These are some of the houses along one side of Lower Fort Street in 1961. Click on each photo in turn to imagine walking down the street at a time when people left their windows and doors open and had well-tended gardens. Click on the first photo in the row above to also read John Bulford’s history of these houses. Click on the third photo in the row beneath to read about the many people who have lived at 37 Lower Fort Street since 1833. There are also a few photos and some of the stories of this house being restored. Restoration is underway for many of the heritage houses no longer owned and neglected by the government, and more photos and stories of heritage restorations will be added to this site over time.
Many of the houses are now run down and close to derelict following the neglect by Housing NSW. Some are boarded up to make the street look even less inviting. Attached to the empty houses were photos and stories of residents who have lived in the area, but these were torn down by NSW Housing officers (and their ‘cleaning’ company Spotless) to remove all traces of the residents and the tight-knit community that survives here.
Almost every building on the western side of Lower Fort Street was demolished after 1900, and that side of the street is now dominated by the Workers Flats designed by Government Architect Vernon. During 2014–15 stories and photos of Millers Point residents were attached to these and other properties in the area (with residents’ permission), but these were removed regularly by Housing and security, so the stories and photos were moved online and became the basis of the People section of this site.
Below are some stories about living in Lower Fort Street.
Chris has lived here for many years, and he tells the story of the first time his wife Christine saw Lower Fort Street in 1958 after she had walked from Circular Quay and up through the Cut, she exclaimed that Lower Fort Street was the most beautiful street she had ever seen and could not believe she was going to be allowed to live in it. It no longer looks beautiful courtesy of Housing NSW and government neglect, but behind the facades of houses, many residents are resisting the efforts of the Relocation Officers from Housing NSW.
Each Relocation Officer has two years to evict about twenty households. They began in March 2014 immediately after all public and social housing tenants received notice of the Government’s intention to erase an entire community.
A DAUGHTER OF MILLERS POINT
A daughter of Millers Point writes about what it was like receiving the notice to leave and what it was like growing up in Lower Fort Street:
‘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, was 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 Millers 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.
‘Nevertheless, 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 mother’s family. I would welcome her anytime but she does not want to leave her home. Not because it is in a street that 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 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.
‘Millers 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 understand 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.’