New artist and activist hub in Melbourne

By Max Lane — Under the Hammer, a new activist space, has been operating in Coburg, on the edges of inner Melbourne, since July. The centre was established on the initiative of activists James Crafti and Melanie Mayze, both members of the Revolutionary Socialist Party, which produces the newspaper and website Direct Action. While Direct Action holds activities in the space, it has been made available at a cheap “rent” to local artist and activist groups.

Situated at 158 Sydney Road in Coburg, Under the Hammer is a good-sized shopfront space and has facilities for a bar as well as a screen and projector. It also has a wide range of second-hand left and radical books for sale. Some of the activists involved live upstairs.

Arts groups and some activist groups — such as Fed-Up, a feminist group campaigning around body shape discrimination issues — have started using the space. Direct Action’s own forums have also started at Under the Hammer. One forum presented eyewitness reports on the activities of the Socialist Party of Timor, with speakers including lawyer Martin Hardie from Deakin University, who had been in Timor during the recent election campaign; Max Lane, a writer and lecturer at Victoria University who had been there earlier in the year; and activist Sam King, who had been in Dili during the election campaign.

More forums on developments in South-East Asia are planned, with one presentation on punk music and radicalism in Indonesia scheduled for 2pm on Saturday, September 13, with a talk and clips by visiting punkophile and activist academic Ian Wilson from Perth.

On August 28, Under the Hammer was packed out as 65 people squeezed in to listen to Sahar Vardi and Micha Kurz, two young Israelis who have been active in solidarity with Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem. Sahar Vardi is a 21-year-old peace activist and “refusenik” from Jerusalem. She was the third conscientious objector, and the first woman, to be imprisoned among the 2008 group of high school seniors. She works with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions in campaigns opposing the illegal seizure of Palestinian houses by Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem.


Sahar Vardi and Micha Kurz at Direct Action forum.

Micha Kurz is a co-founder and co-director of Grassroots Jerusalem, a project that maps social inequalities, justice issues and environmental problems, together with community projects that address them, in and around Jerusalem. Kurz is also a co-founder of Breaking the Silence, a group of Israeli ex-soldiers that aims to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.

After the two speakers presented reports on their activities and the situation in the occupied territories, there was an extended discussion. Both Vardi and Kurz urged support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign and for a strategic perspective targetting major corporate collaborators with the Israeli state. The meeting raised $420 in donations for Grassroots Jerusalem.

Another Palestine-oriented meeting was scheduled at Under the Hammer at 7pm, Monday, September 10, on activist artist storytelling in Palestine, with speakers including Samah Sabawi and Dr Rand Hazou both of whom have had direct engagement with Palestine in the artistic field.

Direct Action — September 3, 2012