Millers Point Three Years On

In 2012 I wrote a story about Millers Point and mentioned the threats to the community from the surrounding developments and the government’s proposed sale of public housing. Last year it was made official, the houses would be sold and since then residents have been fighting to stay in their homes and keep their community together.

MP Protest 1

It’s almost three years since I wrote about Millers Point, and High Street has a very different atmosphere. It has changed from one of peaceful community to one of struggle. Banners are hung over balconies, spray painted onto sheets in stencil letters: Millers Point Not 4 Sale; Say No to the Total Sell Off of Public Assets. The street has a stripped feeling, some of the houses already empty, others clinging on.

The building site beneath High Street is busy as the Barangaroo project continues. The construction site makes a mechanical churning, digestive kind of noise, and I imagine this is the sound of it chewing up the past. Already the shape of the land below has been altered from the straight lines of the wharves. Now the curved shoreline is a neatly curated return to a past shape, based on an 1836 map. Blocks of sandstone, each labelled with a barcode for correct placement, have been assembled at the water’s edge. A larger sandstone block than the others has been unveiled on the point, renaming it Barangaroo Point.

Barangaroo Point

Image from the Barangaroo website.

Millers Point is facing disappearance. Some of the houses are now empty, their windows blank and curtainless, the residents moved elsewhere. Other residents are fighting, their houses hung with handmade signs: No One wanted to be here when I came here over 30 years ago, so now should I have to go? Some Millers Point residents have lived here for three or even five generations, and all speak with sadness and anger at the loss of their community. Many are elderly and have been fighting to stay in homes where they have lived for much of their life. Most recently, a petition for Mary Vo to stay in her home for the last few years of her life has been collecting signatures.

The state government says the houses must be sold for reinvestment in the public housing system, although how exactly the money will be invested hasn’t been revealed. The houses are being gradually auctioned anyway, and continual pressure is being put on those remaining in their homes to relocate. People fear that Wooloomooloo will be next, then Glebe, until all the city’s social housing has disappeared.

A 1960s plan for Woolloomooloo. From "Sydney 1842-1992" by Shirley Fitzgerald.

A 1960s plan for Woolloomooloo. From “Sydney 1842-1992” by Shirley Fitzgerald.

Last year, just after the announcement the houses would be sold, I went to Millers Point one afternoon and spoke to the industrial heritage artist Jane Bennett who was painting the High Street vista, her easel set up near the fence. I looked through her folder of previous work, paintings of industrial landscapes that have disappeared, most of them around the harbour. It was late afternoon and a soft, sunset light was cast over the street. I watched for a little while as she painted and we talked about the Harbour Control Tower at the end of the street, where she was an artist in residence for more than a decade. Now the tower is owned by the Barangaroo corporation and will be demolished. (See Jane’s paintings of Millers Point, and read about her involvement with the suburb here.)

MP Jane BennettThe scene Jane was painting that day, the houses in the lush afternoon light, has already changed. Construction seems to bear down upon it from all sides, Barangaroo down below, roadworks. Last June I went on the tour of the development. Like all the other visitors I was given a branded water bottle, cap and tote bag as I entered and then spent time trekking around the construction zone, asking the same questions everyone else seemed to be asking: what’s going to happen to the tower, and where had the fire been? The barcoded sandstone and reptile petting zoo was meant to distract me, but it didn’t, or at least not in the right way. My eyes drifted to the streets above, and the banners hung over the railing. I didn’t want the carefully arranged development, the park where I could go down to actually touch the harbour water, if I had to look at the rows of Millers Point houses glossed up and made into exclusive residences.

Millers Point Banners 2 Walking around Millers Point in 2015, I have a grim feeling. For as long as I have known it the suburb has been a gentle place in the city, small, old houses, with miscellaneous window decorations, and always people around, leaning over their front fences, chatting. It was out of step with the cut-throat city surrounding it, and that made it precious.

High Street MP

On Kent Street one house has on its front wall a carefully assembled collection of laminated A4 posters of heroes and villains: Cat memes next to Tony Abbott, Johnny Rotten next to Margaret Thatcher, Clover Moore next to John Howard, amid a storm of laminated monopoly money.

MP Collage

MP Collage 2

The protests continue. Follow their progress at the Millers Point Community, which has resident’s stories, history and links to other resources. There are also a number of facebook groups, including Save Our Homes.

MP Houses 1

5 Comments on “Millers Point Three Years On”

  1. dawesleigh says:

    Thanks for a thoughtful article on Millers Point. Hopefully Premier Baird will at least compromise and stop the evictions of elderly and vulnerable people who have lived in Millers Point for most of their lives. The State Government has concentrated on the valuable and expensive-to-fix 19th-century houses of Millers Point. Perhaps he can allow public housing to continue in the High Street flats and other less valuable workers’ flats built in the 20th century. Here is a link to the history of High Street and those workers’ flats …
    I will look for your earlier article on High Street. Maybe you could include a link in your story.

  2. suzanne (@suzanne2222) says:

    Bravo Vanessa. Great article showing how the soul of Sydney continues to be stripped away being replaced by expensive bricks and glass. Have you seen what they did to the back of The Pallisades Hotel. Bloody awful.

  3. Jane Bennett says:

    Thanks Vanessa! My blog post about painting High St, the eviction of the residents of Millers Point & the malign influence of Barangaroo:
    I’ve also been painting the protest banners & T shirts.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks for the link Jane – I love your work and it was a pleasure to talk to you that day in Millers Point. I’ll put the link up in the body of the article too.

      • Swetik Korzeniewski says:

        It seems there are no limits to the extent to which political parties are willing to sell of our, the citizens assets to the corporate and development sector. On the hit list, the Sandstones in Bridge Street, irreplaceable cultural and architectural assets to be sold off for a “Boutique Hotel”. And now the Power House Museum! Almost unimaginable in a civilized city, but in Sydney, social and cultural capital and the public domain mean nothing under the assault of the development lobby.

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