Monday, February 08, 2016

The Great Australian Divide

Sydney – particularly those parts where the richest live – is full of wild beauty. Beaches, harbour coves, houses poking up through native gardens noisy with bird life, and perched on cliffs. According to an AustralianBureau of Statistics report, Sydney has become Australia’s most unequal city, where 11.4% of all income goes to just 1% of residents.

This class of super-rich Australians can be found in Sydney’s CBD, the inner-city areas of Haymarket and the Rocks, and the eastern suburbs Rose Bay, Vaucluse, Watsons Bay, Double Bay and Bellevue Hill – places where more than 22% of all income went to the top 1% of earners.

The cliffs around the eastern beaches of Bronte and Tamarama are favoured eyries for Sydney’s banking and finance community, and high real estate price barriers and a lack of mixed housing means these areas are like gated communities in all but name. You have to go all around the coastline to south Coogee and into Maroubra before you come across any significant pockets of public housing.

In his 2006 book Evil Paradises, Mike Davis edited a selection of essays examining spaces occupied by a super-elite – “phantasmagoric but real places – alternate realities being constructed as ‘utopias’ in a capitalist era unfettered by unions and state regulation. These developments – in cities, deserts and in the middle of the sea – are worlds where consumption and inequality surpass our worst nightmares.”

Think private islands, gated communities, towers rising out of the desert built by workers imported for the task, who sleep in shipping containers. In 2014, public housing in Millers Point was sold. The state government announced the sale of nearly 300 properties and said with the proceeds it would build new homes further out – in Sydney’s south-east and south-west, the Illawarra region and the Blue Mountains. One of the Millers Point homes was auctioned for a record $4.2m.

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