A changing nation
In 1976, the Commonwealth handed over a tired and dilapidated army depot in Marrickville for public use as a community centre and recreational space. After considering many proposals and an extensive survey of local residents, the call for a place where people could maintain and share cultures brought to Australia from all over the world was answered with the creation of the Addison Road Community Centre.
Hundreds of volunteers – from ethnic welfare groups and children’s services, artists, environmentalists, social workers and activists – pulled together to renovate and transform the old army huts and create a green, welcoming and supportive place. In its early years, the Centre was supported by local council and received federal funding under programs for arts and multicultural development, thanks to Marrickville’s status as one of the most ethnically diverse and under-resourced regions in the country. Today, Addi Road is managed by an independent charity, the Addison Road Community Organisation (ARCO), and is one of the largest and longest-running community centres in Australia.
But for a very long time, Addi Road was a seasonal wetland on the edge of a tall ironbark and turpentine forest, cared for by the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. The freshwater creek that ran through the land, into the Gumbramorra swamp and on to the Cooks River, is still here, although it was diverted underground by the army after it bought the site in 1913. The newly federated nation was looking for suitable space for training the Citizens Military Forces, the compulsory military service that was formed to supplement the ‘regulars’ made up of the former colonial armies. Before that, the land had been cleared and farmed, with a dairy and market gardens, and was gradually getting enclosed by subdivisions for residential development.
Shortly after the army moved in, World War One broke out and the Addison Road depot became a recruitment centre for ANZACS heading to France and the Western Front from 1916. Seven army buildings from the First World War remain at the Centre, including two rare Drill Halls at either end of the site.
Between the World Wars, the depot was a social hub for the neighbourhood, with dances and other gatherings. The army horses that lived here provided distraction and purpose for local unemployed men during the Depression. In World War Two, the depot was used to capacity as a leave and transit depot, with thousands of service men and women coming through on their way to and from military assignments. Although many of the building erected in this period were temporary, many remain and now house artists’ studios, offices and other community activities.
National Service troops came through later on their way to conflict in Korea and then Vietnam, supplemented by conscripts after the draft was introduced for the Vietnam War. During that conflict, the gates of the army depot were the focus of anti-war and anti-conscription protest, led by the women from the Save Our Sons network, anticipating the peace-making and social justice purpose that the community centre would pick up on just a few years after that war ended.
The army pulled out of Addison Road by 1975, and the community centre was born in 1976, the ‘child’ of an era led by prime minister Gough Whitlam with a vision of arts and culture, reconciliation and multiculturalism as drivers of community health, cohesion and wellbeing. More than 40 years on, the Centre and that vision are both as relevant as ever. Addi Road stands as a green heritage gem – an accessible community resource in an increasingly dense and expensive urban area with a growing gap between the financially secure and the vulnerable or socially isolated.
Addi Road’s commitment to providing subsidised space for not-for-profit community development and arts organisations, as well as delivering programs across the areas of the environment, arts and culture and social justice has deep roots in a very special location, one whose history reflects many of the most significant changes in the life of the nation.