Paddi O’Leary was a tenant in social housing at Millers Point and participated in tenant action to reverse the policy of relocation and also supported tenants through the process of relocation. She talked with Paul van Reyk from the Tenants' Union about her relocation from there to Glebe.
I had lived there almost 12 years. I was living up in Byron Bay and my partner got cancer so we lost everything and had to move to Sydney to be close to hospital. After he died I was working and I had an accident so it was just as well we had social housing. I was on WorkCover at first, but I couldn’t walk for almost four years.
My house in Millers Point was on Dalgety Street, a worker’s cottage, one up one down. It was nice; it had a laneway out the back. It was close to everything and there was a park at the end. Everyone got on with everyone. Another resident and I created a lovely garden in the back laneway. There was a nice community feel about it.
I was over in Ireland visiting family and I came back and a friend of mine rang me and said “You’re all going to be evicted.” I said “Don’t be stupid, they can’t do that!” But sure enough, when I got home, there was a letter saying “You are going to be relocated; your house is going to be sold.”
In the beginning I was really shocked. It was a very central location. I could walk everywhere. There was a bus stop just down the road, and the doctor wasn’t too far. But all the services began changing. I didn’t particularly want to go. But the day we had the first tenants’ meeting I said “I will go so that others can stay.” I was very worried especially about the elderly, they were more entrenched, some of them had been there for two generations. We were still thinking they couldn’t move the whole community out.
When the reality hit, I call it “the silent tsunami,” it just swept through the whole community and people were traumatised. I became an advocate for people who were being relocated at Millers Point because of the injustice of their situation.
Watching people moving was quite hard. People having no neighbours anymore, so feeling really isolated and thinking “Well, we may as well go.” It got to where mainly the elderly were left, because they were so entrenched in their community. Then going to the Tribunal was even quite upsetting. Friends would say to me, “Why are you doing all this?” And it’s because I would like to think that if it happens again in the future, someone would fight for me.
I was getting very run down helping a lot of people, so I ended up going across to Ireland where I got very sick and had to stay for several months. When I got back I was still quite unwell. I had said from the start that I would go, but now I really had to go. So I ended up moving last year around Christmas time. The place is great but it feels so much bigger than my other place. It was much hotter during the summer. The house in the Rocks was so cool because it was that older style. I’m not very good in the heat. It’s not my old house, not my original home, but I’ve made it homely. I’m fortunate to have it but then it doesn’t seem fair that we were on the top of the list when there are women fleeing domestic violence, families with kids.
I’ve kept in touch with a lot of the ex-residents because I was so involved with a lot of them. Some are fine, but some are concerned this is going to happen again. I walk around and let residents back at Millers Point know if there is a vacant house and suggest that they should move to Glebe, because a lot of the other ex-tenants have moved here and we could have at least a little bit of a community, still be able to check in with one another, because that was the big thing in all of this, the loss of community. Unless you have had the experience of being in a functioning community you wouldn’t miss it. You can’t create it from outside.