When the towers fall

This article from the Sydney Morning Herald got me thinking, yet again, about the housing changes and redevelopment happening in Redfern/Waterloo. The situation is constantly being redescribed, revised and re-presented. I tried to capture some of my feelings about it in a sequence of poems included in my latest collection – Our Tongues Are Songs.

The sequence opens with four short pieces that look at the towers as they are now, with long term residents being relentlessly pushed out. There’s confusion, discontent and uncertainty.

When the towers fall

Cook and Matavai

Out the window there’s a hole, one yellow crane bends against the sky. Our pasts pour into trucks, somewhere panels are being added to light rail carriages, the timetable to another place is being talked about, transit, anti-graf seats, the inoculation of whir and motion, filtered air. I’m coughing now. I have been for weeks, the paint is peeling from my throat. 

Turanga and Solander

It’s difficult to speak with dust in the air, words struggle to leave us. Mostly we wait in corridors and point. When people aren’t at our door with hammers we talk about the objects designed to make us talk. When notices aren’t taped across hallways, we laugh. When the elevators listen we move through air like a feather falling. 

Marton and Banks

There are six ravens telling us the towers are ready to fall. In the bathroom we gather around empty containers, the plastics of a lifetime, the confected scents of cucumber, its promise to glimmer, rough soap that loses its shape. We gather them and plot restitution. If we leave it will be slowly, four centimetres each year. 

In the second section of the sequence I look at the personal impact of the changes. Here’s an extract from the middle of the poem:

Lunar Retreat

i.

Everything I own waits on the footpath, my window

is cracked. The only name I’m allowed to use is written 

on stickers. I don’t know the writing. All I own 

is less than four squares of pavement. 

In the archway Andrea from the third floor

is slamming the entrance door back on itself, 

with each swing the hinges stretch. The air

burns. I watch her lose energy, there’s only 

space for fear and voices. We’re being 

carried from this place, we walk in small circles 

around everything we own. 

I have no idea where all the plans and promises will end up, how many of the residents will make it back to Redfern/Waterloo…here’s an interesting article from pre-COVID times that looks at public housing and shares some of the stories of people living in the towers.

Image – Aaron Bunch

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