Imagine being so poor you need to rely on the government to keep a roof over your head. Now stop imagining; your government has just sold your home. Upon a hill in the historical suburb, The Rocks, is a purpose built brutalist commission housing apartment building… and everyone has been evicted!
Tallawoladah, the Cadigal name for the area quickly became a slum after the introduction of Britain’s convicts. Nicer parts of Sydney received a lot of valuable investment while The Rocks were left unkempt, becoming the hub of industries too lowbrow for the upper classes. It became a place of debauchery for visiting sailors and Hyde Park convicts to spend after church on Sundays. People living in the areas were in tight living quarters, laneway mazes, extremely poor water and sanitation services. Many new migrants found themselves living in makeshift houses from old shipyards and stables.
Modern development in the area began in the 1900’s. New roads, and a big new bridge destroyed hundreds of homes; because if you’re homeless you might as well live under a bridge. Residents had one silver lining: the development introduced social housing. Sydney had one of the world’s first programs of this kind, enabling low income earners to live in high demand areas, a major challenge in all growing industrial cities.
Since the construction of Sirius, The Rocks has become very gentrified and is now home to fine dining restaurants, pricey Sunday markets and skyrocketing real-estate prices.
“Fitting into” the surrounding area, the architect opted for brutalist terraced design, hinting to the local dwellings in the 1800’s. The terraces also give tenants something special you don’t see in modern apartments: gardens! Every apartment had its own little patch of paradise, which really added to the quality of life for tenants.
Designers decided on white paint, to match the Opera house, but they ran out of money. So it was left in raw concrete grey, true brutalist style!
Housing people displaced by urban development in the 1970’s; Sirius provided inner city housing for low-income earners who provide essential services are filled by people who simply cannot afford to live in the city.
NSW Government put Sirius put up for sale in 2015. Huge public outcry followed. Residents applied for heritage listing to keep the building away from developers; alas, the NSW Government rejected this application.
Architect Tao Gofers makes the point that the city needs a place where low income people can live. He designed the building with quality of life in mind. He consulted tenants throughout the planning process, and each apartment was designed with a specific family in mind. This YouTube video is an interview with Gofers as excitedly recalls his memories of creating Sirius and shows old photos of it in its former glory.
Owen McAloon’s window became world famous with his message of faith. Suffering mental illness, he was eligible for public housing and he moved into apartment 74. Looking out his window, seeing trains and motorists go by, he felt like a goldfish. So one day he decided to put up a big sign: “ONE WAY! JESUS” sending a message to his spiritual guide to help him out of his rut, and sharing his message to anyone that would care to think about it. SOS (Save Our Sirius) in fairy lights appeared in in his next window after the sale was announced. His neighbours joined in with banners of their own.
Myra Demetriou of unit 79 was the last remaining resident. Legally blind and ninety years old, moving to a new house is extremely difficult for her. Very stubbrun and steadfast Myra was the became one of the main faces of the SOS protests. In a TV interview, she sarcastically stated “they want us all dead”.
End of an Era
Government sold Sirius in 2019 to JDH Capital for $150 million under an agreement not to demolish the building. With views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House, the building will be renovate for a higher yielding crowd. The sale will fund future social housing projects. For now, Sirius is here to stay!
Despite plans to keep it, it will no longer be used for it’s noble purposes. It represents the unfortunate trend of housing affordability in major cities.
How to get there
Head to Cumberland Street, just past the Glenmore Hotel. Sydney Bridge Climb is across the road from Sirius. Walking south across the Harbour Bridge, you will see it on the left. If you are in teh market areas of the The Rocks, look up the cliff face. It is not currently accessible to public, so enjoy it from the outside.
Jack Mundey, the BLF and ‘green bans’
Sirius on the Rocks
Sirius People: Myra Demetriou
Sirius People: Owen McAloon: One Way! Jesus
Sirius People: Tao Gofers – Architect of Sirius
Sydney’s iconic Sirius building sold to developers for $150 million