Under Atherton

Kate Milligan interviews residents of Fitzroy’s Atherton Gardens about life in public housing. These three women, representing three generations of the same family, are aged 70, 40 and 29.

October 1, 2007

Their children were playing on the playground equipment as they sat watching and talking. My first question was to ask how long had they been living at Atherton Gardens.

“30 years”, they replied, laughing.

I sat down next to the young woman.

She had been brought up in the flats on the fourteenth floor. She was very friendly and spoke happily about the flats and her childhood there. She told me that the flats had become a different place to the place that she had grown up in. She spoke about the flow of ethnic groups in and out of the flats; the Vietnamese, the ‘Masos’ (Macedonians), the Sudanese. They had slang words for the different nationalities. They described their opinions of the groups and then assured me that neither they, nor the flats, were racist. They spoke of better days, when there was a strong Turkish community which has since dispersed to the suburbs. The young woman remembered school camps that she went on with the Turkish community that she would not have been able to afford otherwise.

I asked the woman what the apartments were like. They were all satisfied. They raved about the beautiful newly renovated apartments. Their only complaint was that the kitchen was not separate from the living room.

During this conversation a man came up to us and asked us if we wanted to buy some clothes. He had a bag from Dangerfield. The young woman said that that sort of thing happens all the time. When I asked if she felt threatened she proudly replied no. She spoke of being fortunate to have a grasp on reality. She said she had seen people shooting up, and a dead body of someone who had jumped from the original balconies at Atherton Gardens that have since been enclosed. Her position was to not judge, but to simply get on with her life and let them get along with theirs because they feel enough shame without people staring at them.

Kate Milligan

Kate Milligan is an architect based in Zurich, Switzerland. She is a foundation editor of POST Magazine.

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