Sirius backers’ bid to save iconic building

Myra Demetriou in her home — Sirius — which the NSW government is selling off.

About 200 supporters of the iconic Sirius building gathered in its courtyard on January 27 to farewell the last remaining resident of the public housing block, 91-year-old Myra Demetriou who had lived in the building since 2008.

The Coalition state government decided in 2014 to sell Sirius as part of its program to sell off all the public housing properties in the Millers Point and Rocks inner-city areas.

Shaun Carter, chairperson of the Save Our Sirius Foundation, introduced Demetriou as “the face of our campaign, the voice of our campaign”.

Architects have joined with community activists in demanding the government preserve Sirius, which was built in the late 1970s to house low-income residents in the aftermath of the NSW Builders Labourers Federation Green Bans campaign which saved large parts of Sydney’s urban heritage.

The former residents of Sirius, mostly elderly and infirm, have been gradually removed from the building, and relocated to other public housing areas. Like the residents of nearby Millers Point, they have been evicted, their community broken up, and they have been forced to live in suburbs away from their friends and family. 

If the government succeeds in selling Sirius to private developers, it will probably be demolished for expensive high-rise apartments. This would continue the Gladys Berejiklian government's plan to drive low-income residents out of the inner city and gentrify the entire area.

Carter announced that Save Our Sirius was planning to gather funding to put in a bid to buy the building and preserve it long-term. The group plans to employ the original architect, Tao Gofers, for its restoration and to “keep large chunks” as low-cost housing.

“The government wants $100 million for this building”, Carter said. “We think that’s too much, but we’ll pay [it].” The foundation is seeking funding from supportive investors/donors for the project.

Speakers at the gathering, including Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore and federal and state politicians, praised the building’s “brutalist” architectural values and expressed support for the maintenance of affordable housing in central Sydney.

Moore condemned the state government’s “ideologically driven” decision on the building: “Sirius will continue to be a symbol of the state government’s shocking inaction on providing affordable housing,” she said.

Demetriou summed the situation up in a video posted by SOS: “Can you imagine moving at the age of 91? It’s ridiculous.

“It’s ridiculous not to have social housing in the middle of the city. We'd be the laughing stock of the world, because every other great city in the world has social housing — London, New York, you name it, they’ve got it,” she said.

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