Comment: Millers Point public housing tenants - the last stand?

Patricia Haub, 77, poses for a photograph outside her home in Millers Point in Sydney, Wednesday, March 19, 2014. (AAP)

More than 200 years of Sydney history in and around Millers Point is poised to go under the hammer - but at what cost?

  • Community Services Minister Pru Goward announced the sale of 293 properties
  • About 400 residents in the area stand to be re-located
  • Independent MP for Sydney Alex Greenwich described the sell-off as "social cleansing"

Community Services Minister Pru Goward recently announced a sell off of public housing in Millers Point.

This is no surprise. Various state governments have been trying to get public housing tenants out of the area since the early 80s. I know this first-hand because my family lived in and managed properties in the area from the mid seventies up until I moved out of what was my grandparents home, last year.

For a time I was the youngest landlady in The Rocks - by about 40 years.

For me, The Rocks begins at the corner of George St and Albert St and includes the whole east side of the point, up and around Barangaroo and cuts off at about the Harbour Bridge on ramp - but I’m sure others will disagree.

Behind the Mercantile Hotel is the Sirius building. It’s tall and brutalist and features a charmingly homemade ‘ONE WAY! JESUS’ sign in one of it’s grimy windows. It will be sold, the tenants relocated far from the city and its services. No doubt the building will be demolished and something more appealing to property investors will take its place.

At the top of George Street, right under the Harbour Bridge, you can turn right into Lower Fort Street and the tiny suburb of Dawes Point, which consists of Tara Park and a row of about 10 terraces. This was where my family lived.

These terraces were built in the latter half of the 1800s. They were the homes of shipping merchants. You can still see it in the bones of the buildings. Soaring ceilings but the paint is peeling and yellowed. Sweeping spiral staircases but the carpet is threadbare. In the basements you can see the sandstone foundations; some even have remnants of the built in wood stoves.

Around 1975 my grandparents took out 99 year leases on four terraces in this street to run them as boarding houses. They moved into the ground floor of the one in the middle. When they moved in, the room that became their living room was divided into six bedsits with temporary partitions. My grandparents cleaned and renovated, they made kitchens and bathrooms, converted rooms into little apartments and let them at low cost to pensioners and travelers and friends. Some of the tenants still hanging on in buildings were there long before my grandparents.

My grandfather died at home in 1984, as did my grandmother in 2006. Sometimes it’s hard to think that my family history will probably end up as the office for high end architect or something similar.

But you get used to it, as with most things.

Turn left at Lower Fort Street and you head into Millers Point. There used to be a family-run grocery store on the corner of Windmill Street but they left when the rents hiked a few years back. The old blokes who used to sit out the front on upturned milkcrates have nowhere to sit and chat any more. 

A bit further up is Argyle Place with its small park. I remember pacing that park practicing my reading for my grandmother’s funeral in the Garrison Church. There are a few cafes and restaurants, a convenience store and more than a few pubs. If there’s one thing The Rocks has plenty of, it’s pubs. Though sadly the beautiful Palasaides Hotel has been empty for about eight years. There used be a post office but the man ran it embezzled several million dollars and it closed down when he went to prison.

High Street loops up and around the headland. The street is lined on both sides with low set terraces where families have lived for generations. These were the homes for the wharf workers. Less than 10 years ago they overlooked a working port at Barangaroo, not a casino development site.

This community has stared down several governments and long list of developers.

But this might be the last stand.

Elly Michelle Clough is a publicist and writer.

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