Sydney: a city worth fighting for?

The Nancy Hillier Memorial Lecture, organised by UNSW and Bayside Council, continues the feisty campaigner's legacy of fighting for communities.

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The two year project will determine the quality and safety of Sydney's booming multi-unit housing sector. Photo: Shutterstock.

In what is arguably a period of unprecedented investment in housing and infrastructure, much of Sydney looks and sounds like one big construction site. However, many residents feel they have been locked out of the debate about how their city should look and feel, community organiser and social activist Amanda Tattersall says.

"I don’t have a problem with development," says Tattersall, a co-founder of digital campaigners GetUp.org.au. “But I do have a problem when the needs of residents are left out of the equation.” 

Tattersall, host of the weekly podcast about social change ChangeMakers and founder of Sydney’s broadest community coalition, Sydney Alliance, will deliver the annual Nancy Hillier Lecture at NSW Parliament on Thursday, 23 November.

It is the second lecture in a series launched last year to commemorate the life and work of Nancy Hillier OAM.

Mrs Hillier was a prominent activist in Sydney’s Botany area who fought passionately for justice for residents, the community and the environment.

From the 1970s, Mrs Hillier led opposition to the expansion of Port Botany and Sydney Airport, fought residential and industrial overdevelopment and campaigned for an end to groundwater contamination by heavy industry. She also made significant contributions to legislation, such as the way environment impacts are assessed. 

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Mrs Hillier was a tireless campaigner for her local community. Photo: Supplied

This annual lecture series, run by UNSW and supported by Bayside Council, acknowledges Mrs Hillier’s legacy by providing a forum to discuss social and environmental issues that resonate with and extend her work.

This year, the event features two presenters. Tattersall will give the keynote speech about citizen participation under the title “Sydney: a city worth fighting for?” and refer to several cases overseas where residents have successfully intervened in planning decisions.

Eastlakes resident, film student and activist Tim Clifford will screen his short documentary film on urban development in the Botany Bay area. Clifford, who won the Lionel Bowen Award in 2016, will draw on the experience of Botany Bay residents at a time when its landscape and people are changing fast.

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Amanda Tattersall. Photo: Supplied

Associate Professor Paul Brown from UNSW’s Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies knew and worked with Mrs Hillier and organises the lecture series for the University. He says the annual event will help forge scholarly and broader community relationships.

“We hope the lectures give inspiration to a new generation of activists, especially since the necessity to ‘pass the baton’ to emerging leaders and activists was amongst Nancy’s greatest passions," Brown says.

Tattersall says figures such as Mrs Hiller are important because they show others that change is possible.

“There is a sense of fear and desperation in these times because of big projects like Sydney motorway construction WestConnex that appear to throw up insurmountable problems,” she says. “You are seeing government pushing an agenda in favour of financiers, and residents pushing ‘No’ campaigns, and neither of these is constructive.”

Despite the changes underway in Sydney, Tattersall still believes the city is still worth saving. “We have to save Sydney until the last tree has died,” she says. “You have to save the place where so many people live.”

What: Nancy Hillier Lecture

When: Thursday 23 November, 6pm – 8pm

Where: Jubilee Room, NSW Parliament, 6 Macquarie Street, Sydney

Register here