Residents seek justice following ‘Pattern of Negligence’

It’s been four months since 200 residents of Fitzroy’s Atherton Gardens, a housing estate located at 125 Napier Street, were forced to flee their beds in the early hours of March 29 when the sixth floor of the high-rise housing estate was set ablaze.

Now residents are seeking justice for a catastrophe that they say could have been avoided and are seeking legal advice in an attempt to resolve issues with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Following the fire, the Melbourne Fire Brigade (MFB) released a report damning the Fitzroy Housing Office, citing a lack of duty of care and mentioning several faults. These included a lack of smoke alarms and sprinklers and the build-up of combustible items – like a mattress that started the blaze, that had lain for weeks on the building’s sixth floor, despite residents’ complaints.

The Fitzroy Housing Office has announced they will be accepting all of the MFB’s recommendations, and Minister for Housing, Disability and Ageing Martin Foley has announced the changes will be applied to all 44 public estates across Melbourne.

But according to one resident, the fire is just one in a series of incidents that Minister Foley and the Department of Health and Human Services, of which Fitzroy Housing Office are a branch of, have to answer for.

Ranko Cosic has been a resident of Atherton Gardens since 2001, and is fed up with what he describes as a “pattern of negligence” on the part of the DHHS and the Fitzroy Office of Housing.

He says that in the 16 years he has lived in the building, there have been no fire drills or inspections to ensure all smoke alarms were in working order, but he says this is just the tip of the iceberg.

A terrorist threat, rampant drug use in common areas and instances where the DHHS had taken nine months to address complaints regarding unstable or unsafe tenants are just some of the issues Mr Cosic has brought to the attention of the DHHS and Fitzroy Housing Office. His appeals went as far as the Premier himself, but he says his complaints fell upon deaf ears, and that the neglect goes further than just the Fitzroy Housing Office landing at the doorstep of Minister Foley himself.

“Since his election, the Minister did not come to our estate until the day of the fire,” Mr Cosic says of Minister Foley, who he believes to be uninterested in his position as housing Minister and unwilling to police the performance of his subordinates.

“Everything rots from the top; it starts at the head and transfers through the whole body. I have reported very serious matters to Minister Foley and it all gets ignored,” Mr Cosic says.


Ranko Cosic says the first time Minister Foley visited Atherton’s residents was when they took refuge in the Town Hall following the March 29 fire. Photo: Ranko Cosic

He also recalls personal experiences of harassment and attempted character assassination at the hands of the department, which he feels came about in an attempt to silence his efforts to improve living conditions for himself and fellow residents.

Mr Cosic remains defiant however, declaring he’s “not going to lay down”.

Fed up, Mr Cosic reached out to Yarra City Councillor Stephen Jolly, whom he describes as an ‘integral part’ of the legal battle: “I’m fortunate Steve is there, because who else would fight? I haven’t seen anyone else.”

Like Mr Cosic, Cr Jolly is tired of the pattern of neglect shown by the DHHS and Fitzroy Housing Office, who he says have ignored their residents for years, “and it’s taken a fire and media publicity [and the] threat of legal action for them to do anything”.

While Mr Cosic rallied 30 fellow Atherton residents, Cr Jolly recruited key stakeholders and legal counsel.

He hopes the class action will lead to changes within the department, whose behaviour he labels “dangerously incompetent.”

“It’s outrageous the way the residents are treated … the only time the Department is efficient is when you fail to meet your rent,” he says.

Residents of 125 Napier St are seeking a formal inquest of the fire, along with achieving a successful means of communicating their issues with the Department and working towards having these issues addressed.

Mr Cosic admits his hopes for the outcome of the legal proceedings are “lofty” and go beyond monetary compensation. He says he would like to see the Fitzroy Housing Office “purged”, and Minister Foley, whom he describes as “inept” removed from his position and replaced with “a minister who does care about private housing, who will go to the estate”.

Cr Jolly agrees with Mr Cosic, saying of Minister Foley, “I think he needs to go”.

Mr Cosic says for him, it’s not about the money, but social justice, and with the aid of Cr  Jolly, he will continue to fight his cause until he sees justice done.

Written by Alice Wilson 

Neighbourhood watcher: Judy Ryan’s war on drugs

From the moment you meet Judy Ryan her passion for the neighbourhood she fondly refers to as ‘my village’ is impossible to ignore. “I just love this grungy area; I love walking out of my front gate and going ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen today.'”

As it turns out, this love of spontaneity has proved a valuable asset for Judy’s involvement with her neighbourhood and has led her to become one of its most valued members.

The seventh of eight children and hailing from Wangaratta, Judy is driven by a need to feel connected to those around her.

Warm and bubbly, it’s not hard to feel connected to her. “I just love knowing people,” she says with a shrug.

“Having lived in the country, I was very involved in the community … my parents were very involved – we’ve always had a sense of getting your energy from the community.”

So when Judy and her husband John settled in Abbotsford five years ago, the first thing she did was seek out a place for herself in her new neighbourhood.

“One of the things I wanted to do was create community for myself.”

She began by volunteering as a mentor with Yarra Community Friends. Then there was a stint in the Abbotsford Convent’s choir. But Judy’s greatest act of community involvement began last year in July 2016.

It was a typical Melbourne Sunday she says; cool but clear, not a cloud in the sky. Judy was on her way out and in the laneway behind her home, a young man lay overdosed on the concrete.

This has become so common that Judy is often afraid to leave her home – not out of concern for her own safety, but for the wellbeing of those she refers to as her ‘regulars’: the individuals using her laneway as their own injecting facility.

Upon leaving to meet me, she explains, there was someone using her laneway to inject. She has become so involved in the lives of addicts her GP has advised her to be vaccinated against hepatitis.

Judy’s work has brought her into close contact with victims of drug abuse and their families. Photo’s: Judy Ryan

Not one to be passive, Judy reached out to her council and after failing to get results, decided to run herself as a single-issue candidate. She received more than 600 primary votes, putting her on the map and on top of various organisations’ contact lists.

After being inundated with emails from interest groups across the Yarra, she noticed one from Victoria Street Drug Solutions.

Judy picked up the phone and arranged to meet them the next day, and became involved instantly. Her first order of business was to instil her community values into the organisation, which she did by changing the name.

Judy is now secretary of Residents for Victoria Street Drug Solutions (RVSDS) – a community-led initiative campaigning for the introduction of a supervised injecting facility into the community.

After touring Sydney’s Kings Cross injecting facility, Judy decided “I want one of these in my backyard” and began the push along with RVSDS’s other members: “I just felt the residents didn’t have a voice”.

RVSDS has become that voice and Judy is its loudest member. “We often call Judy the Erin Brockovich of North Richmond. She’s really helped bring a spotlight to what is going on here,” says Penny Francis of North Richmond Community Health.

“She is genuine, generous and has true community spirit – around her kitchen table strangers become friends,” says Kylie Troy-West, one of Judy’s fellow RVSDS members. “There’s that sense of dedication to her community and the drive to act in their benefit.”

When our conversation turns to the addicts there’s no bitterness or judgement, only maternal concern, and an empathy coming from personal experience. Having lost two nephews to heroin addiction, Judy is no stranger to the suffering families affected by drug abuse. She believes, if they had had access to a supervised injecting facility they would have been saved.

After our meeting, Judy takes me on a walk around her neighbourhood; we visit local injecting and dealing hotspots. It’s a tour Judy has conducted many times with various politicians and journalists to highlight the need for injecting facilities, “I like people coming out to see for themselves,” she says.

“Education is key,” she tells me, and the streets speak for themselves. Stepping into one commonly frequented car park, we witness someone shooting up. Syringes and cotton swabs litter the ground.

“Imagine overdosing in a place like this,” Judy reflects as we stand in the falling rain, among piles of rubbish and muddy puddles. But she’s optimistic RVSDS’s efforts will end that possibility: “I’m so full of hope,” she tells me.

Judy doesn’t want recognition or credit for her efforts, but her dedication shouldn’t go unrecognised. Since becoming involved Judy has put her life on hold.

She still works three days a week at a school in Brighton, but it’s clear her work with RVSDS is her true passion, and she is determined to see her project through, “mum would say ‘you should never die wondering'”.

It’s clear that though Judy may be keen to return to her everyday life, she has no plans of quietening down until she’s achieved a better environment for all of her village.

Residents of Victoria Street Drug Solutions will hold their inaugural March to Stay Alive on August 27 in anticipation of International Overdose Awareness Day to raise awareness and funds.

To become involved or find out more about RVSDS visit its website or Facebook page.

Written by Alice Wilson


A look at local clothing line Alpha60

Melbourne based label, Alpha60, emulates the best of Melbourne urban culture, local artists, and retro style in their quirky, yet sophisticated clothing line.

Brother-Sister duo Alex and Georgie, the visionaries behind Alpha60, launched their line in 2005. In the 12 years since, it has emerged into a label known for its unique style and themed colour scheme each season.

Meg Dunn, a retail assistant currently working at the Alpha60 men’s concept in store in Fitzroy fell in love with the brand that suits all ages and wears the line herself.

“What I love about this line is that it incorporates Melbourne style as well as designs from local artists.”

“I am the oldest member but I love it here,” she said.

The line at Alpha60 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. Photo: Zathia Bazeer

Alpha60 aims for minimalism and sophistication with a hint of quirk, and rather than following trends they intend to set them.

Susan Bag, who has been working with the brand for five years wears the pieces to experiment with style and step out of her comfort zone.

“When I lived in London [Alpa60] was one brand I missed shopping at. The brand is style based not trend based and is particular to Melbourne.”

The brand is in its 13th year, with an Alpha60 concept store, which incorporates minimalist and monochrome pieces, opening last year in support of St Paul Cathedral.

The brand is known for its suitability for all ages and sizes, and its gender neutral pieces, which have been part of its signature style long before Vogue’s gender fluid cover with Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik.

“There is something for everyone, [it] isn’t very girly or very androgynous,” said Susan.

In addition to a successful line and strong following, Alpha60 has had successful solo shows at Australian Fashion Week and Loreal Melbourne Fashion Festival. The brand has showroom’s in both Paris and New York and is a two-time finalist of the  Tiffany and Co. Designer Award.

With an outfit displayed in the National Gallery of Victoria’s 200 Years of Australian Fashion Exhibition in 2016, Alpha60 is making a notable mark internationally and at home in Australia.

Written by Zathia Bazeer. 

Faces of Yarra

Wayne, Fitzroy

“I grew up in Tasmania and moved to Melbourne when I was in my early twenties. I came here never having had my hair cut in a shop, never having bought food at the supermarket; we cured our own meats… I came here to study fine arts and ended up getting into massage, which was a good field for me. I liked getting to work with my hands and having that opportunity to physically connect with people… A lot of people in this city put a wall up between themselves and other people, but that’s what happens in cities. I’ve seen a lot in my fifty years though, lived with a lot of people: the Bedouin in the Middle East, Native Americans in Canada and Central America, the Maoris in New Zealand. The values in tribal living, community living, are so much more inclusive than cities. Everywhere I went, I was accepted as one of their own. It was pure trust and openness, acceptance. You don’t see that here.”

Photography by Ruwanthi Wijetunga

Family Violence in Yarra

Yarra families that are victims of violence are lacking places of refuge and support, according to an online advocacy group run by the Socialist Party.

The Facebook group, We Need a Family Violence Support & Service Hub was created in December last year after the council released a statement on its website in the same month citing a 24.5 per cent spike in family violence reports over the previous year in the City of Yarra alone. This statistic was derived from the Crime Statistics Agency Victoria earlier this year.

The report was even more alarming because the average increase in family violence reports across Victoria was 10 per cent. The group was one of the key drivers of the investigation run by the Royal Commission which released a report in December last year stating five safety hubs will be built across Victoria, with just one of those five to be built in Melbourne.

Yarra councillor Stephen Jolly, a key member and spokesperson of We Need a Family Violence Support & Service Hub said they lost the battle when trying to turn the council-owned property at 152a Hoddle Street into a domestic violence refuge and resource centre. Cr Jolly said that the decision was a “slap in the face” to survivors of domestic and family violence in the area.

He also said that there is a possibility that the council will use the property, located opposite the Collingwood Town Hall,  for units and other housing development. Jolly said that the Yarra council’s main concern is money, but assures the public that he will “keep banging away” in tune with the new budget due to be released in August.

Annie Douglas from Women’s Health in the North (WHIN), a council-funded organisation and full member of Domestic Violence Victoria told the Yarra Reporter that she didn’t know about the refuge centre issue, but the increase in family violence reports isn’t necessarily negative as it may demonstrate that the ongoing funding and support of the Yarra Council is helping survivors of family violence be more confident in seeking help.

“It’s really hard to say what has caused the increase. Generally, it can be attributed to increased confidence in the system, an increase in media attention and public understanding that [family violence] is not a ‘private matter’. It is simply not acceptable.” Douglas said.

Douglas, who is the health promotion officer focused on prevention against violence and gender equity, said that WHIN developed a Building a Respectful Community strategy, for 2017 – 2021.The strategy, supported by the state government and backed by a further 26 organisations was released last Friday, and aims to help combat violence using a strategic partner approach with its supporters, Douglas said.

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services is providing core funding for the strategy, that many major organisations in the City of Yarra and others in the north-metro region are supporting. Cr Jolly said that any strategy or resources are a step in the right direction, but reiterated that he still hasn’t given up the fight to fund more places of refuge.

Fitzroy library showed its support of WHIN’s strategy by facilitating a talk by Fitzroy Legal Service on Wednesday, July 12 in an attempt to educate the public on their rights when faced with family violence. The talk was part of  Know Your Rights, a series of regular sessions held at libraries accross the Yarra, presenting legal information for communtiy members. 

Fitzroy Legal’s community development officer, Jennifer Ward, said that having better access to information surrounding survivors’ rights empowers them to make better choices.

Ward said the main aim of the talk was to target vulnerable people who may not already have access to services.

The City of Yarra is “diverse and full of new migrants,” said Ward, and this is why the service is committed to providing good quality legal information to those who may not have the tools to know their rights and options.

Cr Jolly said that 152a Hoddle Street is continuing to be discussed as becoming a potential safe hub.

Written by Caitlin Matticoli

Arts recognise local Aboriginal history

This month a collection of indigenous performers and artists are coming together for Smith Street Dreaming as part of the annual Leaps and Bound Music festival.

Smith Street Dreaming 2017 is the biggest street celebration of the iconic thoroughfare’s Koorie history. The festival brings diverse groups of people to the suburbs of Collingwood and Fitzroy to recognise indigenous culture, the local Wurundjeri people, and its aboriginal community.

The free event will host some of the country’s best indigenous talent featuring live performances from Frank Yamma, Emma Donovan, Yung Warriors, Indigenous Hip Hop Projects, traditional dancers  Jindi Worabak and MC Shelley Ware.

The project is part of the Smith Street Working Group that, according to organisers, aims to build and celebrate better relationships between Yarra Council residents, workers and visitors to Smith Street by fostering understanding, respect and peace between all.

Members of the Smith Street Working Group include Aboriginal elders, indigenous community members, Victoria’s Neighbourhood Justice Centre (NJC), Yarra City Council, Victoria Police, the Salvation Army, Co-Health, Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee, Smith Street Business Association, Eastern Health, Melbourne Aboriginal Youth Sport and Recreation Co-Operative (MAYSAR) and restaurant Charcoal Lane.

The event was initiated when The Neighbourhood Justice Centre collaborated with Aboriginal elders, police and traders to discuss the complex issues of social inclusion, cultural respect, safety and diversity, which eventually lead to the formation of the Smith Street working group. Members of the working group realised they all wanted the same thing, and the indigenous music festival was born.

On the Smith Street Dreaming report NJC project officer, Maree Foelz, describes Smith Street Dreaming as “a fantastic event which helped build better relationships between the various communities that visit, live, work and gather on and around Smith Street,” which also encouraged her, personally, to “embrace the opportunity to learn from being part of the Smith Street Working Group.”

Rebecca Langley, lead activist in the community’s  Everything Advisory Group, this year is working with MAYSAR on a project for Smith Street Dreaming. With the focus of the event being reconciliation, respect and fairness, she believes that this will help show the broader community the importance of indigenous history to the area and the ability to connect with it.

To Amnesty International, she said: “I believe that Reconciliation Action Plans are a great opportunity to decolonise our work spaces by acknowledging and acting to change the part we play in the ongoing oppression of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

Smith Street Dreaming aims to bring together indigenous and non-indigenous community members to reconcile.

Image of Archie Roach at Smith Street Dreaming 2015, Photo: Antony Ket

In an interview for the Yarra Council’s history project, Archie Roach, indigenous Australian singer explained the importance of Fitzroy as a meeting place for Aboriginals.

“There was more to it than drinking. If people just saw it on the outside, you know, they’d just think, oh, a couple of old or young Koori people drinking in a pack, or whatever, vacant lot, vacant area – but it was more than that. That’s where I learned my history brother, from those areas, because all the old fellas, they knew more about me than I did, mate.”

Those who gather in Smith Street are referred to as “Parkies”, being mostly Aboriginal people who have long gathered on Smith Street. The ‘community of the Parkies’ has been fundamental for the passing on of Aboriginal stories and history according to the Smith Street Dreaming report.

Indigenous Hip Hop Project performer at Smith Street Dreaming 2016. Photo: Tony Proudfoot

The Indigenous Hip Hop Project team has experience in performing in events focusing on inclusiveness and recognition especially surrounding this particular event.

“The indigenous Hip hop Project team has [had] interactive performances running for 10 years … most performing in remote Aboriginal communities as well as everywhere around Australia,” said managing director, Michael Farah.

Having been involved in the Leaps and Bound music festival, the group realised the importance of hosting events like this giving them the platform to express themselves and perform.

“Dance performances for the event showcase more art going to hip hop [and therefore is] trying to get everyone [at the event] involved,” he said.

“Everyone is attached to music, most performances come with music and culturally it is about music and dance. Stories are told through traditional instrument[s] and also done through movement which is the best way to showcase because culturally, nothing is written down.”

He then went on to explain the ‘dreaming’ aspect of the festival and the importance of it.

“Everything is a story and [is] about dreaming … dreaming is sitting down listening to elders. This festival is bringing all that to the table. It is crucial to modern-day society when talking about bridging the gap and reconciliation.”

Smith Street Dreaming 2017 is taking place on the corner of Smith Street and Stanley Street, Collingwood, from 1pm-5pm, on Saturday, July 22.

For details go to Leaps and Bound Music festival website

Written by Zathia Bazeer

Human toe stolen from Canadian bar serving human-toe-cocktail.

In a mining town in northern Canada, an alcoholic beverage exists, which is aptly known as the “Sourtoe Cocktail”.

The menu item, being less of a cocktail and more of a shooter, has only two ingredients, whiskey and… you guessed it, a mummified human toe.

In what seems to be a set of absolutely true events, the human toe was recently stolen by a man from Quebec, likely for notoriety amongst his peers, but also quite possibly for a number of other sinister and horrifying reasons.

Legend has it, a ‘rumrunner’ lost his toe to frostbite in the 1920’s while transporting barrels of booze to Alaska during the prohibition; he then preserved it in alcohol and left it in a Cabin where it was discovered some 50 years later.

No one knows why the unnamed rumrunner would have attempted to preserve the toe, as Replantation – the medical term for limb reattachment – wasn’t a thing until the 1960’s.

Luckily for the Sourdough Saloon, a questionable character by the name of Captain Dick Stevenson discovered the toe in the 70’s while cleaning out an old mining cabin. Bringing it back to town, he used the toe to concoct the “Sourtoe Cocktail”, and created what could be the first ever drinking game; daring those brave enough to take a sip. 

Downtown Hotel/Facebook

The case of the missing toe, was for obvious reasons, international news. In Canada, a nationwide police hunt was underway last week, while the bar itself was offering a reward for the safe return of the stolen toe.

Just four days into the investigation, with pressure mounting, the criminal-mastermind, sensing he may have one foot in the grave, mailed the toe back to the Sourdough Saloon, along with a handwritten apology.


Unsurprisingly, the bar’s “toe captain,”  Terry Lee, had told the Global News that they were furious as “toes are very hard to come by.” However, it did come to light that they have several mummified toes making the rounds at any given time.

In fact, the likelihood of the stolen toe being that of the unnamed rumrunner from the 20’s is slim to none, putting a real dampener on the wow-factor of the story.

Although, the knowledge that the toe has been replaced several times, once because it was accidentally swallowed by a patron, does bolster its overall appeal.

Unlike most stories in the news this one ends on a happy note for all involved, except of course for those who have donated their toes.

I think we can all agree that the “Sourtoe Cocktail” would be well suited to a number of establishments in the Yarra.

By Tiyana Matliovski