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Conversations with homeless protesters

  • 23 May 2016


When the surveyor Robert Hoddle was laying out the grid that would become Melbourne's CBD, he didn't include a public square, which was then the norm for European-inspired cities of the New World, since — it was reasoned — it would serve no commercial purpose.

Subsequent calls for a public space where people could gather were reportedly rebuffed by Melbourne City Council for fears it would provide a place for unruly citizens to gather and express their displeasure at the government of the day.

But by 1961, the thinking had changed and it was decided that, according to a town planner's report, a city square would be of 'great value to the property and businessmen of the central business area'.

This came to mind when I was speaking with a homeless gentleman camped in a corner of that City Square. He told me someone had approached him a few days earlier to offer his support, but said he'd prefer it if they'd move their protest somewhere else — far away from his Swanson Street shop.

Those occupying the space were happy to chat; that is, once I'd assured them that I don't work for the Herald Sun. They explained that it was an article published in that paper, making unfair and sweeping accusations against Melbourne's homeless for being aggressive, that was the catalyst for their decision to occupy the Square.

They're tired of not being respected — a word that came up over and over with everyone I spoke to — as if, because they're homeless, they have no right to it.

I asked John, a tall, articulate man with long hair and well-maintained hipster beard, if he'd had a chance to read the most recently published Herald Sun think-piece arguing that what they are doing is not a demand for help, but a political protest.

He smiled wryly, expelled a couple of bursts of laughter and said that that may be their most accurate reporting of the unfolding situation to date: 'This has always been a political protest ... that's always been our intention.'


"If you manage to get temporary accommodation in a boarding house, you're often forced to deal with the very problems that led you to be living on the streets in the first place." — John, homeless protester


These are among the most disenfranchised people in the community and there's a palpable sense that, for the first time in a long time, they actually have