Late last year, the Sirius building again lost its bid for heritage protection. And again, the Save Our Sirius (SOS) foundation – the primary grassroots organisation fighting for the building’s survival – has, in response, taken up arms against the government to keep the Brutalist icon standing.
As the latest initiative in their perennial campaigning, SOS has released a YouTube series called Sirius People – an attempt to raise awareness around the human scale of the building through in-depth and personal interviews with some of the building’s mainstay characters.
For one of the series’ first episodes, SOS procured Sirius architect, Tao Gofers, to speak about the building’s history. Initially emerging against the fraught backdrop of the 1970s Green Ban movement, Sirius’ past is inextricably rooted in the Millers Point community, at whose centre it remains today. In the video, Gofers reiterates the deep benevolence that lay behind Sirius’ creation, as a social housing fortress that delivered an unprecedented level of diversity and centrality to the city.
In the video, Gofers dives into the back-and-forth of the initial proposal for Sirius, which was drafted in collaboration with Jack Burke, then chairman of the NSW Housing Commission.
“We wanted a mix of one, two and three bedrooms,” says Gofers. “If you do that usually, you get a stack. [The famous stepped profile] allowed us to do it ‘randomly’, as you might say.
“[Burke and I] thought, ‘What we need to do is get a really nice perspective’. We went to [one of the original meetings with a perspective drawn up of] fourteen Victorian terraces. The Resident’s Action Committee actually thought this was fantastic! Because the Premier’s Department had said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding! Fourteen units on a site? It’ll cost half a million dollars in land value alone!’.
“They didn’t like that, so then what I did is, I brought the tower [concept] in – 170 units – [and] the Premier’s Department loved it. But the Resident’s Action Committee said, ‘No way’. Well, look, we basically agreed that neither extreme is okay, so [we said], ‘Why don’t we put something around 90 units?’. So we out three housing commission flats – well, they liked the numbers, but they didn’t like the flats. Then I brought out the [final] proposal: beautiful perspective, nice little model, and hey!, the laydown was there.”
In another episode of the series, which currently comprises five videos, SOS talks with Myra Demetriou, one of the last standing residents to have evaded the government’s eviction attempts. In this video, Demetriou strings together stories from her decades-long history in the building, all of which are steeped in the broader community that has emerged within and around Sirius.
“It’s ridiculous not to have social housing in the middle of the city,” Demetriou opines. “We’ll be the laughing stock of the world because every other great city in the world has social housing. New York, London – you name it, they’ve got it.”
“Forty years ago they tried to destroy the community, and now they’re doing it again,” adds Gofers in a similar vein. “I know I talk about Sirius, but it’s just a small part of this community. I believe they’re destroying it because they’re jealous; because they believe in ‘the divine right of the rich’. But it’s stupid because a lot of the people here are what I’d call medium to low incomes. They work in jobs that you or I might not want to do. And the city needs these people; it needs its service people relatively close.”
The Sirius People series is available to watch in full here.