Tom Williams  |  Neighbourhood (2004-present)

The twin Department of Housing towers in Waterloo, Matavai and Turanga, are not skyscrapers but emerge into visibility throughout central and southern Sydney as skyscrapers would.  I had lived nearby for some time and often tried to picture who might live behind the imposing cement veneers.  You would see a mix of people when you traveled through the small parkland they stand on: Aboriginal families, groups of pacific islanders, elderly men and women from a broad range of birthplaces who had lived in one of the highrises since they were built in the 1970s.  Many more ageing tower blocks are distributed between here and Poet’s Corner in Redfern, surrounded by smaller red brick abodes, most of which were owned by the Navy before being transferred to Housing.  This place is a central one for the Aboriginal communities of the metropolis although uncountable paths have also led here from around the world.

I first came here with a camera in 2004, the day after a newspaper ran a cover story leaking a government plan to demolish the towers and all the other high density public housing and Redfern and Waterloo.  There were some demonstrations and I wanted to take some pictures and, more importantly, ask people what they thought of living in the area.  Many said they were happy, even those who lived alone in tiny flats:  they loved their nearby friends and their million dollar views (precisely the Sydney-postcard aspects developers were ravenous to acquire).  Others were anxious to get out and spoke of drugs, alcohol, violence and abuse.  “I don’t want my kids to grow up here, it’s not safe,” was a repeated phrase.  By chance, the first person whose picture I took on that first day in 2004 was an Aboriginal mother of six.  Nine years later we keep in touch and I still photograph the growing family as it evolves. 

These photographs have emerged through personal odyssey and chance more than investigative rigour or careful planning.   Plans often give way to chance in a place where web connection has been rare and telephone ownership not a given.

I’ve spent a long time in these buildings and with this project partly because I get wrapped up in hearing peoples’ stories:  escapes from Eastern Bloc countries during the cold war; journeys through addiction, then prison, then recovery (or relapse); involuntary relocation, toddlers in tow over Christmas, destination unknown.  Such stories can be found in many places but not often so densely packed within one city block or one neighbourhood.


Archival pigment prints (61 x 61cm square, 40.6 x 61cm others)