Point of no return for one of the city's most historic spots

Point of no return for one of the city's most historic spots

(by Clover Moore and Alex Greenwich, 20 March 2014, Sydney Morning Herald)

Millers Point is almost as old as Sydney. For 189 years, it has been a living example of Australia's distinctive egalitarianism - a close, socially mixed community on the harbourside. To think public housing properties here will be sold to raise revenue for the O'Farrell government is devastating.

In 2003, Millers Point was listed on the State Heritage Register as ''a living cultural landscape''. Housing NSW's conservation management guidelines of 2007 rightly state Millers Point is ''a priceless asset of the people of NSW and Australia''.

Many residents in the neighbourhood have connections that go back generations. They can talk vividly about Sydney's history as a working harbour. They have an irreplaceable connection to their local neighbourhood.

Called Ta-Ra by its first inhabitants, the Gadigal people, Millers Point was named after windmills built in the hills and their owner John Leighton, also known as Jack the Miller.

By the 1850s, Millers Point was a maritime enclave with almost all its residents and employers connected to the wharves and the trade they brought.

In 1900, after an outbreak of the bubonic plague, the government took control of all the wharves and streets behind them to start a massive redevelopment project. This period produced some of Sydney's greatest public works - the wharves from Woolloomooloo to White Bay and the Harbour Bridge.

Intact throughout the plague, the depression and war, the community at Millers Point was threatened in the 1970s when the Askin government tried to push high-rise development in the area.

Jack Mundey and the Green ban movement of the early 1970s, saved many of the oldest buildings in the area, as well as parks and open spaces. This fight was not just about protecting old buildings; it was also about protecting the area's low-income residents.

In 2008, the former NSW Labor government sounded the death knell for Millers Point when it began selling off 99-year leases for social housing homes and letting other properties fall into neglect.

Millers Point has yet to see any of the revenue generated by those sales reinvested in the local area.

On Wednesday, the NSW Liberal government struck the final blow for the strong and proud community of Millers Point.

Nearly 300 homes will be sold and over 400 people will be forced out of their homes and their community. Residents with connections to the area going back 189 years will be forced to leave.

The government's decision to sell the Millers Point social-housing estate is also a threat to other inner-city social housing, in areas like Glebe or Woolloomooloo, where people also live in 19th-century homes.

While 55,000 people are on the wait-list for social-housing homes in NSW, with waiting times of anywhere between two to 10 years, neglected houses in Millers Point have been allowed to sit empty. Tenants call this ''eviction by neglect''.

This government, like the one before, has proved it will sell people's homes, shunting the poor aside to make way for the new rich. Sydney deserves better than this.

This is the community that built much of Sydney - it doesn't deserve to be tossed out of its home because its pockets aren't deep enough.

Let's work together to celebrate and protect our great city!