Melbourne is not alone in a having high rise housing commission towers. They can be found in Sydney, UK and I expect USA. To define them, publicly owned high rise apartment buildings for the poorer among us. Almost without exception, they have not been successful. They became shabby boxes full of people with social, poverty and drug problems, the elderly, single mothers and recent immigrants. That is a generalisation of course, but a fair call.
Now with residents' action groups, residents' social groups and community gardens and some decent money spent on maintenance, they are probably in a better state and a more cohesive community now than they ever have been.
So what was there before the towers were built?
I knew that the towers were on land cleared of slums. My brain told me that it probably wasn't a bad thing, but my heart remembered seeing photos of urchins happily playing in putrid back lanes. So often those with the least are the happiest.
Fitzroy is a special case. It was the poorest of poor suburbs with the lowest standard of housing. In the early seventies, my grandparents refused to go, or did eventually go with much cajoling, to their niece's wedding. She was marrying an Eye-talian and the wedding was to be in Fitzroy. So although the slums were long gone, the prejudice continued to survive.
One case mentioned in the podcast below, was of a woman who received slum clearance notice to quit in 1956. She did not leave until the wreckers were upon her doorstep in about 1965. She saw her neighbours move on, the cohesive community she knew disintegrate, her family move away and the area she knew become like a bomb site as houses around her were demolished.
She lived with this hanging over her head for nearly a decade before moving to a new housing commission flat in Richmond. She now had running hot water and modern conveniences and she hated it. Her kids went bad, her washing was stolen from the communal laundry and her walls dripped with condensation. She longed to be back in her Fitzroy slum.
So take some time out to listen to Dirty Old Town, a wonderful podcast by the ABC Radio National Hindsight team. I can't recall, but if someone sent me the link to this story, thanks.