'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (2024)

Louise Goode's quarter-century commitment to a home in Melbourne's inner north was crushed in a matter of minutes.

As she watched from behind a thin construction fence, a digger moved into position, and started to tear the house apart.

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (1)

"Stop! Stop! Stop!" she shouted.

Her voice breaking from rage and frustration, she opened a gap in the fence and ran in front of the machine, forcing the operator to shut it down.

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (2)

"I need people to care, because I care! I care with all my soul!" she shouted.

But it was a temporary reprieve. Before long, the digger started up again. Louise looked on as the walls came down, and the sound of wooden beams being ripped from their supports filled the air.

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (3)

A few neighbours came to console her. "This is my life! My life! Everything stems from home!" she shouted.

For more than a year, she'd been living in the house in Thornbury with which she shares a long and complicated history.

She first moved into it in the 1990s. In the decades since, she's twice been legally evicted.

She's been homeless, she's couch surfed and been in emergency accommodation.

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (4)

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (5)

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (6)

The house was sold, stripped to the bones, the back torn off. None of that stopped Louise from moving back in.

But on this day in late May, as the house disappeared with every digger load, there were three visits from the police. The final one ended with an order for her to move on.

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (7)

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (8)

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (9)

"Please! Society come to my aid!" she yelled.

But there was no one to stop the demolition. Twenty-five years of Louise's life was gone.

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A home to fight for

One week earlier, Louise showed 7.30 how she was living. It was a frigid autumn night in Melbourne. The kind when the damp makes it feel colder than it is, and condensation fills the air when you breathe.

Louise and her 68 years felt every degree drop until dawn.

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (10)

"The cold goes to the bone," she said. "I sleep in my clothes … I've got three blankets, four blankets."

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (11)

Louise slept on a mattress on the floor, in a house with no heat, no power, and few walls.

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (12)

"I know my vulnerability as I age and the deterioration of my health due to … living like this," she said.

"Having to live, having to sleep rough. It takes its toll. Well and truly."

To Louise, there was no alternative. Even though she has had a transitional housing unit for more than a year, in another suburb. She believes it's unsafe, and only uses it to store her belongings.

The story of her dedication to the home in Thornbury involves peeling back layer after layer. Starting with her childhood.

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (13)

Louise is a forgotten Australian. Her mother struggled in the working-class suburb of St Kilda in the 1960s and 70s. She was alone and was unable to care for her two children.

Louise and her brother were raised mostly in children's homes and the foster system.

"I was separated from my brother, and he was a foster child in another family … so we were split up." she said.

Her mother never stopped trying to get her children back. But Louise spent her teenage years living with a foster family or in institutions.

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (14)

"I don't know much about her … and I don't know much about my father. I just met him once," she told 7.30.

Despite these circ*mstances, her determination and perseverance were spotted early in life.

One social worker wrote in 1972 that 17-year-old Louise "impressed all who have come in touch with her", and that she was determined to "break the family cycle" of disadvantage.

She worked in a variety of jobs, moved to Queensland, and returned to Melbourne. Then she found the house in the suburb of Thornbury that would be her home for more than 25 years.

Co-op leads to a home

In the early 1990s, the Victorian government was promoting co-operatives as way to manage public housing.

Louise was a founding member of a small, not for profit co-op called Access CERC (Common Equity Rental Cooperative). It was set up specifically to house single women and single mothers.

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (15)

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (16)

Under the co-operative model, real estate is purchased by governments for public housing. It's then turned over to the co-op and administered by members, who pay subsidised rent.

"It was empowering. You were making decisions. You were responsible. And when you are responsible for something, you care about it," Louise said.

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (17)

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (18)

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (19)

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (20)

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A house became available, and Louise moved in. For years she went about making it her home. She believed she'd never leave.

Then things got complicated.

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (21)

In 2008, there was a significant shift in the status of Louise's home. It was transferred to Victoria's largest housing association, Common Equity Housing Limited (CEHL). The not-for-profit association administers more than 100 housing co-ops and rental properties, providing homes for 4,200 people.

As part of this transition, Louise stopped being a co-op member and became a tenant in the house. Her landlord became VicWide Housing, a unit of CEHL.

To this day Louise argues the change occurred under duress and should have never happened. But the house remained her home.

The long legal fight

In 2016, Louise's tense relationship with her landlord boiled over. CEHL went to court, saying she owed more than $9,400 in back rent.

Louise argued she always paid or tried to pay rent to her old co-op, instead of CEHL. But in March 2016 Victoria's Civil and Administrative Tribunal ordered her to vacate the house.

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (22)

This was just the first decision in what would eventually be a five-year legal battle that would go all the way to the Court of Appeal in the Supreme Court of Victoria.

For Louise, the legal fight was a matter of principle.

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (23)

"We have to address the property inequalities where people that have money can buy a property and that gives them their safety. The poor are not safe because they can just be moved on willy nilly from one house to the next," she said.

Eventually, after a defeat in the Court of Appeal, Louise's legal options hit a dead end. Despite a petition with 35,000 signatures and advocacy from the Renters and Housing Union, in February 2021, she was evicted.

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (24)

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (25)

Months later, in May 2021, CEHL sold the house to a private buyer.

In correspondence with 7.30 it said: "Following the vacation of the (Thornbury) property, the CEHL Board made a decision to dispose of the asset and reinvest the sale proceeds in continuing to develop the CEHL affordable housing portfolio."

But that couldn't keep Louise away. After a few months of couch surfing and staying in a share house, she returned to the empty property.

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (26)

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (27)

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (28)

She was evicted a second time in July, and with Victoria in the midst of COVID lockdowns, Louise eventually found emergency accommodation in motels. But when that ended, she once more was drawn to the house in Thornbury.

"This was my home. This is all I know. Where am I going to go? Do I join the other homeless people, that are sleeping literally on the footpath?" she asked.

Louise's return

Despite the house being prepared for demolition, Louise moved back in early in 2023. The back wall was torn off and there were no utilities at all.

The lush garden Louise had nurtured was mostly gone.

She was trespassing. But she was still there.

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (29)

"For many people I know in Thornbury, Louise never left," said Darebin councillor Tim Laurence.

"Louise had a big positive impact in the community … (this house) was like a shady oasis, a good spot to stop and people would have a chat … it was very much a focal point of the community here."

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (30)

Adding to the complexity of Louise's story is the fact that she's not technically homeless, with the other unit around 10 kilometres away at her disposal.

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (31)

Louise doesn't believe this unit, piled high with decades of possessions from the house she was evicted from, can ever be home. And she knows to some, that sounds ungrateful.

"People might think, I've been given something, but it's a furphy. It's not addressing what I'm dealing with, which is I should never have been made homeless."

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (32)

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (33)

She has never considered the transitional unit a safe option, even though it's in a quiet suburban street.

"[The transitional unit] locks me into victimisation. My [old] home, I still am having free choice, my free will."

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (34)

'Emotional comfort'

For more than a year, Louise had the same nightly routine.

Lift the pram she uses to cart possessions around into her old house where the back wall used to be, feed her two cats and the stray that's now a regular visitor, then put out a bowl of fruit for the local possum.

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (35)

She had bonded with the house, just like she did with the buildings she grew up in.

"So, in the institutions … no one would talk to me," she told 7.30.

"The beautiful dome windows, the tree outside. That's what gave me comfort. That's what gave me aesthetic.

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (36)

"That's what gave me emotional comfort in the isolation."

She says that is why it is so hard for her to walk away from the Thornbury house.

Growing up in orphanages with foster carers, having a mother who struggled to take care of her children – the house was a place she could call home.

"It was the first time of having a sense of belonging, something that belonged to me, " she said.

"But most important [it] gave me connection to belonging within society."

As she faced leaving a third time, Louise relied on a small circle of neighbours and friends.

"I'm in awe of her strength to keep at it," said Leanora Spry. "She's a kind and generous, loving human being."

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (37)

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (38)

Leanora lives nearby and became friends with Louise in the thick of her legal fight to stay in the Thornbury home. She believes the longer Louise stayed in the house, the more her support in the neighbourhood gradually diminished.

"Basically, the community around her [were] getting more frightened," she said.

Until the end, Louise didn't want to think about the day the wreckers would come.

All around her were signs demolition was about to start. A gas line relocated, eave troughs removed, a power pole shifted.

Dream shattered

Even as the house came down, Louise tried to convince two police officers that she had an application before Victoria's Supreme Court to stop the work but she didn't have an order to show them.

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (39)

The house has now been levelled. The owner's permits are in order and nothing could be done to stop her past home being consigned to history.

For Louise, it's a shock she may never recover from but she will always believe the fight has been worth it.

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (40)

"My life needs to be as important as the lives of all the rich people that don't have to worry about the cold, who can just turn on the heater and not worry about the bills," she said.

"My life has to be [as] important as theirs."

Credits:

Reporter:Norman Hermant

Photos: SeanDavey/Oculi

Digital production:Jenny Ky, Myles Wearring

Editor:Paul Johnson

The GreatCrumbling Australian Dream

This photo essay is part of a larger photojournalism project examining Australia's housing crisis.

The Great Crumbling Australian Dream is a collaboration between Oculi photographers and ABC News, with support from National Shelter.

The series was made possible with a Meta Australian News Fund grant and the Walkley Foundation.

Oculi is a collective of Australian photographers that offers a visual narrative of contemporary life in Australia and beyond.

Delve further into the series

'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (41)

A new way forward

Photographer Aishah Kenton looks at three households embracing communal living to see if Australians can adapt their way of life as housing becomes ever more unaffordable.

Read the story

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'Stop, please!' The moment a demolition crew ended an Australian's 25-year fight for her home (2024)
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