Imagine if your home of 40 years, where you raised your children and play with your grandchildren, where you planted fruit trees and gardens, and built fences and pergolas to shade those gardens, was taken away from you with a single letter from the government. No-one comes to the door; no-one counsels you.
You are told your home is to be demolished, and the garden, and the fences, and the sheds. None of it will be rebuilt. You are going to be moved out, and your possessions relocated, and the government isn't sure where they're going to take you, and can't - won't - promise you'll return.
Your neighbour gets an entirely different letter, saying please be aware your neighbours are about to disappear.
None of the letters are addressed personally. Each states: 'The Resident'.
This week's announcement of the Andrews Government's plan to redevelop a huge swathe of public housing in Delacombe has been sold as part of an "unprecedented $5.3 billion investment" in social housing across Victoria. It's been welcomed by the City of Ballarat, local member Juliana Addison, by the Housing Minister Richard Wynne, and by welfare bodies such as Catholic Care.
The figures are slightly rubbery. Redevelopment was first mooted in the state budget of 2018, and had been planned earlier.
The stereotype of Leawarra Crescent - nicknames include 'The Horseshoe' or the 'Las Vegas Strip' - and the cul-de-sac courts running off it, is a crime-infested, violent, drug-wrecked part of Ballarat.
If you walk and talk with the residents of Lawanna Court and Leawarra Crescent, of Sutton Street and Monet Court, you find a community just like any other. No-one shys from the local issues: drug problems, theft, vandalism and the lack of maintenance which comes with a partly transient population. People are moved in and moved out on government decisions made in offices far from Delacombe.
These problems are no different from any other suburb in Ballarat, from Lake Wendouree to Golden Point and out to Buninyong. So what do the residents have to say?
Marlene, Lawanna Court
Marlene's home is surrounded by an amazing garden, with trees and flowers and pots of new plants waiting to go into the ground. It's got a sturdy redgum fence and a pergola, both of which Marlene built herself. It's got space for her grandchildren to play, and to stay.
Marlene came to Lewanna Court in 1979.
"I'll have been here 42 years next month. It's changed a lot. I mean, there's almost nobody here now (who was here in 1979).
"A lot of people knock these areas. They say we're all rough and horrid people and everything. But the bad ones don't stay long. I've had people here you wouldn't want them living within coo-ee of you. But they're gone.
"This has been my family home. My sons, this is the only house they know. One was four when we moved in, he doesn't remember any other place. The other one was born here.
"Some (residents) don't stay long. But it seems to be the nicer ones that stay. They settle in and make friends, join in. We used to have a community house around the back. That was great when that was there, but they moved it to Ballarat East. (I can't remember) what the reasons were.
"We got the letters on Saturday, and I did get a call on Monday afternoon but she didn't say anything different to what was here (in the letter). When I asked a question she couldn't answer it. I got that upset I hung up on her.
"I remember a couple years ago, maybe - it says on here 2019, so I'll go along with that, my memory's fading a bit, I remember some sort of a survey just asking questions about what do you think about how things are here, you know, do you need more of this all in the community? I really can't remember the questions, but I mean, to me this is comfortable. There's nothing wrong with it; it's a good solid brick three-bedroom home What's wrong with it?
"They're kicking us out, bulldozing these. I'm not going to get a house back. What am I going to do with all my furniture? My garden? That's upsetting me the most.
"Pam next door, she's very nice. She was very upset when they got their letter. She's sometimes not well... she was very upset. When she first moved in it was her and her husband, he died."
Pam, Lawanna Court
Pam and Leo are Marlene's neighbours. Their home is spotlessly clean and tidy; the backyard is Leo's joy. Pam has won awards from the City of Ballarat for her volunteer work, and the state's Frances Penington Award for her outstanding voluntary contribution to the community.
"I've lived here nearly 28 years. I got this in an emergency situation with my husband of 23 years, and my son, when we lost what we owned, and (my husband) was dying. And this is the house we got. He died six months later.
"I was blessed a few years later and met Leo. And we married in 2004. So we thought, 'This is our house for ever and a day'. And you know, we've made it our home, as you can see.
"(After the letter) we went into shock. The next day, I didn't sleep that night, neither did Leo. And I suffer with severe mental health issues. So I've got to work really hard, so that going through all this doesn't affect me. And I have to be aware of Leo's health. He's about five weeks off a new knee. So that will come into it, hobbling around and packing and all that sort of thing.
"I fully understand the need for more public housing. Families have nowhere to sleep, couchsurfing or sleeping on the streets. As a volunteer, I worked with the department for some time. I got to know people in public housing. I saw the good, the bad and the ugly of humans.
"But it is hard. I turned 70 in September, Leo's 63; it's hard. I have sat here the last few nights and looked at all my things, my most important treasures and some of Leo's favourite things.
"We've had some difficult times here, we've had police involvement. But I've got used to living here and I love it. I love them all. I've seen Tash grow up. I've seen Marlene's kids, the youngest one marry and the grandchildren that she minds. And it's great. I feel blessed to have this lovely home."
- Ballarat's vulnerable deserve better than a two-line response as the government plans demolition
- The government says there are no easy answers. There are: be honest and transparent with us
- Ballarat welfare groups welcome a $5.3bn government initiative for public housing
- Delacombe set for $50 million social housing overhaul
- Welfare advocates welcome Ballarat $80 million social housing boost
- Crime and housing issues in Creswick face an all-of-community response
- Councillors, police and aid bodies await a joint response from DHHS about Creswick
- Roundtable between Hepburn Shire, police, government departments and assistance bodies to address issues in Creswick
- A housing explainer: Facts and figures about social housing in Victoria.(govt site)
- Why should the state wriggle out of providing public housing?
Tash, Lawanna Court
Tash sits in the kitchen of the house while her partner works outside. She was born on the estate, and understands it can be rough; she had a car stolen on her birthday.
"I've lived here 36 years. For a couple years I moved out because this was my mom's house. I was born here. I've raised my kids here.
"I don't know what's going to happen. I don't have anywhere to go. I got a message off the lady who lives two doors down, she said to me, 'Do you have to move?' I said 'What?' What do you mean we're going to have to move?', and then she sent me the letters. I was like, 'What?'
"Marlene's been here as long as I have. Terry down second from the end has been here years longer than I have; Bill down there, he's been here way longer than I have; Pam across the road...
"My partner has been off work because of COVID. It's just gone backwards. I freaked out yesterday, because I don't know what to do, where we're going to go, what we're going to do. It's really stressful.
"They can't even fix my shower! How are they going to house me? They replaced the shower base and did it wrong. So I got someone to come back out and they said, 'I can't be bothered, it's too much of a job.' So now my hallway - see all the stains in the hallway - constantly gets soaked in water because the water in the base rises up. They don't care."
Lavina, Lawanna Court
Lavina's home is spotless. There's a cot in the front room for her baby, Sunlight floods in between the cloudy weather.
"I've been here for pretty much 12 years. I brought up the girls here. I've got two young girls, a 15-year-old and a 13-year-old and now a newborn. I told them the news yesterday we've got to move and they're devastated. They don't want to go; they've had their friends with all around here.
"On the letter I got, it didn't even have my name. It just said 'The Resident'. I thought it was junk mail and threw it out. Yeah. The lady across the road, she came over and asked me if I had the letter. And she showed me hers; it was the same: 'The Resident'.
"I know a lot of people have been here for a long time longer than I've been alive. And it's not fair, especially to the elderly. They shouldn't be kicked out of their homes. Especially when they've been there for so long, they've got all their stuff there. As far as I know, it's I think it's all starting next year. But I was told by my neighbour that she heard from somebody else that someone around the area has been given two weeks' notice.
"And that was one thing that was on the letter: that there's a chance of when we get moved, (my daughters) might have to move schools and I'm not happy about that. One of my daughters, she's suffering from severe depression at the moment. And the school has just got that on track. She's doing well being at the school.
"I really feel that if I moved here now, it's going to knock her up a lot more. We've got everybody around here with family that live around me as well. So we shouldn't have been moved away, shunted around like a lot of people. I thought I was gonna be here for the rest of my life."
Julie, Leawarra Crescent
Julie stands in the doorway of her home in the cold June rain and wind, but her distress goes much deeper.
"I've been here 20 years in September.
"We all received a letter in the letterbox, it was, like, Saturday. And my neighbour pulled it out on Monday. Before that we had no idea what was going on. My letter says I will be relocated. It's really upsetting because it was only four weeks ago I lost my partner. And now I've got to deal with this.
"I had a phone call, probably I think, Monday, a five-minute phone call. They said that would be ringing me back within the week. I have children - what do you say? It's really upsetting, it just can be really, really hard. All my memories are here.
"We've been told so many things. A friend of mine got some advice from a solicitor. We haven't got a leg to stand on, at all, because we're just tenants. It's just... what do you do? We can't win. You know, this get bulldozed after all the hard work. We put in 20 years.
"You're raising kids, raising grandkids. My twin grandbabies, this is the only place they know and they're going to be 10 in August. I just don't know anymore."