Ningana and the Urban Co-op Movement

Ningana, 2023 by Santiago Diaz

An article in a July 1978 issue of the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) exposed that 53 fully furnished rooms had been empty for four years.

Ningana was co-owned by the State and Commonwealth governments. Completed in 1971 the new building was purchased to provide housing for the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme colloqually called the ‘ten-pound Poms’ program. The building was purchased for $440,000.

Two of the founders of Shelter NSW lived locally. Social worker, and later Tenants’ Union director, Secretary Beth Mitchell and Housing officer and Ningana Squatter Greg Thompson Housing officer, both lived in Annandale.

The state government now wanted to sell the property. But Leichhardt Council, Shelter NSW and and a homelessness activists marshalled a campaign to retain the facility.

A survey revealed ' a high need for a housing option for low-income single people':

  • 2/3(65%)of people seeking accommodation in the area depended on benefits ,
  • Over a quarter (27%) had no source of income at all , and
  • 2/3 (63%) were single-person households.

Reference: Pg 30, 56/7/8, Champions of Change, 2018, viewed 31 July 2023


The building remained empty until the end of February 1981 when  members of Ningana Housing Collective forced entry to provide low-income people with
housing. (p58, Champions of Change, 2018, viewed 2 October 2023)


By  August 1981,  SMH reported that Premier Wran ordered the Labor caucus to ‘shut up’ during heated debate about the failure of a first-home-buyers’ scheme. After which Housing Minister Sheahan became more engaged and approved the Ningana collective’s use of their building.  (Ref: p37, Champions of Change, 2018, viewed 2 October 2023)


After trying to evict the residents, in October 1981 the Minister agreed to lease the building to the collective. By the new year  23 adults and five children (Shelter
newsletter 20, p.25) were housed at Ningana. By April 1985, the Collective had recruited a professional bookkeeper and was advice and financial support to other Co-ops.


The fledgling urban co-op movement looked to Leichhardt Council to provide oversight and legitimacy. Initial thoughts were for 2 seats for council representatives on the Ningana board alongside four directors from
community service organisations and two from the membership.(p58, Champions of Change, 2018, viewed 2 October 2023)