Wray Park in Bell Street, Redan was the first medium-density housing development in Ballarat, says one of the people responsible for its construction.
Bill Chandler is almost 90, but his memory is clear – if on occasion, he has to pause and collect his thoughts.
He was born in Leith Street, and left school at 14. His father was, he says, the local garbage man.
“They were hard times,” he says.
“It got a bit messy. I wasn’t a crook, but I had… an uneasy situation in those days. It wasn’t entirely good.”
He found himself turning to drink and gambling. Recalling his early days, he begins to weep quietly. His piercing blue eyes mist.
“I crossed lines with prostitutes. I didn’t want to pay. It was only the forbearance of my family that saw me through,” he says quietly.
“I ran with a crowd that was pretty broad. Two of them ended up in jail.”
Chandler did an five-year apprenticeship as a tailor, but made his early living as a labourer for the Postmaster-General’s Department (PMG). Later he worked for the State Electricity Commission as a meter reader.
Through the guidance of his mother, he began going to church. He became a member of the Skipton Street Methodist (now Uniting) Church.
“I found within the church there were caring people,” Bill Chandler says.
“The Methodist church I went to said lots of things, a lot of things about social justice. Religion and social life, in the broad sense, were combined.
“The church taught me that drinking, smoking, gambling – there was not much value in them, none at all. That perhaps there were other directions to look to.”
“You get wiser and more understanding of what someone’s done for you. I was... jumping around. I was playing football for Redan. I suppose I would have to say the guy who looked after the under-16s at Redan was great as well, guiding me. He looked after club for many years. I thanked him when I was about 20.”
It was his experience with the church which led him to help formulate the plan to build crisis accommodation on a plot of old mining land in Bell Street.
Once used as a depot for the trucks and trailers of a Ballarat house mover, Bill Chandler says his experiences of hard life as a young man gave him the vision for what could be done there, and why it was needed.
“I developed a caring thought – I’m not making any boasts or claims – but I was aware of some things that I had experienced. There were people who had extremes in life, and someone needed to do something,” he says.
Bill Chandler says his inspiration for starting the project came to him at the Methodist City Mission in Melbourne.
“It came to me, just like this: ‘Man you better get up and do something - live!’ And I felt living was what I did here, with this building.”
He begins to weep softly again.
“I mustn’t get emotional, but I had found that there were those who didn't have a house. It is hell without a house. And that is overlooked sometimes by the churches.
“I expressed the possibility of building to some people, who thought I was too young to carry the job through. So I spoke to Tom Evans (the late Liberal member for Ballarat North) who supported me and wrote a letter to the Minister for Housing stating that the land could be better used for crisis housing.
The letter prompted the construction of the 58 flats and community centre in the early 1960s. Now managed by the Department of Housing, the flats offered hope to the less well-off
Bill Chandler says he understood better and felt comfortable talking with people whose lives have been hard.
“I fit in better with people who are ‘rough’. I can go to a park and sit with a fellow who has been in prison, who’s been in trouble. I can get them help, get them to hospital if they need. Even at my age, I understand.”
“I’m proud of what I’ve done, although pride is of course a dangerous thing. I have a lot to learn still, even now. I learn by faith, hope and love. What more can a man have?”
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