Person - Robert Stanley Thompson

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Of interest to ASIO, Bert Thompson through the Workers’ Union was a founding member of Sydney NT. The only brother of Evelyn Docker, he was born on 11 December 1898 in Aldershot, a military town in England, where his father James Thompson, a sergeant in the hussars, was housed in cavalry barracks. James became a newsagent but died in Scotland. Robert then migrated to Australia. His mother Elizabeth Margaret née Donnelly and his sisters followed, leaving Tilbury on the Balranald on 4 October 1923. The family settled in Melbourne. Bert and Evelyn later moved to Sydney.

Bert put down his age by four years to enlist in the army in 1942 and was discharged in 1945, a warrant officer class 2, having served in the mobile ordnance company. He became a member of the eastern district council of the RSL.

Postwar there was an acute housing shortage in Sydney and Bert became the organiser of a group of squatters occupying various Eastern Suburbs mansions, the first the 20-roomed Maramanah on Macleay Street Kings Cross, vacated by US troops and due for demolition by the City Council to expand Fitzroy Park. In 1946 it was taken over by nine homeless people including ex WAAAF Evelyn and her husband union official Norman Docker. A big crowd watched them move in their stretchers, blankets, candles and a hurricane lantern. Most Sydney people were sympathetic, volunteers donating money, furniture and household items, and helping clean up. One of the squatters, a plumber, reconnected the water supply.

Gradually others moved in. After 600 people attended a meeting in near darkness in Maramanah Lord Mayor Reginald Bartley (who’d bought the adjoining property Cheverills whose value would increase with an extended park) labelled the organisers Communists. Nevertheless, squatters managed to remain there until the house was finally knocked down in 1954 and replaced by Fitzroy Gardens, the El Alamein fountain, and the Kings Cross branch library ~ named after Bartley’s wife.

In 1947 Bert’s squatting activities continued. After being evicted from Greenoaks at Darling Point, he took possession of Redleaf at Double Bay (with Alan Cross, Mervyn Pidcock, Aubrey Paul, Herbert Wiseman and their respective wives, plus Max Heidke and Robert Gibson). Convicted of trespassing, Bert as ringleader was fined £5, Magistrate Cookson remarking that there were hundreds of others without accommodation. Bert and Pidcock then set up the Squatters’ Defence League in protest against the deal given ex-servicemen. Sympathetic crowds at public meetings in the Domain showered them with money.

(Occupied by the RAAF 1942-6, Redleaf became Woollahra Council Chambers in 1947.)

Bert died unmarried. He spelt his surname with a “p” although his sister Evelyn insisted the family name was without it.

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