Lara Week – Theatremaker and Babysitter
From 1951 Techno Park was home to generations of migrants and refugees, known first as the Williamstown Migrant Hostel, then Altona, and then Wiltona. Today it is a mix of about 100 small brick flats, a few warehouses, and some self-storage.
A community continues to live here safely, nurturing many disadvantaged and vulnerable people.
In May, without warning, Hobsons Bay City Council sent letters to every address telling people to leave their homes immediately or face legal action.
They say the zone is industrial and that people cannot live here. But the community exists because the council has allowed people to live here for decades. Now they say the tank farm next door makes Techno Park unsafe for homes. But the tanks and homes have stood side by side since 1951. Now the Altona refinery is closed and Mobil says the tanks are empty.
Why now, in the middle of a housing crisis, is the council trying to evict people from their homes? And why such a brutal approach, which any person must have known was guaranteed to cause desperation and distress?
I recently learned that in 1975, Techno Park was home to over 100 refugees from Cyclone Tracy in Darwin. Having promised safe haven for at least 12 months, the federal government suddenly told residents they had to leave.
Like today, the order meant the community would be split up, children would be forced from their schools, and many weary people would have their lives upended once again.
The residents refused to go. ‘We are all going to sit tight.’ The government backed down.
Helen Sinnema – Retired
‘I was living up in Gippsland, where I had a farm. And I was so unwell that I couldn’t do anything on the farm. I decided that I would rather live in Melbourne again. I bought this place, thinking that it would be okay because it was sold by a reputable real estate agent.
It’s quiet here. There are nice neighbours. It’s close to everything. It’s a good community here. John (one of the owners) is a philanthropist really. He’s allowed people to live there with a reasonable rent and is a very decent human being.
I’ve volunteered for Meals on Wheels, but I’ve been so ill here. I was being told by the physios that I’d have to walk with a wheelchair walker the rest of my life. Six months ago, I had a terrible fall, in which I fractured my skull. And I went into hospital … and they found I had fluid on the brain. I have to wear a shunt on the outside of my skull under my skin and then a catheter drains down here and into my body.
It was just devastating. We were meant to ring up (name withheld), and he seemed to be almost with glee saying, ‘Oh, well, for our purposes, we consider you to be a resident and you can be evicted like the rest of them.’
I’ve got two sons, so I’d have to rely on them to look after me. Yeah, I don’t know.’
Rochelle – Hairdresser in training
‘I’d been escaping family violence. It was about three months I was searching. And I found this place on realestate.com. It was in the residential lease section. I love living here. This is the penthouse to me, I love this apartment, And I feel comfortable because the landlords are here, their offices are right underneath. I call it the oasis.
I happened to be home this day. I’d had a morning with Centrelink, which is always fun. And then I got this notice. I thought it was a hoax. I think everybody received it in the same way … it was just flipped under the door.
I thought I’m gonna have to go around this merry-go-round again. Yeah, it was a real kick in the guts. I know how difficult it is to find affordable housing. Weekly expenses are going to be really difficult. Yeah, it really hit me in the guts, because I’ve got a cat and that’s the only family I’ve got left. I had my life literally ripped from under me. It’s been a battle since then .. to try and see nice things out there.
I try and say to myself, I don’t mind what suburb I live in. I don’t know. I’m on public transport because I don’t drive. But that doesn’t mean that I’m willingly going to give this place up. So yeah. That’s it. Let’s see.’
Arnie – Retired
‘I saw it advertised on Domain. I was desperate. I was staying at a friend’s house. I’d been made redundant. I’ve probably been here the longest on this block. We’ve had a few odd characters that didn’t fit in. The ones that stayed on, are people who’ve fitted in … just want to get on.
I know the people in this block. There’s Greg, a unique guy downstairs. Tim’s a truck driver. Vince who’s Maltese and Nina is Filipino, they’re retired. So it’s all sorts here.
The thing about this eviction notice is … I feel like I’ve been attacked. I mean, the last few years have just been solid attack, attack, attack. I’m suddenly worn out. It’s like we’re just solidly under attack all the time.
It comes up on the news, there’s a housing crisis. So what do they do? Send a letter saying we’re going to evict you all.
Maybe that’s what’s caused the housing crisis, you know, because there’s a few other Councils have done that.
I really can’t see that they could force us out because there’s 100 people here, at least 100. So it would take 200 policemen … to come and throw people out. And then what are they gonna do? Put you on the street? You’ve got the keys, just go back in.’
John O’Hagan – Lawyer
‘We bought back in 2017. It was advertised in the residential section of realestate.com. At the time, we were really struggling financially. I was studying and Laura (partner) didn’t have work rights yet. So the whole family was basically living on Austudy. Emilia and Leticia were like, four and one, so we just went with the cheap. You feel really safe here. The kids go to the local schools.
I can’t even describe the feeling of reading that eviction notice. As soon as I saw the heading, I just felt sick. It’s like the ground’s been pulled out from underneath you. I took the rest of the day off work and obviously my partner was super upset. We kept it from the kids for quite a while and gradually introduced it to them. That was pretty hard.
It’s a bit of a kick in the guts. Because I’m 61. Are we going to start a whole 30-year mortgage in the current climate? I don’t think so. The worst case we’ll be back to renting. I’m working full time and my wife’s got a part-time job as a librarian at Melbourne Uni and we can’t get a loan. They won’t lend us money against this place because it’s industrial now.
I don’t know. I have no idea. Our strategy is to stay and look for a permanent solution. I mean, they’re not going to be coming, dragging people out now in the foreseeable future.’
All photos: Justyn Koh