Friday, August 28, 2009

Slum Clearance, Recommended Listening

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.


  1. Anonymous11:28 am

    Thank you for that piece - an everyday life with interesting bits. Ditto trains (now, home made working steam engines, thats different!)As someone who has just figured out how to use an IPOD, will get the podcast you mention and have a listen. (My sister gave it to me 2 birthdays ago, its been sitting there, making "hahaha I am new technology so dont touch me and bugger off"..) My 13yo granddaughter got one, so it turned into a battle of logical thinking (me) versus stuffing around (her). God knows what shes done to the PC - probably introduced the computer equivalent of the Black Death into it. No "safe surfing" for her. I think I won, at least I have heaps of music now. Fuck - need to upgrade the car radio thingy with something that has external audio input ....and a CD player......

  2. There were written accounts of people who lived through the slum clearances up to 1956 - tidying things up for the Olympics of course - in the Melb Museum next to the archaeological finds of the Little Lons archaeological dig. Don't know where the accounts are now, if they're in the Melb Gallery at all, but they were from a first-hand point of view of the slums being home, a home that was all these people knew, things were clean inside each place, it was just the outside that was ugly (somewhat akin to India's slums today) and the heartbreak at being told to move by a Govt who didn't give a fat rat's clacker about them until the international media were about to be focused on the city made 'em do something radical.

  3. Oh, and there is/was an actual clay model of the 'slum' buildings that were once there.

  4. Thanks Michael. Teenagers' skill with electronics is much overrated. More likely to bugger things up.

    Pretty much how I understood it Jayne. Your home, modest or grand, is your home. Your castle. No one should take it away. Last time I was at the museum, I did not see that display, and I covered the whole place well.

  5. Roehampton, where I lived in the UK, was once the biggest council housing estate in Europe. It was meant to be some new and exciting way of doing housing estates, but I don't think it worked out in the end.

    Thankfully I didn't have to live in them as I was boarding at the Uni. I happen to know that the crime rates in these estates was massive (I worked for the crime prevention squad at the local council for a summer job). I bet they all had lovely views of Richmond Park :)


    ooh lookie I found a wiki! And learned some things too. I always wondered why Roehampton was such a weird mix of council houses and rich snobbery!

  7. Interesting Fenz. Not sure about London, but in the north of England, they are all coming down.


Democracy is all very well, but why give it to the people? - Audrey Forbes-Hamilton.