On Sunday Emma and I went for a stroll around Woolloomooloo (there are far too many ‘o’s in that name). There is nothing particularly unusual about that – sometimes we wander over there on a Sunday arvo to grab a pie from Harry’s Cafe de Wheels. You really can’t describe a pie from Harry’s, they are Ineffable.
In fact, The Ineffable Cheese-and-Bacon-Tiger is just about my favourite Sunday lunch.
Harry’s Cafe is at the bottom of Forbes Street, right on the edge of the pier. At the top of Forbes St is the magnificent Horizon apartment block, designed by Harry Seidler, with the best views of the Harbour Bridge, Opera House, and Gardens that I have ever seen (I had the chance to visit an apartment there when a friend landed a very sweet house-sitting gig).
Across the road from the Horizon is Emma’s old school – SCEGGS Darlinghurst.
Between Harry’s Cafe and the Horizon is the heart of Woolloomooloo, a rough-as-guts public housing estate surrounded by some of the most expensive property in Australia.
About half way along Forbes St, among the old terraces and tough-looking kids, is the Back Shed Cafe. It’s a drop-in centre run by Hope Street, a community development organisation run under the auspices of the Baptist Church. We rocked up here with another couple from our Church to be part of their ‘Urban Orientation’.
The Urban Orientation was basically a stroll through the back streets and lanes of Woolloomooloo with a couple of guys from the mission, giving details of the local area, some of the problems people face, and some of the ministries that Hope Street runs in the area.
From their website:
The inner city of Sydney is a diverse community. Here, the rich and the poor live alongside one other. In South Sydney LGA 17% of housing is public housing compared to 6% across Sydney. 80% of people in public housing are dependent on Social Security payments. Public Housing Estate are sometimes called “quasi-hospitals” because of the high rate of people with mental illness, HIV/AIDS, dementia or those coming out of domestic violence. 90% of Woolloomooloo is public housing, and in recent years very luxurious apartments have been developed right around the fringe of the suburb, making a very sharp contrast between rich and poor.
I found the experience utterly brilliant, though humbling. I’ve walked through that area before and been so blind to the lives of the people around me. Our city is layer, upon layer, upon layer.
I was particularly confronted to hear about the outreach Hope Street does with street sex workers from the area. They provide a women’s space where female sex workers can come in during the day, have a shower, watch a movie, and just chat. It is a place where they are treated as people rather than objects. Yet, even as this ministry was being described I could feel myself wanting to turn away, to think, ‘isn’t it wrong to be around those people?’ ‘Won’t you become dirty?’
I’m such a hypocrite. It wasn’t a week ago that I was preaching about the Jesus who extended his love and his hands to a prostitute, who told her to ‘Go in peace’ when everyone around just wished she had never come. Sometimes I’ve got a lot of words to say about Jesus, but at a moment like that you’d wonder if I actually know him.
You need to come for a walk with me around Woolloomooloo. Next time there’s an Urban Orientation, we need to sign up.
There’s a lot of Jesus at Hope Street. There’s a lot of people who need him. I’m one of them.