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Botany resident and member of the Botany Independent Action Group Nancy Hillier reflects on her childhood growing up in a ‘child’s paradise’ in the 1930s harbour suburb. The impact of growing industry and a proposal for a coal loader in the area motivates Hillier to become an active citizen in voicing her concerns and writing petitions to the Council.
This clip gives an insight into how people can become motivated to act on issues affecting their immediate community. Hillier’s reflections on her childhood in Botany seem idealised, where she fondly remembers talking to the ‘Chinamen’ who ran the vegetable gardens. The change in landscape she has seen since the 1930s understandably threatens her sense of place. The development of the port and the growth of industry impact on community as well as the environment.
This clip investigates the changing face of Botany Bay in the 1970s. Scenes of people at the beach and of Chinese–Australian workers pushing wheelbarrows through market gardens are shown. Then the camera pulls back to reveal an industrial skyline. The voice of community activist Nancy Hillier accompanies the footage as she reminisces about her childhood in the area. The scenes are replaced by close-ups of Hillier as she continues, describing the increased industry in Botany Bay and her growing involvement in petitioning the government.
Educational value points
- The pressure to develop Port Botany was due to Port Jackson’s (Sydney Harbour’s) limited capacity to handle the increase in shipping cargo. The new larger container ships and oil tankers required bigger handling and stacking areas than Port Jackson could provide. In 1977 the NSW Government approved the expansion of Port Botany. This involved two new container terminals and a bulk liquids storage facility.
- This clip shows how local issues can galvanise a person into political action. Nancy Hillier (1924–), a long-time resident of Botany Bay, was motivated to initiate protest campaigns by her concerns about the increasing industrialisation of the Botany Bay area in the 1970s, beginning with the proposed Port Botany expansion. She led a particularly successful campaign against the building of a coal loader in the area.
- Nancy Hillier of the Botany Bay Independent Action Group has been involved in most environmental campaigns affecting Botany Bay since the 1970s. These include the expansions of Port Botany and Sydney Airport and the environmental damage created by industry, noise and air pollution from the airport and increased road traffic. In 2006 she was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for services to conservation and the environment.
- Botany Bay is an oval-shaped bay opening into the Pacific Ocean through the Kurnell and La Perouse headlands, approximately 15 km from Sydney’s central business district and covering approximately 2,675 ha. It is a highly industrialised area with over half taken up by industry and commercial activity. This area has also been the location of Chinese-owned market gardens, seen in the clip, from the 1860s and some still survive today.
- Sydney’s Botany Bay has been used for industry for more than 100 years. Originally, as Hillier indicates, industries such as tanneries and wool scouring set up business; and from the 1940s these were replaced by oil refineries, chemical companies and storage for oil, gas and chemicals. The 1970s saw the expansion of Port Botany, an increase in oil and chemical storages and the runways of Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport extending into the Bay.
- The lack of environmental controls during the industrial development of Port Botany led to environmental degradation. Problems include chemicals leaking into the Bay, the devastation of Kurnell’s sand dunes, beach erosion, the harming of fish stocks and bird life and the toxic contamination of the Botany Bay aquifer. Nowadays, when companies and developers lodge a development application with Council they have to provide an Environmental Impact Study.
- Some of the methods used by activists to draw attention to their causes include holding public protest meetings, sending petitions to local councils and local members of parliament, letters to newspapers, general media coverage (Hillier was invited to appear on the ABC’s 7.30 Report), demonstrations, marches, formation of lobby groups and, in some cases, picket lines.
- In this observational style of documentary the narrative is developed through the perspectives of the various protagonists; in their own words they enunciate the central dilemma, which in this case is development versus conservation. Port Botany: A Planning Dilemma was Tom Zubrycki’s first commissioned documentary after several years making ‘agit-prop’ (agitation–propaganda) videos for inner-city residents’ groups.
Scenes of people at the beach, Chinese–Australian workers pushing wheelbarrows through market gardens and an industial skyline are shown. Nancy’s commentary is heard as voice-over. The clip then shows Nancy being interviewed in close-up.
Nancy Hillier, Botany Independent Action Group member I came over to this side of the harbour in 1932 when I was eight years of age. It was a mixture of country and sea. It was a child’s paradise. There was a beach there the children could go to with no fear of drowning. You’d see the cows being driven home of an afternoon and the vegetable gardens were widespread all over the area and it was a treat to go down and get our vegetables from the Chinamen. As kids we all used to love to go down and talk to the Chinamen. It was lovely to see the Chinamen working in their, their gardens and we could appreciate that time how hard they worked for those gardens and Botany, at this time, the tanneries and the wool washers were beginning to move out of Botany and this indeed was progress, but we didn’t know that they were moving out to create room for worse industry to come.
So I have been active in the district for a number of years. I was very concerned about the way industry was spreading through the municipality with total disregard to people and I had written many letters to council and these friends had been interested in what I was doing but not interested enough to act on their own accord. But when I spoke to them about the coal loader they said, ‘Well, alright, we’ll give it a go. We’ll back you.’ And from four people – my husband and two friends – we gathered another six, which was ten people and we did that petition for the coal loader and we were successful in getting 1,400 names.
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