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Solidarity Park (The Workers’ Embassy)

Solidarity Park was created as part of a union campaign to protest against the Coalition Government’s changes to Industrial Relations legislation in Western Australia in the late 1990s. The ‘Third Wave Campaign’ is regarded as one of the most significant labour struggles in Western Australia’s history.

A ‘Workers’ Embassy’ was established inside the grounds of Parliament House on 29 April 1997. The Embassy consisted of a caravan under the guise of a first-aid post. The caravan was moved on by police in the early hours of 30 April 1997 and a barren piece of land at the edge of a car park, across the road from Parliament House, was chosen and the caravan was towed there, re-establishing the ‘Embassy’.

The Embassy was now a base for the union’s protest against the passage of the legislation through Parliament. It was described as “extremely colourful and noisy as the passage of the Bill went through the various houses. The site became known as Solidarity Park, and union members erected a number of permanent structures and monuments.

Solidarity Park is a thoroughfare between the Parliamentary Car Park and Parliament House, and is used daily by the local community and workers as a recreation and picnic site. Today, the Park remains an important site which continues to be used for annual union events including commemorations and as a site for protest by various community groups.

Detailed Description

Solidarity Park was created as part of a union campaign to protest against the Coalition Government’s changes to Industrial Relations legislation in Western Australia in the late 1990s. The ‘Third Wave Campaign’ is regarded as one of the most significant labour struggles in Western Australia’s history.

The Government had proposed legislation which would curtail some restrictions on union activities. These included the ability of union officials to enter workplaces, union access to employers’ time and wages records, elimination of automatic payroll deductions for union dues, and banning industrial action unless authorised by a ballot.

In response, a ‘Workers’ Embassy’ was established inside the grounds of Parliament House on 29 April 1997. The Embassy consisted of a caravan manned by union officials, under the guise of a first-aid post. The caravan was to operate as a distribution point for information and a collection point for donations.

The caravan was moved on by police in the early hours of 30 April 1997 and four union officials were arrested. A barren piece of land at the edge of a car park, across the road from Parliament House, was chosen and the caravan was towed there, re-establishing the ‘Embassy’.

The Embassy was now a base for the union’s protest against the passage of the legislation through Parliament. It was described as “extremely colourful and noisy as the passage of the Bill went through the various houses. And it was a place to go to for a cup of coffee and to warm up.” Unions took turns to occupy the site 24 hours a day. The caravan was quickly added to with the erection of scaffolding and tarpaulins by the Builders Labourers, Painters and Plasterers Union (BLPPU) to provide protection from the weather. Other additions such as fridges, a table, a barbecue, and a food cupboard were established.

The first barbecue on the site was named the ‘Mark Allen Barbecue’ in honour of a young union official who was killed whilst inspecting a workplace in 1996. Other spontaneous and temporary installations appeared over the weeks as unions added to the site during their roster. Each one reflected the skills or profession of that union. Examples include: a metal ‘entrance gate’ erected by members of the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU); a vegetable garden by members of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU); a sandpit by members of the State School Teacher’s Union (SSTUWA); and a water tank which was continually refilled by members of the United Fire-fighters’ Union.

On 20 June 1997, the Minister for Lands gave the unions an order to take all the structures and leave the site within 90 days. In response, the unions had a landscape architect draw up a design for the site and the first of a number of permanent structures were built. At the time the order was issued, a concrete slab was being laid for the erection of a pergola, and there were plans for a limestone wall.

The first structure installed was the Mark Allen Memorial which members of the Builders Labourers, Painters and Plasterers Union (BLPPU) and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) first built in early June. However, this structure was deemed offensive and it was demolished. On 21 June the same unions began rebuilding the memorial as it stands in its present form. The ‘Triple Eight’ symbol on top of the Mark Allen Memorial is an historic labour symbol representing eight hours work, eight hours rest and eight hours recreation.

Around the same time it was decided to rename the site Solidarity Park. This was a deliberate decision to create a public park which could then be protected by the people of Western Australia. Over July and August a number of permanent structures and monuments were built by union members, including a Main Entrance, two pergolas, the ‘People’s Wall’, the Wall of Remembrance in memory of those who were killed and injured in the workplace, a fountain dedicated to the youth of Western Australia, a Commemorative Rock, and paving.

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) buried a time capsule under the northern pergola on 30 July 1997. This was an esky filled with memorabilia from the Union itself and also the Third Wave Campaign and included such things as T-shirts, mugs, badges, stubby holders and other ephemera.

Solidarity Park is a thoroughfare between the Parliamentary Car Park and Parliament House, and is used daily by the local community and workers as a recreation and picnic site. Today, the Park remains an important site which continues to be used for annual union events including commemorations and as a site for protest by various community groups.

Location