Some say it’s a shame what is happening in Millers Point, but does it really matter to the rest of us that the people in an entire suburb are displaced, dispersed and their shared history, connections and relationships lost? Does it matter that the physical place they are connected to is sold and its history that was alive is remembered with a plaque?
A Galliwinku elder in Far Northern Australia was once asked by community worker, Tony Kelly, what community meant and he said:
‘If you live in the place that you love you can stand…
But the wind can come and blow you over.
If you live in the place that you love, with people that you love, then you can walk…
But you can walk in the wrong direction.
If you live in the place that you love, with people that you love, doing the things that are important for them and for you, then you are strong like a kangaroo, and a kangaroo cannot go backwards. ’
Once the meaning of community was essentially tied to place, usually where people lived and worked. These days people exist in all sorts of virtual and activity based communities detached from where they live. While such communities afford us the opportunity to connect with others who share our interests, occupations and values, breakdown in local communities has become recognised problem in modern Australia and the Western world. Many of us now live in areas where neighbours don’t acknowledge let alone know each other or help each other out. More people report being lonely and isolated than ever before and such social isolation and loneliness causes a raft of health problems.
Movements to rebuild local communities are springing up around the world. In Australia there is the Street by Street project by Civil Society Australia which seeks ‘to revive the practice of community, and the art of neighbourliness, on a large scale across Australia.’ *
Ironically while FACS NSW is destroying the social fabric of Millers Point, predominantly made up of long-term, older residents, the same State Government funds a multimillion dollar project to ‘help older people to live, learn, care, share, contribute and connect.’ This is part of their attempt to create Livable communities, like the one Millers Point was renowned for, that enables ‘all people, regardless of age or ability, to lead active, independent, healthy lives and access their community freely and safely.’
Saving Millers Point is important because it represents an example of local community life that is:
- Rich in diversity and social capital, an increasingly precious resource in urban Australia. It is historically a place characterised by reciprocity and interpersonal relationships between neighbours including those of differing financial means, where those at risk of marginalisation have valued roles, and the common good rather than rampant individualism was valued. Government’s are spending millions to try to build and recreate what Millers Point already has. At a time when the social divide between the haves and have nots is widening and homelessness grows, Millers Point epitomises the current buzz phrase ‘civil society’. Such factors make a society strong and resilient.
- Our heritage – its built environment and the unique living, social history is a vital part of Australia’s history.
- A line in the sand. Here is one of the rare times ordinary people, connected and long term contributors to place, stood up to the overbearing powers that be and saved an area that is now one of the most cherished tourist attractions in Sydney. We together then, we together now? A society that excludes people based on wealth, disability and age is not a stronger, better, fairer Australia. Humanity, society and well-being are seriously weakened when good community members are forced out. It is just not right.