Taking, Sneaking

If you have spent time in Annandale some time in the last forty years, you would know this piece of graffiti that has been on the corner of Collins and Johnston Streets since 1977:


It’s a lot more faded these days and barely readable – this photo was taken at least 10 years ago. I read it almost like a poem, set out in a stanza, my favourite parts “taking, sneaking” and “what more can I say?” as the ending, like the writer has thrown their hands up in the air at the dishonourable scene that passed by in 1977.

What distinguishes this graffiti is firstly its longevity. It has few remaining contemporaries, apart from the slightly earlier (c.1970)  Stop Vietnam War graffiti still visible on the sandstone rock face below the Tarpein Way at the end of Macquarie Street, facing the Opera House.


1970 and 1971 saw large-scale Vietnam War protests in Sydney with the three moratorium marches, the last of which occurred shortly before Australian troops were withdrawn. By the end of the 1970s peace was again the focus of activism, as was environmentalism. The anti-nuclear lobby had grown in strength and marches and demonstrations were held in capital cities across Australia. There were also a series of Rides Against Uranium, with groups cycling from Melbourne and Sydney to Canberra to protest against uranium mining and export.

The second distinguishing feature of the Annandale “taking, sneaking” message is that, unlike most graffiti, it marks a particular event that happened at that place at a specific time. By reading these words I imagine the convoy of trucks travelling down Johnston Street late at night, past houses and apartment buildings where people slept on, unaware of the radioactive cargo being transported through their suburb. But not everyone was asleep.

Friends of the Earth member Geoff Evans describes the blockades that met the trucks at White Bay, “protesting shipments of yellowcake from Lucas Heights being secretly spirited out in massively guarded convoys of trucks speeding through Sydney’s suburbs in the dead of night, only to be exposed by an elaborate network of activists alerted by the Lucas Heights campers, and mobilised through elaborate ‘phone trees’ that could get hundreds of protesters to the wharves within an hour.”

Things came to a head in September 1977. Around 200 protesters, and 240 police (numbers given in news reports at the time) were down at the wharves when the trucks carrying the yellowcake arrived. Some of the demonstrators sat down on the road to prevent the trucks moving through and were dragged off one-by-one by police, and some arrested. There is a painting by Toby Zoates (painted in 2015), who was one of the protesters, showing the scene as he remembers it (or as his “fantasy wishfully remembers” it). He describes the scene of the protest, then the benefit gig he organised to help pay the fines of those arrested.


Poster by Toby Zoates, from NGA.

But who painted the graffiti on the wall in Annandale? I don’t know, but I’m not the first to wonder. In 1993 two filmmakers sent out a request in the Sydney Morning Herald to try and find the writer, although the film doesn’t seem to have gone ahead. In the article one of the filmmakers said: “if we don’t find the person who did it, it will remain an unsolved mystery”.


From the Sydney Morning Herald, April 1993.

In 1993 the filmmakers also said:”It’s been there since 1977 – that’s a long time for a little piece of graffiti”. Now it is forty years since the trucks passed by taking, sneaking.

The words are very faded and unless you had seen them there in the days when they were more visible and knew to look for them, you would probably pass by them without noticing. They are painted on a low wall, at calf-height, so I imagine whoever painted them sat on the pavement to do it, daubing each letter with a paintbrush, using the bricks like lines on a page. In their unusual position the words are like a footnote, annotating this place with one of its secrets.




10 Comments on “Taking, Sneaking”

  1. Ash says:

    Marvelous as always.

    When I think I know a suburb well something new and amazing comes to my attention.

    To think of the hundreds of times I have been waiting at those traffic lights and never seen this! Of course, when one is driving, attention is on the road ahead, so I relish the chance to be a passenger. Of course, other drivers tend to go straightforward routes, where as I like to meander and go down a street just because I haven’t before.

    The best way to see a suburb of course is walking, but even then I tend to look up rather than down, next time I shall make a concerted effort to notice all around me.

  2. Larissa says:

    Thank you for seeing.

  3. Michael says:

    This reminds of the Free Bobby Sands graffiti by the train line near West Ryde that lasted a good twenty years after Sand’s death.

  4. Dan Murphy says:

    Thanks for this bit of people’s history
    I was CFMEU organiser for the inner west in the 1990s/2000s so remember seeing it often . Had poignancy for me as years earlier I was on the phone tree for protests against Roxby Downs shipments through Port Adelaide. Used to get a bit rowdy down there as well.
    Still a deadly industry that can and does do terrible harm. See Fukushima articles on Counterpunch

  5. Roland Tellzen says:

    Oh, how well spotted and thank you so much for highlighting the “Taking, Sneaking” graffiti! I had no idea it was still visible.
    As a child and teeenager growing up in Annandale in the 70s, I used to walk past this piece of social activism daily on my way to school (first at Annandale Public and then later waking to Parramatta Road to catch the bus to Fort Street, beneath the Miller’s Brewery which I see you also celebrate). I remember when it first appeared (or at least I first noticed it) and the impression it made on me and its visions of trucks carrying radioactive waste less than half a block from my home. Seeing it again just catapaulted me back to teenagerdom and the first stirrings of my social awareness. Again, Thanks

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks for your comment Roland, and I’m so glad this post brought back some memories for you – it is truly an evocative piece of graffiti, and it indeed is quite extraordinary that it’s still there (faintly) on the wall.

      • Roland Tellzen says:

        Thanks again Vanessa – your post sure did I awaken a lot of nostalgia in me last night. And not only about this landmark on my daily walk to school.
        Talking about social activist graffiti, Fort Street High also had an iconic and long lasting brand off the times. On a wooden fence on a hill overlooking the back playground of the school, all through my time at the school (so at least up until 1979) there was a huge painted protest – “NO CONSCRIPTION”. I think the fact that it lasted so long, and was never painted over or taken down, said a lot about the sympathies and views of the school’s staff. I doubt it’s still there – but wouldn’t be too surprised if it was (it always was a bit of a Bolshie school)! I must visit to check one day.
        It’s probably to the place here to comment, but so many other posts in your blog delighted me with remembrances as browsed last night. I’d love to give you a walking tour of Parramatta Road from Stanmore to Petersham – you’ve picked up on some great long-standing landmarks on the strip, but I could point out so much more from when the road was still a vibrant, bustling, living, commercial – and very Italian – community high street.
        Look forward to what else you unearth.
        Thanks, Roland

      • Vanessa Berry says:

        Thanks Roland, if I’m going by I’ll have a look to see if that graffiti is still there. I love that political graffiti has had such a powerful presence in the landscape and in people’s memories. There would be a good project in researching Sydney urban political graffiti of the 60s/70s: someone might have already done it! And yes a walking tour sounds great one day, once my busy time with the book has eased off a bit!

  6. Suzy says:

    I loved reading this story about the graffiti a stones throw from my home in Mirror Sydney, and was happy to find these photos and more details here. The SLNSW has some photos of a “uranium prank” that took place in Annandale – it looks like on Johnston Street outside the Village Church in 1979. I wonder if there’s any link between this and the story told in the graffiti?

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Suzy they’re such great photos – Brian Henderson watching over from the billboard – and I’d say that yes, they are certainly about the same issue of uranium transportation at White Bay. Thanks for the link and I’m so glad you found the story here.

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