Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lalor: the making of a suburb

Lalor’s remarkable history as a housing co-operative has been brought vividly to life by Australian National University academic Moira Scollay in a new book entitled Lalor: The Peter Lalor Home Building Co-operative 1946-2012.
Faced with a chronic housing shortage, returned serviceman from the Australian Army Pay Corps set up a building co-operative in 1946 to help young families fulfil their dreams of home ownership.
“Returned serviceman thought: ‘We didn’t come back for this’. So all parties pooled their resources and worked together to bring home ownership for all one step closer,” Dr Scollay said.
The following year swampy land was acquired some 13 miles from Melbourne CBD and over the next few years 200 weatherboard or brick veneer, architect-designed homes were created – establishing what is now known as Lalor.
The Peter Lalor Building Co-operative aimed for much more than housing however – a hospital, school, theatre and community centre were to be built – generating more than 150 jobs.
“They were at the vanguard of modern pre-fabricated building techniques and tile and timber industries were created to support the home building effort.”
Worldwide such initiatives have been deemed so successful in responding to social change, resilient in times of economic uncertainty and a great way to create jobs and build communities, that the United Nations has declared 2012 the International Year of Co-operatives.
In keeping with the ethos of such schemes, the Lalor co-operative didn’t run at a profit. All money made was to be reinvested back into the scheme, Dr Scollay said. However, post-war material shortages and rising prices eventually forced the co-operative into liquidation.
“I was surprised at the scale of the dream. The building co-operative aspired to a new world order, a new way of life. While this is Lalor’s story, it provides insights into the history of the co-operative and labour movements and urban and housing development in Australia.”
The book is an edited version of Dr Scollay’s five-year PhD thesis, completed in 2010, and combines her two passions – community development and Labour history.
Dr Scollay’s thesis was jointly supported by the City of Whittlesea, ANU and the Australian Research Council.
A website has been set up to supplement the book. The Peter Lalor Home Building Co-operative, 1946 – 2012
It includes notes, references and a full bibliography, as well as 70 short biographies of Lalor residents and 15 tables providing an overview of the entire community.

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