COMMENT BY JIM ANDERSON
I have to confess to being a late convert to the SOS (Save Our Sirius) cause, but on a hot January day last week, I found myself taking a walk up from Circular Quay to have my first close look at the building in question.
It was practically love at first sight and I can say now that Sirius, intelligently designed and constructed as it is, occupies its commanding site at the top of The Rocks like a tiara.
If our increasingly Askin-infused NSW government allows it to remain, Sydney will be forever richer for its presence, as we are with The Rocks as a whole, and into the fabric of which the Sirius building fits like a sculptural glove.
Completed in1980, and controversial even then, it has become recognized, over the years, as a timeless piece of Brutalist architecture.
Fashioned in that style out of quality raw concrete (that would have been whiter if the budget had permitted), its unique modular exterior and colourful interiors are all finely finished and guaranteed to last.
Sirius is a serious building, was much loved by its now exiled inhabitants, deserves to remain for a long time to come and should be allowed to do so.
Demolition is an insult to Tao Gofers, the original architect, and any such action will be cultural vandalism of the highest order.
I highly recommend a look at the book, Sirius, published last year and dedicated to Jack and Judy Mundey who were instrumental in the saving of The Rocks itself from misguided profit at any cost developers these many years ago now.
I mentioned ‘Green bans’ in a post on Facebook recently and got a response as follows, “457 visas will get around that, comrade.” Nevertheless, there is no doubt that there will be resistance by every civilised means possible.
The illuminating and fully-booked Saturday tour I took with 90 others was courtesy of the Historic Houses Association and probably the last of their tours, as Myra Demetriou, the sole remaining Sirius tenant and staunch activist to the end, has finally been found accommodation nearby – suitable and satisfactory for a legally-blind, 90-year-old woman.
A For Sale sign went up a few months ago outside the Cumberland Street frontage and with talk in the air of wrecking balls as early as mid-2018, the situation for the myriads that oppose the sale and any demolition has reached critical mass. As mentioned above, there’s going to be a huge fight to save it.
The cyclone wire now festooning much of the exterior restricted my tour of Sirius, and the only reason we were able to view the interior at all was to sign in as guests of Myra, up on the 10th floor.
Security was ever-present and we were quickly ushered through the foyer and into the lift. No chance at all to view the spacious Phillip and Heritage Rooms, nor any of the fine finishes the building boasts.
To quote from the book Sirius, “…when Tao Gofers the architect began designing the interiors …he was not influenced by the idea that public housing tenants do not deserve quality housing. Therefore Sirius was available to develop as a utopian glimpse of what public housing could be. When talking to others who knew or worked with Tao, one word often used is ‘egalitarian’ Sirius was a space where tenants did not feel pigeonholed by class, where the homes they were given, made them feel equal.”
I was informed that Social Housing Minister Pru Goward, after her first ever viewing of Sirius last year, imposed the many restrictions, probably to tamp down protesters’ enthusiasm for retention.
As part of our tour, a couple of the ground-level courtyards were made available, and Tao Gofers, and John Dunn, Ben Peake and Amiera Piscopo who wrote/designed the book Sirius, all spoke passionately about the history of the building and their hopes for its future.
It seems that Premier Berejilkian and her ministers are unmoved neither by these hopes nor by the history and culture associated with the building.
They are moved entirely by short-term profits and privatisations.
It’s hard to put much faith in their argument that the money they will make from the sale will enable the building of homes for 60,000 people.
In this regard it might be worth noting that with the ongoing redevelopment of the 19 hectare site of the Waterloo Estate, they have promised even more public housing after the scheduled demolitions, but that ‘more’ will be crowded into 1/3 of the 19 hectares, the other 2/3 being privatised for luxury and ‘affordable’ housing, whatever that means.
Lil’ ole working class Waterloo is now prime inner-city real estate and ripe for the picking. “We can’t afford the trees and the open spaces you have now,” I was shocked to hear recently from a woman who works for Family and Community Services.
Minister for the Environment, Gabrielle Upton, in October 2017 said that Sirius was not worthy of heritage protection as envisioned in the original design.
In reaching her decision she took the advice of a private consultant instead of that of independent bodies like her own NSW Heritage Council, not to mention NSW Chapter of Australian Institute of Architects, The National Trust and other bodies who all believe that Sirius should be on the State Heritage Register and neither sold nor demolished.
Sage advice, which goes beyond the political cycles of one government to the next…
Gabrielle Upton’s calculated remarks were clearly in line with Her Mistress’s Voice (and former Premier Mike Baird’s thoughtless bubbles) when she admitted that the design and look of Sirius was distinctive but not distinctive enough for Heritage Listing.
She went on, warming to her disparaging tone, “not a building which has had any influence on housing matters since, either local or international. “
Palpably untrue, I have to say.
In response, and with Joni Mitchell’s ever-prescient words about paving paradise and putting up a parking lot, I suggest Premier Berejilkian read the Sirius book.
She should take note of the considerable evidence for a civilised retention, and so informed, rise above, and be proud of the Sirius building, and be ashamed of the money-grubbing thinking and decision-making that has led to the passionate public opposition to sale and demolition.
It’s not too late.
[Jim Anderson is a photo-artist and novelist (Billarooby and Chipman’s African Adventure – Valentine Press) and a presence on Facebook as a commentator and indefatigable Liker. Many years ago he was art editor of London Oz and was briefly, with Richard Neville and Felix Dennis, sent to jail for their School Kids OZ 28 with its unforgettable ’naked blue lesbians’ cover.]