A Celebration of the Glebe Community

On Friday 10 October 2014 a significant number of Glebe Community members gathered at the park on the corner of Catherine St and Mount Vernon St in Glebe to commemorate the acquisition of the Glebe Estate by the Commonwealth of Australia in 1974. Tom Uren, the Minister for Urban and Rural Development in the Whitlam Government, was the driving force behind this significant act and from it flowed the restoration of the Glebe Estate under the urban renewal agenda. A plaque in the park recognises Tom Uren’s contributions.

Those who gathered there on the 10th at the morning tea organised by the Glebe Community Development Project team heard Verity Firth (local Labor candidate), Jamie Parker (state member for Balmain) and Cr Robyn Kemmis (City of Sydney Council) all recognise the importance of the protection of this social housing area. It was recalled how the federal government wanted to avoid the sudden displacement of the population and the disruption to community networks by threatened highway construction through the suburb. The government sought to retain the opportunity for low-income earners, families and aged people to live close to the city as part of the wider community. Another goal was to improve environmental conditions and social conditions of residents of the estate and surrounding area, and to preserve the townscape while sympathetically rehabilitating it.

Forty years on the estate is again showing signs of significant ‘wear and tear’ and depredation by the forces of nature. Leaking roofs, blocked gutters, and collapsing fences are just some of the problems residents encounter. Many residential buildings owned by Land & Housing Corporation NSW, for which tenant management is undertaken by Housing NSW, are in need of significant upgrades. Add to this the selling off of certain properties with the intention of funding new public housing, little of which has eventuated locally, from the proceeds of sales also places significant stress on many of the residents of Glebe, exacerbating people’s insecurities. The speakers all recognised that more needed to be done to maintain and support people and these public properties in the Glebe Estate.

The occasion was also a chance to announce the winners of the Glebe Photo competition, run as an adjunct to the commemoration. The theme, ‘a snap of your view of Glebe community life’ attracted a large number of entries which were judged by local photographer Tom Psomotragos. Winners included Peter Morris, joint winner the Open Category, who said of his work: ‘I took these photos on 25.9.2014 at 9.45 am on the corner of Glebe St and Norton St at the front of the Glebe community shop. The man on the left is Graham and the man on the right is Steven. Both are long time Glebe estate residents, as am I’.

Laura Kozlowski, winner of the youth category explained: ‘The photo is a great reflection of this neighbourhood for me. My boyfriend and I just moved here three months ago and immediately fell in love with its charm and relaxed, alternative. spirit. There is always something new to discover and the great mixture of all kinds of people with interesting life stories makes it fun to browse the streets.’

An exhibition of the key photos from the Glebe Community Photography Competition has been touring Glebe. You can still catch a display of some of the photos at the Pop Up Gallery at the Glebe Library, at the Blackwattle Cafe or on Facebook on the Glebe Community Development Project’s page.

It was most affirming of the strength of the Glebe community to see a diverse range of Glebe residents join in the celebration, so well organised by the Community Development Project team with the generous support and sponsorship of some local businesses such as Galluzo’s and Bakers’ Delight.

A highlight for those present was the appearance of the federal Member for Sydney and Deputy Leader of the Opposition, The Hon Tanya Plibersek. Although her busy schedule prevented her from arriving in time to publicly address those gathered, she chatted with residents and we are reminded that she did state on 6 August, the anniversary of the day the legislation was passed1: ‘Today is the 40th anniversary of the Whitlam Labor Government’s legislation to preserve the Glebe Estate. Tom Uren, the then Minister for Housing and Urban Development, made the principled decision to ensure that public housing would remain in the inner city. This is in stark contrast with the current State Liberal Government and the selling of public housing in Millers Point, changing the face of this community forever. Social and community housing is needed in all parts of Sydney. It is unconscionable that any Government try to uproot an entire community which has existed for generations.’

It is to be hoped that those engaged in managing social housing in Glebe are able to recognise the strength and resilience of the community they serve, evidenced by a grass-roots celebration such as this one has been. There is no doubt that encouragement of the provision of sufficient government support to adequately maintain this important part of the Glebe community will continue to be high up on the agenda of the Glebe Society for the foreseeable future.