Melbourne Anarchist Club in battle with property developers
From The Age
They are locked in a struggle for freedom. Freedom from oppression, freedom from the ruling classes, freedom from "the man".
Now, the battle is on their doorstep. Literally.
The Melbourne Anarchist Club – home to a group of social outliers who reject "hierarchical power structures" and believe profit is evil – is staring down its capitalist overlords as their headquarters is engulfed by boutique apartments.
The Melbourne Anarchist club is facing the march of capitalism on its own doorstep, with developments being built up around them. Photo: Eddie Jim
The ramshackle shop front on St Georges Road, Northcote, which has played host to a "F**k the Budget" punk rock gig and held protests in solidarity with Spanish anarchists, will soon be sandwiched between neighbouring multi-storey developments.
But as the jackhammering and drilling surrounds them the anarchists insist they are going nowhere.
"We are here to stay. There was some resistance in the local community to having these buildings go up so we get a lot of people who live in the neighbouring streets letting us know that they're really happy that we're still here in between them," said Chris, 21, a long-standing member of the Melbourne Anarchist Club.
Members of the Melbourne Anarchist Club in Northcote say they will not be pushed out by developers. Photo: Eddie Jim
It sounds like a script straight out of The Castle. Indeed, they could be millionaires had they taken up an offer to buy the single-storey brick veneer building in a highly sought-after pocket of Melbourne's gentrified inner north.
Yet the anarchists claim no approach was made. Perhaps within the club, which has no leaders and fundamentally rejects executive power structures, the message simply wasn't passed on?
"I would have thought they might have found it to be prime real estate but they didn't make an offer, maybe they knew better," said Chris. "We're here simply to educate people: we're here for the community.They're just here to build some large, ugly apartments and make a lot of money out of it."
More concerning to the group is their claim that since construction work started on the 69 apartments the building has shifted, with cracks forming in the walls.
While the club, crammed floor to ceiling with literature on how to overthrow the state, was already quite rundown the anarchists say they are considering taking builder Verve Construction to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to cover the cost of the repair work.
"There's no reason to believe yet that the building is going to actually collapse but in terms of the long-term viability of the place it's not good to have this sort of structural damage done," said Chris, an electrical student at TAFE.
An artist's impression of how one of the developments will look upon completion. Photo: Fraher Design 3D
Verve conceded there had been some movement but insisted that structurally there was nothing wrong with the work carried out and it had been overseen and signed off by the company's engineers.
"We suggested they get an independent engineer to come in and assess the building but they [anarchists] can't make a decision. If something has to be done it has to be collectively taken out to the wider group," said Verve project manager Angelo Natoli.
"There's no one person responsible to liaise with and make a call. They're probably not your traditional neighbour."
So how does anything get done in a system based on anarchy? It is a question many Melburnians must have asked when passing the shuttered building that has been the club's home since 2008.
What kind of dangerous ideas and civil disobedience have been plotted inside these walls?
When The Sunday Age visited the club last week it felt more like a messy share house than a breeding ground for political dissidence.
Chris (left) and Fraser Karhunkynsi in the library of the Melbourne Anarchist Club. They claim neighbouring development is causing damage to the building. Photo: Eddie Jim
It was hard to reconcile the militant posters declaring "Class War By Any Means Necessary", or the defiant red and black flags, and books promoting the "abolition of the state", with the group of well-mannered young men sipping cans of ginger beer and making polite small talk.
Taylor Freeman, an unlikely looking revolutionary with a crisp pinstriped shirt and shiny black shoes, said the group, which meets every Sunday afternoon, had given him more purpose than any club he'd ever joined.
"Anarchism is the highest form of human freedom and you're not being spoken for by someone else. If that person is speaking for us it's done at a collective meeting and it's being done by the group, with consensus democracy," the 25-year-old said.
"It's not hard things to get done ... When someone in a social group decides to go get pizza someone doesn't say 'I am the Fuhrer of the pizza and this is the pizza we will have and this is the way it's going to be.' It's a natural form of human organisation that we do every day."
Literature at the Melbourne Anarchist Club in Northcote. Photo: Eddie Jim
Fraser Karhunkynsi, 34, a dreadlocked plumber with a nose ring studying to be a massage therapist, believes anarchists have had a bad rap. They are just friendly people, which is "what the world needs".
"As soon as you hear the word anarchy you're thinking flag burning and throwing petrol bombs which is furthest from the truth," he said. "In its essence anarchism is about building community. When there's a means of production and you don't have a boss at the top putting his ego in front of everything, everyone works together."
But not everyone wants to be friends. Chris declined to use his surname for fear of reprisals from members of the United Patriots Front – a far-right group who have clashed with the anarchists at their headquarters, most recently last month.
"In the past they've turned up and they've been violent and they've wanted to hurt people. In this case they were filming and they clearly wanted to do a bit of propaganda and just look tough. Five big burly men coming in, it's just classic Nazi stuff just right out of Mein Kampf," Chris said.
Despite the developers bearing down and fascists trying to intimidate them, the anarchists insists they will win the war.
And they have invited everyone to join them. "Unless you're a boss or someone in a position of hiring or firing," Mr Freeman said.
As for the apartment owners set to move into the trendy development, the anarchist club may be an eyesore but it could just offer that gritty slice of urban authenticity money can't buy.
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