The Flats - Part 1. (Day 9)

Patrick JC.

11 months ago by PatrickJC

How ya’ going? I’ve always found myself in unfamiliar situations among incredibly interesting people from all walks of life. In fact, I usually tend to seek them out.

It may be my innate curiosity in anthropology, or human experiences that differ to my own. It may be my occasional impulsive personality or young risk-seeking behaviour. Whatever it is, I land myself in situations (sometimes dangerous) in which I learn a lot about life, privilege and society.

One small story I’d like to share begins in the evening streets of Collingwood, a trendy inner-city suburb of Melbourne. This suburb holds many of the city’s bars and nightlife. After watching a gig and saying goodbye to mates, I began heading home. On the way I bumped into two older guys, they looked quite dishevelled but welcoming.

We got talking, one bloke mentioned he came here from Sudan recently and lives in the housing commission flats down the road. The other was an indigenous Australian in his 50s, he stated he was homeless and often stayed with his friend in the flats. We spoke for some time; they came across as decent people.

I was offered to head over to the flat for a drink, I haphazardly accepted. We went down some back alleys and detoured to a separate block of flats. I was cautious, careful not to be ambushed or robbed. I considered stashing any valuables, but I continued with my gut instinct.

The Sudanese man explained he needed to see another mate, we entered what looked like a bike shed. Inside, around a dozen other Sudanese men were lying on mattresses above a concrete floor, likely passed out from alcohol as empty bottles surrounded the area. He woke one up, exchanged greetings and introduced me. This bloke didn’t seem much older than me, and although drunk, was quite collected and articulate.

The four of us continued to the flat as we talked about our lives. We arrived at an old, dilapidated building, with stainless steel elevators leading up to their floor. I entered to what I could only describe as a highly neglected home. The surface of the living room and kitchen was not visible, bottles and trash covered the entirety of the space. A small couch along the wall were occupied by a couple of people, whilst some others sat down on milk crates and mattresses.

I was sober by this time (4am), and everyone welcomed me, offering me a seat and a beer. We got talking. Many were Sudanese, arriving here on their own, whilst family remained in Africa. Others grew up among the flats since birth. Some had full-time work whilst others were supported via government welfare cheques. A couple that I spoke to explained to me the lost and trapped feeling they had attempting to create a successful life in Australia.

It seemed incredibly difficult to separate one’s life from the formed diaspora among these commission flats. The flats are infamously renowned for violence and drug abuse. I struggle to grasp the social and systemic complexities of even attempting to solve the multiple problems surrounding this space. Where would one begin?

The night did not end there, however. I witnessed a large extent of the behaviour that surround these flats, such as robbery and the ingrained drug culture. I will attempt to write this up in part 2.

Here’s a recommendation, documenting the kind but struggling people surrounding a slum in Kosice, Slovakia. I’d one day like to explore the communities of Eastern Europe.