Celebrating 40 years – A Brief History of the Inner Sydney Regional Council

RF protest

In late January 1974, Andrew Jakubowicz, University of NSW sociology academic and Chairperson of the Surry Hills Resident Action Group, brought together 40 people to discuss the establishment of a regional council for social development under the Whitlam Government’s Australian Assistance Plan. Invitees covered the Inner Sydney region – at that stage consisting of Sydney, South Sydney and Leichhardt Local Government Areas (LGAs).

In July 1974, seeding funds of $3,000 were used to bring together a wide range of people who agreed to form the interim Inner Sydney Regional Council for Social Development Inc (Regional Council). Funding was sought from the Australian Assistance Plan for a social planner, secretariat staff and three Community Development Officers, one in each LGA to assist people to formulate their plans of action.

Regional Council’s first Executive Officer (EO), Colin Menzies started work at the office in Glebe in February 1975. The organisation then moved to offices in Chippendale.

In 1977, Regional Council was incorporated as a co-operative. Three weeks later the Whitlam Government lost power and funding was withdrawn. The organisation lost most of its staff, but remained as a Regional Information and Resource Centre with State funding from the NSW Department of Youth and Community Services and Marg Barry as EO. Again offices were changed and Regional Council moved in with Shelter and the Australian Social Welfare Union. In March 1978, production of the journal, Inner Voice (now called Inner Sydney Voice), commenced.

1977-79 saw a clarification of Regional Council objectives, which were to provide information to local people and assist local networks. The organisation became involved in several urban environmental issues such as lead in petrol and media projects including the film ‘Waterloo’ and the formation of Radio Eastern Sydney.

The early ‘80s saw involvement in more planning and environmental issues – the Waterloo incinerator and Port Botany plans. The Eastern Suburbs were added to Regional Council’s coverage. The organisation was forced to move again, this time to Pitt Street and moved its focus to transport issues.

In 1985-86, the Home and Community Care (HACC) Development Project commenced, along with the Urban Environment Council. Research was undertaken on the impacts of inappropriate development across the city and eastern suburbs, a new freeway and the third runway. The big issue at that time was the social consequences of economic restructuring. 1989 saw another move this time to Alexandria. Environmental issues became a primary concern as well as questions about the intersection of welfare, community and environmental issues.

The 1990s began with an examination of Regional Council’s role and relevance in its region. The organisation was involved in many regional planning committees both departmental and community. A seminar was organised to support low income residents of the Inner City areas as gentrification took hold. Economic rationalism arrived, as did the Olympics. The organisation moved once again; this time to Waterloo.

A ‘Hands off HACC’ campaign prevented the threatened loss of HACC funding. A journalist was employed to write Inner Voice. A seminar identifying quality of life problems for Public Housing Tenants convinced South Sydney Council to set up the South Sydney Housing Task force and Regional Council received funding for more workers in various projects including most importantly, the Housing Communities Assistance Program (HCAP), which commenced in April 1994.

The organisation was heavily involved in campaigns such as local bank closures, setting up community banks, saving Waterloo Post Office, trying to prevent closure of the Rachel Forster Hospital and the Royal South Sydney Hospital.

The 25th Birthday of Inner Voice was celebrated by the many people involved in the community sector over that time. Subsequently, Executive Officer, Marg Barry retired, leaving a massive gap in knowledge and contacts. Regional Council’s Board of Management worked hard with limited resources to restructure the organisation. The HACC Development Officer changed on two occasions and the Executive Officer and Inner Sydney Voice positions were combined.

The new millennium saw a continuation of the organisation’s adjustment and the need for greater management involvement in projects to meet increasing government accountability requirements necessitating finding the balance between the management role and the community information / development role.

The funding situation eased with the organisation being offered new monies and the role as a regional liaison organisation for NCOSS developed. A new regional housing project, Central Sydney North Regional Tenant Resource Service (CSNTPRS), also commenced in April 2002.

In 2006, the organisation had settled into a new format that had a focus on the whole region, by relinquishing the localised HCAP project. A balance between the roles of co-ordinator and production of Inner Sydney Voice has been struck with a new Executive Officer and Media Officer both working part-time. Steps had been taken to update electronically, with a new website and a HACC website linked. All computers and services were upgraded and contact lists merged.

After 2010 the three main projects continued to roll over, albeit under alternate guises. The Community Services Program Grant (CSPG) transitioned to Community Builders, the Regional Tenant Resource Service (RTRS) to the Tenant Participation Resource Service (TPRS) and the HACC Development Officer became the SSDO, Sector Support Development Officer.

The City of Sydney kindly archived the mammoth library of documents, papers and clippings collected over 30 or more years. The archives were being damaged by dampness and insects, so we were happy to see them safely ensconced in the City’s specialist archive building, after having been well catalogued for easy future reference.

The 2010s saw the organisation again focus on urban development and infrastructure as a variety of government projects were announced that communities responded to. These included the Redfern Waterloo Built Environment Plan Two, the Urban Activation Precincts in the Eastern Suburbs and currently, the proposed Waterloo and Ivanhoe public housing estate redevelopments.

In 2016 the organisation began trading under the name Inner Sydney Voice, to align it with its flagship publication and to avoid confusion around being a ‘council’.

Forty years on and there continues to be a strong well-established regional organisation making information and resources available. We still work to assist people’s social development in the inner city, trying to respond to the changes around us and the needs of our local communities and community agencies.

Marg Waterloo

 Inner Sydney Voice, our quarterly publication, often carries historical articles on our Inner Sydney Voice website. You can find more information on our history from Celebrating 40 Years
Photo: on the bus to Waterloo.