Will the NSW Government listen?

“The NSW Government is evicting more elderly Millers Point residents to sell fifty properties by June. Amongst them is Darling House, the aged care home funded by residents and the City of Sydney. Vulnerable residents are upset and often in tears, but it does not have to be like this. The Sirius Foundation has been formed by people and organisations campaigning to save Sirius and residents and is supported by the National Trust, the Australian Institute of Architects, residents, unions and Jack Mundey, legendary Green Ban campaigner who helped save The Rocks from redevelopment in the 1970s and was instrumental in the building of Sirius. The Foundation has middle-ground solutions for saving Sirius and keeping a substantial part of it for social housing while still achieving the government’s financial aims. We ask Mike Baird to look at these solutions before it is too late.

This public request to Mike Baird was sent more than a year ago, almost two years after Myra was offered a meeting with the NSW Housing Minister and after following up on that request many times. Last month, the government began the eviction process for 90-year-old Myra, the face of Sirius and custodian of the SOS lights. Myra and the Sirius Foundation still hope to meet someone from the NSW Government to present and discuss alternatives that would save the Sirius building, keep a portion of it for social housing, and provide the full financial return the government is seeking from the sale of the Sirius site. Meanwhile, Myra’s SOS lights continue to shine over the city every night.

It is now too late for Mike Baird to save Sirius and its residents, but perhaps when Gladys Berejiklian takes over as Premier, there will be an opportunity to hit the pause button and look at options for Sirius.

In the past year there has been a lot of events about Sirius.

The Heritage Council, the council of experts commissioned by the government to advise it on matters of heritage, recommended unanimously that Sirius be listed as a Heritage Item of State Significance on two criteria. The Heritage Council considered Sirius an exemplary and rare example of Brutalist architecture. It also advised the NSW Government that Sirius was of state heritage significance because it was built as a direct result of The Rocks Green Bans of the 1970s, and it was built to accommodate members of local community who had saved The Rocks from the government’s own redevelopment plans. The Rocks Green Bans were the beginning of communities demanding a voice in town planning throughout the world, and they were responsible for saving what is now named “the birthplace of the nation”.

How did the Baird Government respond to the Heritage Council recommendation? Sirius was described as “ugly” and “an eyesore” and its connection with The Rocks Green Bans was denied, even though the government itself documented at the time that Sirius was built as a consequence of The Rocks Green Bans to house residents with ties to the community that had saved The Rocks.

The government rejected the advice of its Heritage Council and has called for the remaining residents of Sirius to be evicted and the building sold and demolished. There is some of our history the Baird Government would have preferred to forget.

Late last year a Save Our Sirius march and rally attracted thousands of people and when the march arrived outside Sirius, Jack Mundey announced a Green Ban had been placed on Sirius. Since then, international condemnation of the government’s intentions to have Sirius demolished has flooded in, highlighted by highly regarded overseas museums, magazines and newspapers; and locally there have been hundreds of stories on TV, radio and in major newspapers. More recently, people have begun making artworks that celebrate Sirius and streams of people have signed up for tours around the building which at times include access to the interior when tours visit some of the surviving residents.

If Myra survives in Sirius until March, she will have resisted three years of the government’s attempts to force her away from her community and the area she has called home for sixty years. Myra hopes someone in the government will listen to her and others from the Sirius Foundation before she buckles under the pressure to leave.

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