Eszter and her neighbour Tom recorded the process of their displacement from Millers Point between June 2014 and November 2016, the date of Eszter’s ‘relocation’, which was witnessed by everyone who came to This is Sirius exhibition and watched the the Forced Out documentary preview. Scroll down to read Eszter’s and Tom’s accounts in their own words.
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 as a refugee. 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. 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.
In 2014 the stories by Eszter and Tom were copied and pasted onto fences, gates and doors around Millers Point as part of an outdoor exhibition presenting the people of Millers Point. Housing officers removed these stories which then became the beginning of this website. Eszter’s and Tom’s stories are reproduced below, followed by a description of Eszter’s last days in Millers Point and in July 2017 Eszter has written about what she describes as The Final Blow.
‘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
TWO YEARS LATER
Tom’s upstairs flat is empty and Eszter’s is stacked with boxes. The day she is to move from Millers Point is one of the most difficult in her life, but still she has invited me to record her on this day and she allows Blue to film her her as part of the Forced Out documentary.
Eszter’s home is modest and ordered, even during the upheaval of moving after thirty years. The dozens of boxes in the hall are filled with Eszter’s family’s archive. 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.
THE FINAL BLOW
The losses and pressures endured during the relocation process
—Eszter, July 2017
We all have to deal with losses and stresses in our lives, and I believe this is the most difficult part of our human condition. But I feel that with appropriate help and support, we could all make it easier for each other. Yet I think the way Housing NSW dealt with the break-up of the Millers Point community and the forced relocation of ALL public and social housing tenants have induced more trauma rather than less.
We the tenants were already dealing with various losses and stresses in our lives before the announcement of the sale of all public housing properties in Millers Point on 19th March 2014. The loss of family members, marriage and friendships, youth, health, and jobs are very difficult to come to terms with. But the announcement of the imminent loss of our – for many of us – long-term homes, has deeply augmented our individual losses, and made us very vulnerable indeed.
FACS (Family& Community Services) had assured us in their letter titled “Moving to a new home” (19th March 2014) that they recognised that the relocation “will be a difficult process” for many of us. We were also ensured that Housing NSW was going to make the move “as easy as” and “as comfortable as possible”. They were going to discuss our housing needs with us, “including any support you currently have in place and need in your new home”. In addition, they were going to assist us to settle in our new home.
Tom and I both went through the formal interviews and submitted any requested documents and medical assessment required by Housing to establish our housing needs. Apart from our individual housing needs, we also asked to be housed within very close proximity as we regarded each other our major support person from within the community. This was also a crucial necessity as Tom cannot manage many steps or much distance.
The following is a chronological account of the culmination of the relentless and extreme pressures applied by FACS to my neighbour, Tom, and myself over 2 years and 5 months, to get our forced relocation underway as soon as it was possible. These pressures were applied with great effect, as they were aimed to induce anxiety and intimidation. Our actual housing needs were intermittently considered, and at other times they were blatantly ignored.
I received my first formal offer in Alexandria. I went through the agonising process of viewing it and considering it. However, this offer was withdrawn voluntarily by Housing NSW based on the fact that they admitted that they could not make a suitable offer to Tom, my neighbour, within reasonable distance in that area.
On the same day as I was viewing the above property for the first time, Tom had to go to the Housing Appeals Committee (HAC) as he already was made his first formal offer which he rejected. HAC’s conclusion of that appeal was that the offer was unreasonable under FACS policy.
Both Tom and I went to view properties offered to us concurrently in Minogue Crescent, Forest Lodge. Tom’s offer was informal, while mine was formal. The property offered to Tom was on the ground floor, very close to public transport and in every other way was a reasonable offer regarding his housing needs. Except that despite the fact that the property offered to me was about 50 metres away from his, it was on the second floor which would have required Tom to climb 39 steps in order to visit me.
These offers have created some very agonising decision making for both of us. In the end, Tom had accepted his offer, but I rejected my offer as it did not meet my individual housing needs as well as the mutual need of Tom and I being housed in close and accessible properties. I informed Housing for my reasons for rejecting the offer, and made it clear that I would have been very willing to accept a ground floor property in the same complex. I asked Housing to withdraw their offer. This was not accepted by Housing, they did not withdraw the offer, and I had to appeal to the decision through HAC.
This was the day after I informed Housing about rejecting the offer in Minogue Crescent. On this day, I was sent a new, ‘updated’ relocation statement by Kevin Crider, the Millers Point Relocation Project Manager. This was based on an interview I had in March 2016, and a medical assessment which stated that I needed to stay near the city, close to all the support services. Mr Crider apologised for not sending the statement sooner. In this statement all my housing needs – previously agreed by Housing – were withdrawn, and replaced by a generic statement “as per your (my) entitlement under the Social Housing Eligibility and Allocations Policy”.
On this day, I went for my HAC appeal. On this same day, Tom was also moving out from upstairs. I remember thinking that he won’t be there when I got home, and I was extremely upset by this. Nevertheless, Martin Barker from Redfern Legal Centre helped me to put my case to the Committee people as best as we could under the circumstances. Martin also informed the Committee and myself that he received an e-mail from Housing that morning making an informal offer of a property to me on Ferry Road in Glebe.
I went to view the property in Glebe. The actual place seemed fine, and it was on the ground floor, but there was still the issue whether Tom would be able to visit me. This place was 350 metres from the bus stop on Glebe Point Road. That was a long way for Tom. It’s also down the hill to the property, but up the hill back. I asked Tom whether he would be able to manage it, and he tried it out. He said afterwards that he had to stop a few times to rest, but he managed it.
The reality was that this property didn’t meet our need to be housed within easy access for Tom. But by this time, I was worn out and highly stressed. My decision making ability was greatly reduced due to the relentless and I believe deliberately applied pressures from Housing. I felt very sad in my place after Tom had moved out. Most public housing tenants had also moved out from the street and the area as a whole. I acutely felt the pain and suffering of the broken up community.
I was already dealing with recent and current losses and stresses in my life. In 2013, my marriage broke down and I have struggled to maintain my mental health. In all of the year 2016, I was subjected to bullying at work, and was facing the threat of losing my job as well. I have attended a lot of counselling for these crises. On top of all this, I was trying to cope with the loss of of my home of 32 years. I did not feel that Housing NSW was recognising my vulnerability or supporting me by meeting my housing needs. Instead, I had to keep fighting for my needs to be recognised and to be met.
I signed the Tenancy Agreement for the Ferry Road property in Glebe.
I received the outcome of my appeal. The Committee concluded that the offer of relocation accommodation was unreasonable. The letter also stated that “as the Minogue Crescent offer was on the second floor, it would be inaccessible for Mr Baskerville, and, on that basis Ms Olah’s rejection should be counted as the rejection of an unreasonable offer”. A change of decision by Housing was also recommended based on the fact that “a prior offer of accommodation (in Alexandria) was withdrawn as unreasonable on the basis of accessibility issues for Mr Baskerville, with whom Ms Olah has a close supporting relationship”.
I moved out of my home of 32 years in Dalgety Road. It was a very distressing and traumatic experience. I did not feel that Housing made my move “as easy as” or “as comfortable as possible” at all.
Once I moved, it became obvious that it was very difficult, indeed impossible for Tom to visit me at my new place. So Housing gave Tom some taxi vouchers to use. After that, Tom would come by bus and walk down to my place, but to go home, I would call a taxi for him. Sometimes, he had to wait a long time for a bus from his place. Also, as we found out, there is not much traffic in my street, and hardly any taxis came through. When we called for a taxi, it would take at least half an hour for one to come. It has been especially difficult in this cold weather to organise his visits. His latest departure after his visit was very upsetting. He visited me on 8th July. His previous visit was on 10th May. He had just come out of hospital a few days before, and he wasn’t feeling well at all. He came by bus, but I walked up to meet him, and we walked down together. At the end of his visit, I called a taxi. It was very cold, and we waited outside for half an hour. Then we walked down to the corner, and tried to get a taxi from there. No success, so we walked down to Pyrmont Bridge Road, but even there, we waited about 10 minutes before we managed to get one. All together it took one hour to be able to get a taxi for him. This situation doesn’t make it easy for us to see each other, and we don’t see each other as much as we would like to. Yet it would very important for both us to have more contact, in order to continue our supportive relationship since we both moved.
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.