: An Australian case study of urban development, residential life and urban politics

Mullins, Patrick (1979). The struggle against Brisbane's freeways, 1966-1974: An Australian case study of urban development, residential life and urban politics PhD Thesis, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland.

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Author Mullins, Patrick
Thesis Title The struggle against Brisbane's freeways, 1966-1974: An Australian case study of urban development, residential life and urban politics
School, Centre or Institute School of Social Science
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1979
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Open Access Status File (Publisher version)
Total pages 459
Language eng
Subjects 120507 Urban Analysis and Development
880106 Road Infrastructure and Networks
Formatted abstract
      The purpose of this work is to provide a detailed analysis of the struggle against Brisbane's freeways, from its inception in 1966 to its occasion of impact in 1974. It gives particular consideration to the question of whether the struggle became an 'urban social movement'. That is, whether it brought significant changes to Brisbane; to the process of Australian urbanisation; and to Australian society, generally.

      Urban struggle is defined as working-class action over consumption issues, specifically over issues of housing and residential facilities, and it is action which has been particularly characteristic of class struggle since the late 1960s. Since the city is the location of the reproduction of labour power and since mass consumption has been central to capitalism since the 1940s, consumption issues have therefore appeared as very much part of working-class action.

      To be capable of interpreting the impact of Brisbane's anti-freeway struggle, analysis is placed within certain contexts which gave rise to its development. These are defined, firstly, as the general aspects of Australian urbanisation and secondly, as the specific (urban) question of residential life. This broad sweep of Australian urbanisation is given from a regional perspective, with particular reference to Queensland, while detail is given to the particular case of the recent rapid growth of Brisbane and its surrounding Moreton Region, for it was this process which gave rise to the transport planning that led to the introduction of freeways and the destruction of housing and residential life.

      The specific context for understanding the struggle is identified in terms of housing and facility access and detailed consideration is given to the area affected (in the 1970s) by the Northern Freeway. This area comprised several inner northern suburbs of Brisbane, defined here as 'Windsor', housing long-term, middle-aged and elderly residents, in owner-occupied, single-family housing. These people were identified as remnants of Australia's former residential life, the urban peasantry, which had existed during the previous (mercantile) form of Australian urbanisation and is distinct from the contemporary suburban community arising from corporate urbanisation.

      The anti-freeway struggle erupted in the mid-1960s, with the commencement of the freeway programme, but action was constrained during these early years and it was not until the 1970s that overt and contestatory action was taken. Differences between these two periods were seen to result from structural differences located at both an urban and a societal level, with the 1960s being a period when the working-class had, generally, been tightly contained. In contrast, the 1970s was an occasion when working-class action, at both an urban and a societal level, was widespread and it was this which brought the contestatory stance of the 1970s. 

      One of the most distinctive features of the struggle was the relatively low level of mobilisation of residents. The struggle came to be dominated by non-residents whose concerns were with ideological questions on the environment and with political questions of public versus private transport. This is paradoxical, since the theory of urban struggle identifies structural entities, such as Windsor residents, as being the forces which evolve and direct struggles. This is because such residents form a social base revolving around basic economic questions, which in this case refer to housing and facility access. In contrast, structural entities concerned with ideological (e.g. environmental) and political (e.g. public transport planning) questions are theoretically less significant in political mobilisation. The major reason why Windsor residents were subordinate emanated from the nature of the community. It was a residential area in decline – from an urban peasant community of the previous mercantile urbanisation to a contemporary suburban community - and it was under such conditions that a politically disenfranchising effect was placed upon residents. This limited their involvement in the anti-freeway movement.

      The struggle was not an urban social movement, since it did not make basic changes to the urban system and/or to the wider social structure. It did, however, have a number of regulatory effects following the indefinite postponement in 1974 of the Central and Northern Freeways and the shelving of all other proposed freeways.
Keyword Express highways -- Social aspects -- Queensland -- Brisbane
City and town life -- Queensland -- Brisbane
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Document type: Thesis
Collections: Queensland Past Online (QPO)
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Created: Wed, 27 Jan 2010, 11:40:18 EST by Ms Natalie Hull on behalf of Social Sciences and Humanities Library Service