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The Sirius

There is a building in Sydney within walking distance from the bridge and in the heart of the famous harbour. It was designed by architect Tao Gofers and built in the 1980s as public housing for the working class residents in the area. Called the Sirius building, it comprised 79 apartments ranging from one to four bedrooms and was known for its brutalist architecture.

In 2014, the New South Wales Government made the controversial decision to evict the tenants and sell the building, stating that the estimated $100 million boost to the state coffers from the sale will be put to better use building more affordable housing in Western Sydney.

Three or so years later, most of the residents have been relocated with only one person — who is 90 and legally blind — still living in the building.

The decision to sell Sirius and see its possible demolition, galvanised a community to save it. Unions, architects, the National Trust, the Lord Mayor of Sydney and thousands of others started raising funds to challenge the Government’s decision in court.

It didn’t work. The New South Wales Government put it on the market last week. The new owners will either renovate or demolish it.

I pass the Sirius building often on my walks across the bridge to Circular Quay. It is difficult to miss. I like it. Apart from its unique form, I love the fact that people who are struggling to make ends meet, the poor and near destitute, can find a place in one of the most beautiful and exclusive part of Sydney. The harbour, for the time being, is not a bastion for the wealthy but a place where everyone can call home.

For as long as I can remember, and until the relocation of tenants, one of the windows in the building was covered in foil and displayed one prominent message: One way! Jesus.

The sign comes from John’s gospel, chapter 14, verse 6 where Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

It was said at the time of the last supper. Before Jesus is betrayed and captured by the authorities. He foretells His own death, but takes the time to reassure the disciples as they face the prospect of life without Him.

He tells them He is going before them to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house. He tells them not to worry. He is the way to the Father and will send the Holy Spirit to guide them on their journey to their eternal home.

The sign intrigued commuters and tourists alike for about ten years. And echoed Arthur Stace’s one word chalk scrawling throughout Sydney — Eternity.

However, not all received the sign well. For some neighbours who resented being associated with the overtly Christian message, it was an embarrassment.

Three years ago, the Guardian revealed the man behind the sign — Owen McAloon. He would be in his 60s now. A man who had fallen on hard times and was lucky enough to find public housing when he needed it most.

He was one short step from homelessness, he says, and if it wasn’t for that placement he might not be alive today.

The sign was his way of saying thank you. He believed God put him in that apartment. In return he wanted to pass on God’s message in some way.

It was designed to be a talking point for anyone who saw it. To get them thinking about its meaning.

McAloon was raised Catholic but has no affiliation with organised religion now. Sometimes he would make his way out of his apartment to hand out Christian leaflets, but he didn’t do that often, partly because of the verbal abuse he sometimes received.

I don’t know where he has been relocated. The Government at the time reassured the community that all residents will be rehoused — that no one would be turfed out onto the street. I can only assume he is safe and the unit is empty, because the sign is no longer there.

Via the Daily Prompt: One-Way

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December 2017
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