Like many residents of Millers Point, I was raised in a public housing property where I was born in 1963. My first community-based political campaign in the late 1970s, was fighting Sydney City Council, which had decided to sell our council house in Camperdown.
It was a battle that was fundamental to my identity and critical to the person I am today.
My mother had been born in this home in 1936 and was raising me there as a single parent. Her parents had been the first residents in the home after the Alexandra Dwellings estate was built in 1927.
For my family, this was more than just bricks and mortar. It was our home for three generations.
It sat in the centre of a proud working class community, made up of people as firmly anchored in the inner city as my own family.
The sense of community was enhanced by it being something of an island – surrounded by the Children’s Hospital, factories and light industry.
It was our home. We cared for it as though we had built it with our own hands, renovating and painting it at our expense to keep it up to scratch.
Yet the council was, as my worried mother said at the time, treating us with no respect. It was as though we did not matter.
My school friends from Millers Point at St Mary’s Cathedral School supported our campaign because they understood the importance of security of home and community.
Months of tension and uncertainty followed, until the conservatives lost control of the council to Labor and the sell-off was shelved.
I lived at Camperdown for years afterward as I completed my education.
It remained my mother’s home until she passed away in 2002.
Today about 400 residents of Millers Point facing eviction at the hands of the NSW Liberals are suffering the same apprehension and uncertainty I remember so well.
For many, the first they heard of the government’s plan to sell their homes was a cold-hearted eviction notice slid under the door.
The government appears to have made no attempt to weigh the financial gains of a sell-off against the social losses involved in the devastation of a community.
I was pleased to read in The Sydney Morning Herald on Monday that the National Trust is opposing the move because of the heritage value of the buildings at Millers Point.
But heritage is about much more than just buildings.
It’s about people.
Miller’s Point is a community – a living, breathing mixture of people that adds to the diversity of the broader Sydney community.
Successful cities are not disconnected enclaves of privilege and disadvantage. They are diverse. Their people come from a mixture of backgrounds.
The logic that only wealthy people should be able to live at Millers Point is a formula for a divided city based on haves and have-nots.
It also points to further public housing sell-offs in Sydney down the track.
That’s out of line with the values of most Australians who understand that a community is only as good as the way in which it treats its least-advantaged members.
Recently I read in The Sydney Morning Herald an elderly resident of Millers Point quoted as saying: “These people cannot come in and walk all over us and turf us out like we are rubbish’’.
It was as though I heard my own mother’s voice ringing down the years.
More than 800,000 Australians live in social housing, including a quarter of a million in NSW alone.
Sydney, we can do better than this.
- Published in today’s edition of the Sydney Morning Herald