ExhibitionsReview

Waterloo – revealing portraits

These beautiful photographic prints by Fiona Wolf-Symeonides are well worth a look, not only for the happy mood of the Waterloo residents that the 20 portraits convey but also for the informative comments beneath, which provide a brief introduction to aspects of past and present life on the Waterloo public housing estate.

Group photo of Wednesday community lunch organisers and volunteers Gerard, Russell, Linda, Maria, Veronica in kitchen, June 2017, Raglan Street, Waterloo, 2017 Photo: Fiona Wolf-Symeonides

The residents that Wolf-Symeonides has photographed and interviewed – mostly older and long-established – indicate that their lives are satisfactory and rewarding. From their comments, they clearly enjoy the community feeling which is as strong as ever with improved maintenance and efficient human services resulting in a safe and secure environment.

The dark days of violence and criminality mostly related to illegal drugs are pretty much over and the dislocations associated with the looming development of the estate are yet to come. This exhibition of Here and Now documents a calm before the storm.

The exhibition reveals that the estate encompasses the many brick walk-ups (which may be the first to go) and the innovative Dobell and Drysdale buildings designed by Tao Gofers, who was also responsible for the intelligently conceived but ill-fated Sirius building in The Rocks.

However, it is residents of the iconic Matavai and Turanga towers who feature prominently. The towers have dominated Waterloo ever since the estate was officially opened by the Queen in 1977. Well-constructed, the towers and the four lesser high-rises situated around Waterloo Green with its big trees, flocks of birds and mown lawns were state of the art for their time and are regarded with affection by the small cross-section who appear in these affectionate photographs.

As far as the NSW government is concerned, the estate, as a publicly owned inner-city asset, is under-performing, and redevelopment is about value-capture as well as better social housing. The much-used and well-loved open space that is the Green can no longer be afforded, I have been told. That may well also apply to the community gardens associated with the high-rises.

The redevelopment is a massive 15-20 year project for which the planning is only now coming to fruition, two-and-a-half years since its first dramatic announcement in December 2015 (by Brad Hazzard, then Minister for Social Housing), which caught the residents of Waterloo by surprise. There was fear and anger at the lack of transparency; resident action groups sprang up almost immediately, and to deal with this, perhaps in apology, there has been considerable government consultation about what the community would like to see in the new Waterloo, particularly given the fact that social housing will occupy only a third of the 19 hectares of the future estate.

Sounds like parklets and fewer rainbow lorikeets to me. Nevertheless, I am ever an optimist, intending to be around when the future Waterloo emerges.

The Waterloo Redevelopment Visioning Report is now available.

Waterloo Here and Now, an exhibition of photographs by Fiona Wolf-Symeonides, NSW State Library, until June 17.

Jim Anderson is an elderly resident of James Cook building on the Waterloo Estate.

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