Juanita Nielsen and her fateful fight against corruption and greed

 Juanita Nielsen | Image  WikiMedia Commons

Juanita Nielsen | Image WikiMedia Commons

Many of my clients choose a closer look around the eastern suburbs of Sydney for their tour. No trip around Kings Cross is complete without mentioning the late, great activist Juanita Nielsen. My guest writer today is Paddington resident Ronda McCallum who penned this marvellous piece about the Potts Point legend.

Juanita Joan Nielsen, (nee Smith) born April 22nd, 1937. Publisher, preservationist, activist and heiress to the Mark Foy retail empire fortune.

In the early 1970’s Juanita published the alternative Kings Cross newspaper NOW and was active in opposing the demolition of heritage homes to make way for high rise apartment buildings in Potts Point, Kings Cross and surrounds. In particular the Victoria Street plan of property developer Frank Theeman, who made his fortune in the lingerie industry with the Osti label. (Yes, that nasty bri-nylon stuff of the 60’s).

Victoria Street, an area the National Trust compared to Montmartre in Paris, built along the steep escarpment east of the city centre, was lined with rows of large 19th-century terrace houses with breathtaking city and harbour views. It was of national architectural significance and Theeman needed to tear them down to build his three towers. In his attempts to move people on he regularly sent his thugs to threaten and harass them. Juanita, with the support of the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF), had a green ban imposed on the site and used her newspaper to publicise what was going on. In doing so she made some very powerful enemies.

As it transpired, Frank Theeman was prepared to stop at nothing to proceed with the A$40 million project and Juanita’s actions were costing him $3000 a day in interest payments on the money he had borrowed.

On the 4th July 1975, Juanita was invited to the Carousel Club by Eddie Trigg, who was deep in debt to Theeman, to discuss placing advertising in her newspaper, she was suspicious because they had never been interested before but went anyway. She was never seen again.

The people responsible for her disappearance have never been identified and the only trace of her was the discovery of her handbag and a few personal items beside a road in western Sydney 8 days after she was last seen.

There is a list of suspects: Abe Saffron "The Boss of the Cross" or "Mr Sin". The owner of the Carousel Club, mate of Theeman, employer of Anderson and Trigg. Involved in everything illegal, immoral, unscrupulous and surrounded by people who would do his dirty work. Safron was accused of having organised a wide range of criminal activities including gambling, prostitution, drug dealing and sly grog sales, and to have coordinated a network of bribery and official corruption that reportedly included former New South Wales Premier Robert Askin and Police Commissioner Norman Allan. Crooked NSW cop Det. Sgt Fred Krahe, who was sacked from the force after allegations he murdered a prostitute whistle-blower and for his involvement in organising bank robberies. And the grubby little men who did their bidding. Amongst them, Eddie Trigg and James ‘Big Jim’ Anderson. Anderson was paid a considerable amount of money by Theeman just days before Juanita disappeared. That was never adequately explained. Seeing a pattern?

Juanita’s modest terrace house is still standing at 202 Victoria Street, Potts Point and popular opinion has it that she is buried in the foundations of one Theeman’s high rise apartment buildings that she fought so hard to stop, barely 250mtrs down the road from where she lived.

The Mark Foy department store building, with its ornate façade and exquisite tile work, still stands on the corner of Elizabeth and Liverpool St’s in the CBD and, ironically, is now a state court complex known as the Downing Centre.

Juanita’s story is one of the fight against corruption, violence, intimidation and greed. She was a brave woman who had the best 70’s updo you’ll ever see and knew who and what she was taking on. Ultimately, she paid with her life. A 1983 coronial inquest states that police corruption at the time may have crippled the investigation into her death.

There is a memorial to Juanita at South Head cemetery in Vaucluse.