Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Letters to the editor: Millers Point

This letter, penned by a daughter of Millers Point, was recently sent to the Sydney Morning Herald. As far as we know, it has not been published. It should be.


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I sit here with tears in my eyes so I cannot pretend that I do not have a deeply personal and emotional connection to the proposed removal of the social housing residents of Millers point. I grew up in a terrace in Lower fort street and my mum still lives there as she has done so for 40 years, laboriously maintaining and restoring her home (largely herself). Even if she is forced to move away, that house will always be our family home and the fact that she doesn't own it does not make that connection or the emotional distress any less valid.

When I was growing up our terrace was, like many in the area, a Maritime workers owned boarding house populated by single old men who had worked on the wharves. These men had lived here through their working life and now into their retirement. Our men were "Jocky" and "Bluey". "Jocky" was a Scotsman who I loved dearly. We watched Sale of the Century each evening and shared chocolate biscuits. "Bluey" would say "respect your mother" if I gave her too much lip and would ball room dance with me in the kitchen at Christmas.

Mum assumed responsibility for our terrace when the former landlord moved on and it was always understood that these men would stay in their home with us as long as they wished. They were family to me and my childhood was infinitely enhanced by their presence and changed by their passing. We still refer to those rooms as Jocky's and Bluey's. Times changed as did the government department overseeing the property, but it was always our home. That is our story and if you scratch the surface in Miller's point there are a myriad of colourful, complex and moving stories to be told. There are of course such stories everywhere, the difference is here all our stories are entwined and many go back generations.

I do not live in Millers point and have not done so for many years. The announcement last week was not something which was completely unexpected. Indeed the community has been living in the shadow of the threat of this for years. A shadow of uncertainty which has pervaded everyday life and had a detrimental effect on many.

Never the less, reading the media over the last few days I have been profoundly moved. These are people I know. People who are part of the fabric of this community and hence my life. I see people in the articles who helped out at the canteen when I was a primary school on Observatory hill, people who brought my dog back when he escaped because they knew he was mine and where we lived, people who STILL stop me in the street and tell me I haven't changed since I was a baby. Living outside this community now I can fully appreciate how unique that experience is anywhere, let alone in Sydney today.

The letter which was handed to my mother last week said that attempts would be made to relocate her "close to family and friends".  I am my mothers family. I would welcome her anytime but she does not want to leave her home. Not because it is in a street has recently been deemed a desirable location (when 30 years ago most did not see its virtues) but because it is her HOME. Much as we love each other, My mum does she does not want to move. Her friends and support networks are in the Millers point community, her heart is there, her past  and her memories are there and she has always seen her future. As do many others with deep connections to one another and to the area. The human impact cannot be underestimated.

How many people know their neighbour these days? How many would give them the keys when they go away? They do in Millers Point. People here care about each other. They attend the funeral when a member of the community passes away. A good many came and celebrated my 1st AND my 21st birthdays in our backyard. They know the older members who need a helping hand or should be checked on if they haven't been seen on their daily walk. If an young community member is courting trouble, elders of the community will engage them or their parents and express concerns. Until the local corner store was sold as a private residence in the last few years the owners would run a tab if someone forgot money for milk or offer some of their home made falafel for you to try. Millers point is a community in the true sense of the word. Community does not mean people who live geographically close to one another. It is something which evolves over time if nurtured and it certainly cannot be manufactured or constructed.

New residents to the community have told me in the park that they are thrilled to have such a welcoming and supportive community. Indeed many have expressed that they have moved here because of this. Miller Point truly is, as the state heritage register described it, a ''living cultural landscape'' with ''an unusually high and rare degree of social significance''. I can tell you this as I was fortunate enough to grow up in this community, observe the changes over the last 30 years and now visit it regularly with an outside perspective.

Miller's Point is the type of community I think most people would want their children to grow up in and their parents to grow old in. A community spirit born of continuity and time. The Millers point community can, and has evolved. From the earliest public housing and Maritime workers accommodation, it has become a mix of corporate real estate, private and social housing. My understanding is that this integrated model is now widely recommended to prevent social housing area becoming socially depressed.

Surely the largely long term and often elderly residents should be treated with more compassion and respect than is being shown. Equally a community without youth has no future and this should also be considered. The significant economic benefits of true community, and the burden this removes from social resources should be supported, allowing our city to become more viable, integrated and community minded. Millers Point is an integrated social success. It should be recognised, celebrated and not destroyed. 

6 comments:

  1. You have been extraordinarily lucky to live there at all. Before I ended up in public housing I used to commute by train and bus for up to 2 hours each way to work in the city where most of the jobs are, this I did, like most commuters because rents and real estate are so hugely expensive, the closer you get to the city where the jobs are. The result for me was to end up very ill, end up on a disability pension and end up in public housing. Think about it.

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    1. Wait, wait, wait... let's see if I'm reading this right:

      You're saying that the poor people should move out of the way of the not so poor people so that the less poor people don't end up becoming the poor people?

      N.C.

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    2. So people should be moved out of their community because you had to commute two hours and got sick and ended up in public housing without a view do you mean?

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  2. Beautifully expressed. Totally agree. So sad that $$$ are the priority of our Government...doesn't have to be...it is a bad choice for all our community.

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  3. Hi, due to illness I have been a tenant of Housing NSW for almost 12 years. I understand and have always understood that I am RENTING and that my landlord may wish to sell my property, just like a private landlord. I have no rights to the house I live in. I do not own it, I did not pay for it. I am lucky to have a roof over my head that I can afford.

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  4. 'A dwelling of good standard and equipment is not only the need but the right of every citizen – whether the dwelling is to be rented or purchased, no tenant or purchaser should be exploited by excessive profit' – Commonwealth Housing Commission, 1944.

    You shouldn't have to feel lucky, Anon.

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