Thursday, January 25, 2024

Hammondville and John Hatton - a suburb for our tax cut time

Dickensian drama In 2024

How dare the PM give more Australians a bigger tax cut. How very dare he!

More than 11 million  will receive bigger tax cuts 

High-income earners will take a $4546 haircut on tax cuts Australians were told had been locked in, but middle-income earners will be up to $804 better off under Labor’s plan to change marginal tax rates…

“Some would say that we should stay the course, even if it means going to the wrong destination,” he will say, according to advance excerpts of the speech. “To them I say, we are choosing a better way forward given the changed circumstances. We are doing the right thing, for the right reasons.”

A suburb for our times  

Hard times, happy days. The former state MP John Hatton still talks fondly of his childhood growing up during the 1930s Depression in the new village of Hammondville.

"That place made me," he says, recalling how his father, Harry, lost his job as a rivet catcher on the completion of the Harbour Bridge; how his mother, Florence, who sold home-made pies to put food on the family table, almost died of malnutrition; how his parents, six brothers and two sisters were thrown from their Greenwich home.

It was while fighting the eviction order in court that Harry Hatton, an illegal English immigrant who had jumped ship in Sydney, heard from a friendly policeman about a unique social welfare experiment in south-west Sydney, near Liverpool.

The Hammondville project was devised by the far-sighted Canon R.B.S. Hammond, the long-time rector of St Barnabas Church, in Broadway, to move the poor into low-cost, self-help homes where they could make a fresh start and recover a sense of self-esteem.

To qualify for a home, built on huge one-acre blocks acquired by Hammond with the proceeds of his life-insurance policy, a couple had to be unemployed, homeless, destitute and have at least three children. They also had to be "of good moral character".

Though they weren't "God-botherers", the Hattons were among the pioneer settlers, arriving shortly after Hammondville's official opening in 1932, when inner-city unemployment in suburbs such as Redfern was almost 50 per cent.

Only many years later did John Hatton, two at the time, realise just how poor his family was, how primitive were the conditions. There was no police, no doctor, no electricity nor sewerage. Human waste had to be buried.

The homes were wooden boxes. "Simple, weatherboard huts, 30 feet by 10 feet built by unemployed tradesmen." But settlers could rent-buy their homes - paying weekly instalments from a work-for-the-dole income - and could improve them.

"New arrivals went to the village office and picked up hand tools, wood, wire netting and fibro to clear their blocks, put up fences and grow vegetables, or run … poultry. It was all about self-sufficiency, getting back to basics," says Hatton.

In recent months, as Australia braces for a period of unprecedented hardship - possibly even recession or depression - Hatton has found himself reflecting increasingly on Hammondville days.

Now 75 and living on the South Coast, he has been reliving memories of a surprisingly warm, caring, sharing, childhood spent "like Huckleberry Finn, running barefoot through bushland, exploring the creeks that go into the Georges River".

More important, he has been searching for meaning, examining how Canon Hammond, "the family's saviour", channelled money from rich benefactors into bush homes, wondering whether modern lessons can still be learnt from that experiment.

He is not alone. Hatton has a formidable ally in Peter Jensen, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, who at the annual synod recently, applauded the initiative of Hammond, "a preacher and a man of action", and the community spirit of his pioneers.

At the same time, Dr Jensen questioned the ability of 21st-century Australians - accustomed to abundance, softened by material comforts, isolated by selfish pursuits - to cope, and to help others cope, with coming hardships.

"We're experiencing a significant economic downturn, with possible increases in unemployment, poverty, homelessness, even hunger." Where now, he wondered, were the qualities of "mateship, good neighbourliness and lending a hand to those in need".

So, just how successful was Hammond's experiment? How strongly do the original Hammondville values of thrift and charity sit with today's residents? And, as the nation tightens its belt, what can it learn from the little, bush-belt community?

One measure of Hammondville's success is its record of producing top politicians such as Hatton, and top businessmen, such as the housebuilder Jim Masterton.

Another measure is the lasting pride of early settlers, such as Ron Lloyd, 80. He still lives in the Stewart Avenue house, little-changed, that he and his family moved into 75 years ago. "People are always dropping by to talk about their special time here."

Similarly Craig Levings, the principal of the local school, says former villagers often drop by to look at the old photographs in the foyer, which daily remind the 500 or so pupils of their predecessors' humble origins.

Hatton, too, remembers how warm, how safe he felt "in a tiny house crowded with brothers and sisters, shivering under military greatcoats in winter, fighting off mozzies on the veranda in summer". It helped make him tolerant, respectful to others.

He talks of competing in the make-believe Hammondville Olympics, of watching silent movies screened in the memorial hall by the shopkeeper and unofficial village mayor, Alf Morley. Of catching fish, eating wild berries, avoiding red-bellied black snakes; of watching his parents, whose Walder Road home became a DIY medical centre in the absence of a doctor, patch up injured settlers, run them to hospital, help them in birth and death.

But Hammondville was no nirvana. "Don't go painting a picture of utopia," Hatton says. "There were arguments and fights. People who over-indulged in alcohol. Even people who bashed their wives. Not everyone was happy."

Nevertheless, as they recognised at the time and have confirmed at subsequent reunions, the pioneers felt part of something special. "Our shared poverty produced a real sense of identity, a common bond." Dismissed as undesirables by nearby Liverpool folk, they felt privileged.


"Looking back, at least, we understood we were part of a success story. We were inner-city people who made a go of it in the bush. And a lot of that had to do with the camaraderie, the belief that we should look out for each other."

Sadly Hatton, whose career as a crusading independent MP is recalled in a coming biography by Ruth Richmond, fears such feelings have been lost in modern Hammondville. "I returned with Ruth a few years ago, looking up old friends and, I tell you, there were people who didn't even know the name of neighbours - people living less than 50 metres away."

No doubt insular, antisocial residents can be found. But Alison Megarrity, the local Labor member for Menai, insists it is a harsh judgment on a community that, not surprisingly, has undergone big changes in the past 75 years.

New residents, many of them commuters, have boosted the population to about 3000. There are new mansions, many on original blocks, new medium-density developments, like Northbrook, with its pool and tennis court, and plans to replace the scruffy shopping centre.

A real estate agent, Daniel Hall, sees little evidence of mortgage stress in residents spread through a mix of 1930s shacks - which the former Labor leader Mark Latham sought unsuccessfully to have heritage-listed - bungalows built for Holsworthy army personnel, and other renovated and new homes.

"Entry price would be about $340,000 for a three-bedroom, brick-veneer home with carport. Sales are a bit sluggish at the top end, but we've had big, old blocks selling for as much as $640,000."

Ron Lloyd is not impressed. Pausing as he paints his white picket fence he says the village, contained by river and main road, has become "busy, busy, busy: too much commercialisation, too much traffic, too much building".

Megarrity concedes time has caught up with Hammondville. "The old shacks are being ripped down. Graffiti is a problem. People lead busier lives, have to juggle competing priorities. But when all's said and done this is still a nice part of the world to live." And that is largely due to the remarkable resilience of the "Hammondville spirit" of common sense, care and frugality. "I'm constantly surprised at how people are prepared to … help others in tough times, such as bereavement. They do it quietly. They don't expect a pat on the back. We're too hard on each other with this talk about the selfishness of modern living."

A fork-lift truck driver, Wayne Hopwood, 28, is a relative newcomer, renting a $100-a-week shack, but says he knows his neighbours, and is happy to help them out. "This is a real friendly place." He's looking to buy into it now.

Choco Whitbread, 80, arrived from Mascot in 1966. He says there used to be parties in the street. "Then, most people were happy to lend a hand; now they want to cut your throat."

Pressed, he is revealed as a generous bloke who keeps birds, enjoys a beer with mates down the pub, gives chokos to Jehovah's Witnesses ("to get rid of them"), and grows kilos of tomatoes, which he gives to friends and neighbours. Just as pioneers did in the 1930s.

Since then, strong focuses for communal activity have been formed: the school, the shops, where small ads offer ironing services, guitar lessons and a "chance to meet the Liverpool cops"; the famous Hammond aged-care centre, where Arthur "Eternity Man" Stace died.

And, appropriately, the church. The Reverend Ed Loane, the minister of St Anne's, does not know whether the coming hardship means "problems putting food on the table, or postponing the new plasma TV", but he believes we must embrace Hammondville values.

Canon Hammond, he says, was " not just a nice guy" but someone who had been shown the mercy of God, and wanted to show mercy to others. He and the suburb he created stand for what "the loving, self-sacrificing Christian life should look like".

John Hatton would not talk in such religious terms. He fears that many Australians have "mortgaged their happiness, their existence, their families because they did not know when to stop" working, wanting, accumulating material wealth. However, like Loane, he is hopeful tougher times may bring people together again, to reorder their lives, to redefine their priorities, to reconnect with their communities - especially if the government primes parishes, empowers people, rather than imposes projects from above

Ultimately, perhaps, as the historian Peter Spearritt wrote in Sydney Since The Twenties, Hammondville will be remembered more as "an impressive achievement for a voluntary agency" than as a means of "helping the many thousands of homeless

But the important thing, say those who were there from the start, is that it is remembered, as an example, as a source of hope and inspiration.

As Alison Megarrity said last week: "In hard times, people need to be reminded of what people achieved at Hammondville."

Newsmaker John Hatton David Humphries meets the man who forged a path towards independents' day.

How is it a septuagenarian whose 22 years in the NSW parliament included no frontbench service, and who left when Labor retrieved the reins in 1995, can be seriously regarded as a threat to big party politics?
The answer is twofold.
First, politics is about timing, and the timing might never be more right than now for independent candidates - acting in loose alliance - to snatch the advantage of voter disillusionment at the state election in March.
Second, the political veteran criss-crossing the state with his clarion call for ''non-party-political, honest, genuinely community-based people who will make decisions according to their own conscience, and who I feel I can support and help [to] hopefully gain the balance of power'' is John Edward Hatton.
As well as searching for independent candidates in all 93 lower house seats, he is heading the John Hatton Independents team in the upper house.
For much of his public life, Hatton was disregarded as jousting at windmills. But there is nothing naive about him, and he has runs on the board where others said he would fall flat on his face.
He campaigned tirelessly against police corruption and led the formation of the NSW police royal commission that identified many bad apples and management shortcomings. He did much to expose Mafia crime around Griffith and corruption in general.
Anyone who thinks his is a lone and eccentric cry in the wilderness does so with bravado, recklessness or ignorance, even if history is against him. Tony Windsor tried to get the independent bandwagon rolling in NSW a decade ago, with only modest success. After the 1988 election drubbing for Labor, independents held seven state seats, and hold six now.
There is a hint of Dickensian drama in the events and forces that forged John Hatton, one of the more respected and trusted holders of NSW public office.
The middle of nine children born to Florence and Harry Hatton, an injured English war veteran who jumped ship in Sydney in the late 1920s, Hatton recalls a Huck Finn childhood around Hammondville, near Liverpool, south-western Sydney. It did not occur to him he was surrounded by poverty because there was no affluence to measure it by.
Hammondville was an extraordinary exercise in social entrepreneurship, a sort of organised shanty town established by the Anglican clergyman Robert Hammond for the jobless and homeless during the Depression. ''That place made me,'' Hatton would say later.
From social outcast at the selective Hurlstone Agricultural and the Armidale teachers college to defender of the disadvantaged, the high school teacher was mayor of Shoalhaven before winning the safe Liberal seat of South Coast as an independent in 1973.
Three years later he secured 77 per cent of the South Coast vote after preferences. However, his time really came after the Greiner-Fahey governments lost their majority and relied on independents to continue.
Now, Hatton says, ''the time of the independents has come''. He says he has been overwhelmed by a groundswell of anger and disillusionment ''over the corruption of the political process in this state'', yet there is no alternative in mainstream politics because the Liberal religious right pursues narrow agendas, the National Party is anything but and Labor's right wing is Mafia-like and ruthless.