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On Wednesday, August 1st, Professor Patrick Troy’s book, titled Accommodating Australians: Commonwealth Government Involvement in Housing was launched at an event at UNSW.The launch attracted a diverse audience of academics and supporters, demonstrating its relevance and topical nature.The national obligation was to develop real communities, establishing a close nexus between housing and the then fledgling profession of town planning.Things went well for a while, even if post-war shortages of building materials and recalcitrant state governments proved troublesome.Also in attendance was Professor Peter Spearritt, one of Australia’s leading urban historians and an internationally acclaimed speaker on Australian urban affairs.The book explores the way the Australian Government took stock of the critical situation facing Australia’s housing supply in the middle of a world war and then developed a housing program in the post war period to improve the way they were accommodated, but how that vision became derailed in the following forty years.The rot starts with Menzies who seemed blind to the needs of low income earners but few political leaders, Labor or Liberal, are spared.Surprisingly, two conservative politicians emerge with reputations enhanced: Thomas Playford, long term South Australian Premier who so well understood the connections between housing, community amenity and economic development that he could actually rebuff the feds for a while, and Dame Annabelle Rankin, a long suffering housing minister in the first Holt Government.

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It is a story about the rise and fall of public housing and helps explain why Australian housing has now become one of the most expensive in the developed world.It is also about the way Commonwealth initiatives built on the reforming agendas of critics within the States of the prevailing mode of and approach to urban development led to the introduction of town planning in Australia.It is also a sad tale about the way principle and mature consideration of the rational way to develop our cities gave way to pre-occupation with accommodating the short term wishes of developers.The real hero here is HC (‘Nugget’) Coombs, Director of Post War Reconstruction in the 1940s.His vision of planning magically balance between technocracy and democracy and driven less by aesthetic standards and more by a fundamental commitment to economic and social reform suffuses this account.

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