A Brief History of Black Rose 1982 – 2002

In 2015 Black Rose will celebrate 33 years of anarchy.  It was born from a fratricidal debate within another volunteer anarchist collective, Jura Books, which will celebrate 38 years of anarchy in 2015.

So what is the history of the founding of Black Rose? Most of the people who foundered Black Rose, became interested in anarchism in the mid to late 1970’s in Sydney. The Sydney Anarchist Conference in 1975, despite the disorganisation, clearly gave an impetus to anarchists getting together to discuss activities and do things (predominantly graffiti). The conference ushered in a period of anything goes ‘carnival’ anarchism.

By 1977 a number of new people had formed the Sydney Anarcho-Sydnicalists group with the result that in August 1977 rented premises were found and Jura Books was established. This event occurred relatively suddenly, and for the first year of operation the bookshop had much difficulty in raising and paying the rent and bills.

At the moment it opened it consisted of little more than half a dozen people. The name of the group – Sydney Anarcho-Syndicalists – had been chosen two or three weeks before the bookshop was started.

Over the next two years, there was little time to discuss or debate political differences or various anarchist strategies. Keeping the bookshop open, expanding the range and paying the bills kept collective members extremely busy. Newtown was still a run down suburb, with a working class and student population. There were quite a few vacant buildings on King St, Newtown, so 417 King Street seemed an ideal location. As time went on, more people got involved in the running of Jura Books.

Jura Books July 1981

Jura Books at 417 King St Newtown, July 1981

By March 1982, factions had become entrenched in the collective and members were polarised into two groups which (for the sake of simplicity) adopted the labels of ‘Pan anarchism’ and ‘Synthetic anarchism’. A split seemed inevitable.

A collective member at the time summed up the two factions as:

‘Synthetic’ anarchism describes the attempt to synthesize from all the various strands of anarchist theory, a single ideology. That is, to obtain elements from the theories of anarcho-communism, anarcho-syndicalism, anarcho-pacifism, etc … elements with which to form an interwoven unified, coherent theory.

With ‘pan’ anarchism each individual retains whatever basic description of their anarchism that they wish to use and would only have to agree to the basic operating procedures, aims and principles of the collective.

On 22 July 1982 ‘Synthetic’ group members leave Jura Books, with some of the stock, personal effects and half of the money from the investment account. The Synthetic group took little time establishing itself. By the 5th August 1982 the new bookshop had a name: Redfern Blackrose Anarchist Bookshop; and a home had been located at 36 Botany Road Alexandria. The name for the bookshop was adopted by the group from a shortlist of possible names.

The best part of a month was devoted to preparing the new premises: painting, carpeting, fitting out the kitchen, building bookshelves, contacting publishers and distributors. On a Thursday, 2 September 1982, Redfern BlackRose Bookshop opened its doors for the first time at 36 Botany Rd, Alexandria A public launch and celebration party was held on the Saturday, 4th September.

The first year of the Black Rose Collective were spent on collective processes and setting up bookshop work systems. The collective was often an intense commitment, but was not without benefits to members often involving substantial personal growth and acquisition of personal, collective and business skills.

In 1983, on the first anniversary of Black Rose opening, the collective ran bookstalls at gigs of San Fransisco punk band ‘The Dead Kennedys’. The band were asked to do a benefit gig for the bookshop. They rang back to give the go ahead with just 48 hours notice with a stipulation that the venue be accessible to all ages – ie no alcohol licence restrictions on who could attend. The Black Rose Collective managed to organise a successful benefit at the Settlement in Chipendale.

Black Rose collective with Darren and Jello from Dead Kennedys

September 1983 – Black Rose Collective celebrating 1st birthday with the Dead Kennedys
L to R: Diane, Jello, Lyn, Alan, Darren, Richard, Greg, John, Margaret

In June 1984 members of the Jura Collective and others decided to organise a conference: 1984 and Social Control. Blackrose was approached to contribute to the program. Blackrose discussed the conference and offered to organise an alternative stream of workshops on collectivity, consenus decision making, working in small groups. The conference organisers rejected this proposal, and said only individual workshops would be accepted. This was rejected by the Black Rose collective. Which is why no workshops were organised by Blackrose members, though we did attend with a bookstall along with Jura Books. In more recent accounts in the Anarchist Network Newsletter in the 1990s this censorship is denied by Sid Parissi.

Music was an important content in Black Rose from the start, with large shipments of anarchist and punk records from England, including the records by anarchist bands CRASS, Poison Girls, Chumbawumba, Flux of Pink Indians, MDC, Subhumans etc. The music attracted a young audience, and helped politicise many. In 1983 and again in 1984 Blackrose organised the Crassart exhibition at the Art Unit, a local gallery and performance space. The exhibition also travelled to Brisbane and Melbourne at the behest of local anarchist groups and was displayed in the Performing Arts Museum in Melbourne.

As BlackRose in the early years was located close to the aboriginal community in Redfern, emphasis was also placed on books on the invasion, colonisation, exploitation and oppression of indigenous Australians.

Black Rose at Confest - 1983
December 1983 – Black Rose tent in the Self Management Village at Down to Earth Confest near Wangarratta

During the early years, the Blackrose collective was a major contributor to Confests organised by Victorian Down to Earth Foundation. Black Rose organised the self-management village at several festivals, assisted with security, provided a Sydney outlet for tickets, and contributed many workshops on collectives, self-management, anarchism, sexuality, etc.

In 1986, the collective devoted much time to a differential analysis of its own practice and other autonomous collectives and groups (both anarchist and campaign or project oriented). This document: The Aims and objectives of the anarchist movement, was presented in part at the Australian Anarchist Centenary conference in Melbourne in May 1986.

By 1989 all the original founding members had left the collective. The shop had been forced to move to 583a King street Newtown. The collective had trouble keeping the shop open, paying the rent, and in acquiring new stock. A fire in the shop took its toll in damaging some stock. Yet the shop still provided a focus for activity and community.

In April 1995 the media room project was expelled from the Jura Books building, which subsequently relocated to Black Rose as the Catalyst collective. The Catalyst collective has been instrumental in developing the computer code for the International Indymedia websites (www.indymedia.org) and the Active calendar websites (www.active.org.au) in Australia.

At the end of 1998, with the gentrification of King Street Newtown and rising rents, Black Rose had to move again, into a warehouse at 17 Lord street, Newtown, opposite St Peters station.

“In the last few years Black Rose has faced difficult times: rent increases, drop in sales and fluctuation in the collective. The repercussion of this being: not open regularly; decline in stock; collective members burning out; losing connection with the community.

We received word that a like minded group of environmental activist were setting up a ware-house in the area. After some discussion we arrived at an agreement. Unfortunately due to council regulations on the use of the ware-houses, it has become apparent that Black Rose will not be able to operate as a bookshop. This has forced Black Rose to reassess it’s direction. As a result of this Black Rose will change it’s focus from a bookshop to:

  1. Anarchist info and resource center, which will incorporate an extensive library and information on current issues, as well as such resources as community access computer and photocopier.
  2. a mail order service
  3. meeting place.
Black Rose late 20th century Catalogue”
April 2002 - Black Rose Bookshop on Regent Street
April 2002 – Black Rose Bookshop on Regent Street

They moved in by February 1999 to share this space with other progressive groups such as Friends of the Earth and Catalyst/Sydney Indymedia.

In November 2001, the bookshop moved to 83 Regent Street, Chippendale. This is located close to Broadway, Central Station and the Sydney University of Technology Main Tower block. Regent street also has the Freethought Bookshop run by the Rationalists Association.

Black Rose collective members were instrumental in organising the From Resurgence to Insurgence – Sydney Anarchist & Autonomist Conference in April 2002, and did a bookstall at this conference.

All information has been taken from: http://www.takver.com

The brief history of the Black Rose 2002 – 2015 will be continued in a later update.


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