The following stories were recorded between June 2014 and November 2016, which was when Eszter was ‘relocated’. Eszter’s ‘relocation’ was seen in the new Forced Out preview at This is Sirius exhibition, and it affected everyone who saw it.
For more than thirty years Eszter lived at 31 Dalgety Terrace. The Maritime was Eszter’s landlord, but in the 1980s maritime industry was moving to Port Botany and the workers’ flats of Millers Point were transferred to the Housing Commission.
Tom, who lived in the flat above Eszter, is in his late eighties. For many years Tom and Eszter watched out for one another, as good neighbours do. Then on 19 March 2014, Tom and Eszter each received the letter telling them they would be “moving to a new home”. The government was “relocating” an entire community, and everyone was expected to be out by March 2016.
Eszter was devastated to learn that she was being moved from the only home she had known since arriving in Australia. She was also worried about Tom. She asked her Relocation Officer whether they could be moved at the same time and remain near each other. She also asked to be moved to somewhere safe, near public transport and where neither of them would be in places with lots of steps as Tom now has limited mobility. ‘Difficult’ was the response from the Relocation Officer, and not made easier when a new Relocation Officer was assigned to Eszter and Tom before a solution was found.
More than two years after receiving the government’s letter, Eszter agreed to move although her new flat is not as close to Tom as she would have liked. Tom had already accepted an offer to move, perhaps to ensure he would not be a burden on Eszter. It happened on a day Eszter was at the Housing Tribunal appealing against an unfair decision. Eszter won her appeal but she lost her fight to remain near Tom.
The relocation process has been a brutal experience for many. The two words Eszter uses to describe her experience of the process are “intimidating” and “overwhelming”.
Two years ago Eszter and Tom each wrote how they felt about the relocation process. For the next two years they watched their community being moved out around them, feeling overwhelmed by this loss and their own approaching relocation, not being able to convince the Relocation Team to move them at the same time and near one another, and at times feeling intimidated by members of the Relocation Team and other Housing officers.
Following Eszter’s and Tom’s writing is an account of Eszter’s last days in Millers Point.
‘I feel the decision to sell all the properties and break up the community is inhumane and unreasonable. It is creating a lot of trauma, I feel the trauma not just in my life but in other people here. The loss of our homes and our community, especially for the older people, is devastating.
‘It’s very difficult for the community as a whole and for me what has been reported in the media about us. We are made to feel undeserving to live here.
‘I feel very connected here now. Living in this community is not always positive, I don’t know or talk to everybody, but I feel comfortable and secure here. It took me a long time to connect with people. It wouldn’t be so easy for me to move to a new area and start all over again.
‘I came to Australia as a refugee in 1981, with my son who was 3 years old. I have been living in the same Millers Point public housing property since December 1985. It has become my home. I brought my child up here and all my memories are here.
‘During my whole time in this property I’ve been fixing things myself as much as I could. But I’ve been struggling with serious maintenance issues on my property since 2009. I kept asking for work to be done, and Housing NSW just wouldn’t do it. In February 2013, instead of fixing my property, Housing told me my property was too dangerous and I would have to be relocated.
‘I was also aware that other people were struggling with maintenance and feeling frustration that things were not being done. We started to feel hopelessness when nothing happened. It had become clear to us that most repairs were being stopped, and only the most urgent ones were being fixed.
‘I have had a personal crisis for the past few years. I have been feeling devastated by this situation. I have been trying to cope with it and maintain my mental health. I have to deal with two great losses now. I feel overwhelmed with these two losses. It’s too much change and uncertainty. I need the stability of this place I have called home for the last 28 years.
‘It feels like a great loss to leave this place. I do not wish to move to “new home”. I wish to remain in my current home, in Millers Point.’
—Eszter, September 2014
‘I was born in the UK 87 years ago (6 April 1929,Chelford, Cheshire). Then, in 1952 I joined the Australian Army in London, and came to Australia. I went to the Korean War as an Australian soldier. Came back to Australia in 1956, and met my future wife. In 1960 we came to live in Lower Fort Street, Millers Point. Together, we brought up eight children. We moved to 31A Dalgety Terrace around 1980.
‘I reckon this decision to sell the properties in Millers Point is definitely wrong.
‘I have been battling ill health for the last 12 months including prostate cancer.
‘I reckon having to move from here, after 50 odd years in Millers Point will just about see the end of me, and I hope the powers that be can see this.
‘My wife and I raised our children here, plus grandchildren. My wife passed away in 2006, and I vowed that I would look after this place until I too left this world. She put a lot of work into our home and it is still in great shape. Losing it would be terrible and very traumatic.*
‘Eszter has been a great neighbour who has helped me a lot. I think I would have much sicker, if not for her.
‘So surely someone in the hierarchy can see what they are doing to most of the people in Millers Point. I hope that some sense can be undertaken before it is too late.’
—Tom, September 2014
*Tom built and decorated almost every surface of his flat, often using surprising materials such a collection of losing betting slips dyed red to act as tiles in his kitchen.
TWO YEARS LATER
Tom’s upstairs flat is empty and Eszter’s is stacked will boxes. The dozens of boxes in the hall are filled with Eszter’s father’s archive. In Hungary, he researched and established a type of bibliotherapy, and decades after his death, a foundation has been named after him. For the past two years, Eszter has continued working part-time while completing a course in librarianship, and perhaps this course was taken partly so she can look after her father’s archive.
Eszter’s home is modest and ordered, even during the upheaval of moving after thirty years. The experience of being overwhelmed by the relocation process, and the inconsistent treatment she has received from the Relocation Team, have resulted in her wanting to record her time as the last public tenant of one worker’s flat in Millers Point, and to record the process of relocation from her perspective.
HOME FOR MORE THAN A CENTURY
There are only a few photos to record the families that lived in Eszter’s flat for more than 100 years – these photos coming soon. Meanwhile, the construction of Eszter’s home as one of the workers’ flats is shown below…
Here is a plan of the flats before Moore’s Road was renamed Dalgety Road. See here for more about the transformation of Millers Point around 1900.