The 1970s was the decade when conservation consciousness came to the fore on both sides of the Tasman as a result of developers wanting to destroy streets of charming old buildings and replace them with ugly high rises.
One developer with the worst plans was Frank Theeman who wanted to see the destruction of the earliest part of Sydney, The Rocks, but the redevelopment of the mile-long Victoria Street was almost as bad. This leads from the inner city area of Potts Point to Kings Cross and featured a stately row of Federation-style terrace houses with their filigree ironwork. Frank Theeman planned to replace them with 45-story apartment towers and an office block. In the early 1970s Theeman bought properties in this and in Brougham Street. Tenants were forcibly evicted.
Juanita Nielsen (1937-1975) was a resident of Victoria Street and publisher of the alternative local newspaper, NOW. She was at the centre of a residents’ action group to prevent the demolition. In 1972, the local community successfully lobbied the Builders Labourers’ Federation to impose a green ban on the site and prevent demolition. The residents also ensured their homes were constantly occupied. Through her paper, Nielsen publicised the fight for Darling Street and became a target of local stand-over men with commercial interests in the development.
Juanita Nielsen disappeared on 4 July 1975. Her body was never found. Harry Trigg, a local nightclub owner and associate of Frank Theeman, was convicted of conspiring to kidnap Nielsen. Both his former girlfriend and his receptionist claimed later that he was also responsible for her murder though these allegations were never proved.
Some of Victoria Street ended up being destroyed, but most of it was saved and Juanita Nielsen’s house at number 202 is now a heritage listed building.