Waterloo Lives Matter: There Goes Our Neighbourhood

November 19, 2018
We spoke with the filmmakers about the impact documentary that puts a face to the people who will be displaced by the ‘urban renewal’ of Sydney’s iconic inner-city Waterloo Estate.

There Goes Our Neighbourhood is an engrossing one-hour documentary which screens on ABC TV, exploring a community that pushes back against the gentrification happening in their desirable postcode, especially when it is announced that a new building development will mean the demolition of their home and their displacement.

A substantial number of community members rally, instigating a brilliant light art project that will turn what many deem as ugly into something beautiful and shine a light on the issue.

In the process, we the audience, come into contact with many of the voiceless in the community, and start to understand what is at stake here.

The process of moving these people out of their homes is happening right now, so it is timely that There Goes Our Neighbourhood is airing right now on our national broadcaster, and hopefully making a difference to an issue that the NSW Government would prefer to be hushed up.

We spoke with Producer Carolina Sorensen and Director Clare Lewis about the film and the many issues that it raises.

How did you come upon this story?

We have lived in Redfern Waterloo for about 10 years. The announcement of the massive redevelopment project for Waterloo Estate was huge for everyone in and around the public housing community here. The scale of the ‘renewal’ project is unprecedented, and when a place feels under siege and swathes of public land is being sold off to private developers, it’s hard not to take a stand. We connected with other activist groups in the area and came up with the light project as an idea that could make visible a community that often felt overlooked, to get the importance of public housing into the debate, and to celebrate the richness of the people that call this their home, window, by window!

Clare Lewis. Photo by Bob MacIntosh

Did you ever feel that you were part of the problem, and if so why/why not?

We are well aware of the complexity of our role in this neighbourhood and as instigators of this art project and film. When we moved here 10 years ago, we were essentially the first wave of gentrifiers. But we certainly didn’t come here in order to change this area. It’s an age-old story. We moved into an area we could afford that is close to the city, a place to have our families and bring up our kids. We felt immediately connected to our neighbours, the buildings and the nature that persists in spite of all the concrete. We are both honoured to be living in a place with a strong Indigenous presence and a genuinely diverse community, and we are part of it. These are our neighbours. Places do change and evolve, but it’s important for newcomers to be respectful of the people and culture of those who have been there longer than us.

Many join this area with the one-dimensional hope that their investment will bloom, that the demographic will change and that coffee options will grow exponentially – it’s a mentality that sucks the life blood from a place.

Unfortunately, Governments too have become fixated on the land value of Waterloo, and there is a move away from public housing being financially supported or increased by the state. People’s lives and homes have become a budgetary issue that they’re trying to solve with private development. It’s a crying shame that the government no longer sees it as their responsibility to create an equitable city where people that need it are housed and looked after.

Waterloo is now prohibitively expensive, blocking out low-income earners and erasing the possibility of exiting public housing for the private market. The obsession with real estate in this city seems to never burst, and it’s confronting to be living through such unequal times. Legislation to control prices, multihome buying and overseas investment along with significant investment in affordable and public housing, community services and resourcing public schools is really the only way to make the system more fair. We want the diverse spirit of Waterloo to remain intact.

Fiona Mangold in her apartment. Photo by Nic Walker

You captured a certain moment in time with the film. Where are things at now, especially for the main characters?

The process of community consultation as the government powers on with their plan to privatise 70% of the estate and redevelop the 40-acre site is like death by a thousand cuts. The community have endured hundreds of workshops and community sessions, but concrete information about what their future home will look like, and what it will mean to live alongside an extra 7000 people remains foggy. The relocation of some residents will begin in 2019, and they have been told they will be able to remain in the Waterloo area if they wish.

Richard is still involved in the Waterloo Public Housing Action Group, and Mary and Becz are still being wonderful parents to their kids, and working very hard to make ends meet. Jenny Munro will always be a powerful voice for the Indigenous community, as is her daughter, Lorna Munro. Their battle extends to The Block at Redfern where Jenny has always campaigned to have Indigenous families housed before private interests on that significant Aboriginal land that was fought hard for. It will be interesting to see what the State elections in March bring, and we hope that the underlying forces of change are really carefully questioned before bulldozers begin their reimagining of this community.

The film is a classic impact documentary, what do you hope the impact of it will be?

We always hoped to put a human face to the public housing community, and to show what is possible when a community comes together. There are so many misconceptions and prejudices about who lives in public housing, and why. We hope that the film will celebrate the richness of this place, and show that subsidised housing is a vital resource, that should be available to everyone that needs it, not an inconvenient leak on the public purse.

We would love our leaders to be inspired by the characters and their glowing highrise creation, and consider investing far more in housing, to create far more opportunities for affordable housing, to invest far more in the arts and in social services, and to eradicate homelessness.

That would be a good outcome, and entirely within their reach. We also hope that we inspire people to take a stand about the changes.

There Goes Our Neighbourhood will screen on ABC TV at 9.20pm on Tuesday 20th November, 2018

How Far Would You Go To Save Your Home? | There Goes Our Neighbourhood

Residents in Waterloo's public housing estate fought back against development in 2017 with an incredible light show that could be seen across Sydney. #ThereGoesOurNeighbourhood

Posted by ABC Arts on Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Main Image: ‘Towers illuminated’.  Photo by Jessica Hromas.

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