Publisher and heritage conservationist
Juanita Nielsen was a spunky woman. When she moved into the little terrace at 202 Victoria Street in Potts Point and took over publishing the local newspaper NOW in 1968 she fell hook, line and sinker for the bohemian lifestyle of Kings Cross.
As development started to encroach on her street in 1973 and poorer tenants began to be evicted, Juanita decided to take a stand. Her newspaper NOW took on a new editorial slant in the same year. She questioned the future of Kings Cross and agitated against new development in Victoria Street.
Juanita was an astute lobbyist. Through NOW and local resident action groups, such as the Victoria Street Ratepayers' Association, she galvanised the local community in the fight against Victoria Street's redevelopment, and later Woolloomooloo.
She deplored the menace, violence and pressure placed on tenants who stood in the way of some developers. When Juanita was interviewed for The Sydney Morning Herald in October 1974, the journalist wrote that "she has no time for ratbags interested in publicity or pushing some political line, but she has real concern for the little people pushed out by developers".
Juanita was a vocal supporter of the 1970s Green Bans movement, which saw trade unions join with residents' groups to protect sites for environmental reasons or heritage conservation through site specific work bans. A 'green ban' was placed on Victoria Street and parts of Woolloomooloo.
Her brains, good looks and family fortune – her great grandfather was department store entrepreneur, Mark Foy – got her a long way in life. But these attributes ultimately could not protect her against the threats and thuggery of a few aggressive developers around Kings Cross.
After keeping an appointment at a prominent nightclub in Kings Cross, Juanita disappeared on 4 July 1975 – coincidentally, the seventh anniversary of her taking over the publishing of NOW.
It is generally believed she was kidnapped and murdered because of her stance against development and corruption. Juanita's body has never been found.
Sydney Council named the community centre at Woolloomooloo after Juanita Nielsen in July 1983 – the same year a coronial inquest into her disappearance returned an open verdict. The commemorative naming was a strong statement of her standing in the local community and her support of local residents fighting for a safe and happy community with decent local amenity.
The figure of Juanita Nielsen has become emblematic of the Green Bans and grass roots community action groups of the 1970s that challenged the vision of developers and governments, saving much of historic Sydney from the demolition ball.
Her vital contribution in supporting housing affordability, environmental amenity and local heritage in Potts Point and Woolloomooloo was recently reinforced by City of Sydney Council when part of Maclean Street beside the community centre was closed, naming it Juanita Gardens, and the listing of her Victoria Street terrace on the State Heritage Register.
Juanita remains a symbol of people power and her disappearance sits at the heart of one of Sydney's most enduring mysteries.
City Historian Lisa Murray undertook this research.
Main image: Terraces houses in Victoria Street, Potts Point are fenced off before being demolished in 1980. Courtesy of City of Sydney Archives.
Last updated: Tuesday, 19 August 2014