Lessons from The Castle for the WestConnex board

The Castleis a 1997 Australian comedy film directed by Rob Sitch. It starred Michael Caton and was filmed in 11 days on a budget of approximately A$750,000. It gained widespread acclaim in Australia and New Zealand, and grossed A$10,326,428.

The movie’s plot is outlined on Wikipedia: “The Kerrigan home is filled with love as well as pride in their modest lifestyle, but their happiness is threatened when developers attempt the compulsory acquisition of their house to expand the neighbouring Melbourne Airport.

The Kerrigan house is built in a largely undeveloped housing tract, on a toxic landfill, beneath power lines, and directly adjacent to an airport runway. Despite all this, sweet-natured family patriarch Darryl (Michael Caton) believes that he lives in the lap of luxury.

One day, a property valuer arrives to inspect the house. Though he has no wish to sell, Darryl points out all the faults of the house, believing that the valuer is there to appraise the house for council rates.

A few weeks later, he receives a letter informing him of the compulsory acquisition of his house for the sum of A$70,000. His neighbours all receive similar notices. Believing on common principle that the government cannot evict him unwillingly from his treasured home, Darryl attempts to fight the eviction.

Agents from the airport try to bribe and bully the family into giving up, but their actions only stiffen the Kerrigans' resolve. Darryl hires an incompetent lawyer acquaintance, Dennis Denuto (Tiriel Mora), but Dennis' meagre argument that the eviction goes against "the vibe" of the Constitution does not go well in court.

While awaiting the court's final decision, Darryl makes pleasant small talk with a man whom he meets outside the courthouse, Lawrence Hammill (Bud Tingwell), who has come to watch his son (a barrister) perform in court. The court rejects the family's appeal and gives them two weeks to vacate.  Dejected in defeat, the family begins to pack.

A new breath of hope comes with the surprise arrival of Lawrence, who reveals himself as a retired Queen's Counsel. Lawrence has taken an interest in the Kerrigans' case and offers to argue before the High Court of Australia on their behalf, pro bono. Lawrence makes a persuasive case that the Kerrigans have the right to just terms of compensation for acquisition of property under Section 51(xxxi) of the Australian Constitution.

He closes by paraphrasing Darryl's own comments that his house is more than just a structure of bricks and mortar, but a home built with love and shared memories.

The court rules in favour of the Kerrigans, and their case becomes a landmark precedent on the subject.”

Now switch the scene to Goddard Park, Concord.

Darren McLean is addressing a crowd of about 200 residents from Strathfield, Ashfield, Concord and Canada Bay. About 100 homes are being compulsorily purchased by the WestConnex Delivery Authority.

Darren evokes the picture of his two young children playing in the pool in his backyard. And sounding as if emotion is about to get the better of him, he explains his immediate neighbour had been acquired, while his home has not.

That means his family home will be turned into “Alcatraz”, he says, imprisoned by construction and then by traffic trying to find their way to the new highway.

“Please buy my house,” he pleads with WestConnex officials.

And yes, he evoked the  name of Darryl Kerrigan.

Saturday’s first meeting of protestors in Goddard Park should be a warning to the WestConnex  Delivery Authority and State Premier Barry O’Farrell, 15 months out from an election.

There are some in government who have told us the WestConnex protestors  “just don’t get it” and “can’t see the bigger picture”.

If anyone really believes that is the way to think about 100 families who are about to loose their homes, and thousands more whose lives are going to be seriously disrupted, they need a lesson in community management.

These people are not numbys determined to impede progress.  They are well-educated concerned citizens.  And the way we have treated them in this largely laudable exercise to improve transport is shabby, to say the least.

As the residents explain it, WestConnex told them their homes could be up for compulsory acquisition.  If they were, they would get a letter. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t.

Just think about that for a moment.  You wait by the postbox every day.  If you don’t get a letter, you get one day’s respite for your family, your lifestyle and the house that is your castle.

Ruby Alcantara, 71, owns one of the few homes that will be left in Daly Avenue.  But she is concerned for a resident of 88 who is also being left behind to face the disruption of construction. That resident has lived in the street for almost all her life.

We believe alleviating Inner West traffic is vital, and the WestConnex is an important attempt to take trucks and vans off suburb roads. Ultimately, it is a good thing – and hopes that pouring cash into public transport will solve our problems instead is just a pipe dream.

And, perhaps surprisingly, many of those on that park in Concord in the blazing heat last Saturday probably understand this too.

It’s really about communication and the way in which a very delicate, human problem was approached. Clearly, those horny-handed managers more used to road-rollers and the wreckers’ ball at the WestConnex Delivery Authority need a lesson in human relations.

Drummoyce MP John Sidotti is to be commended for making the most practical suggestion of the day: buy all the homes affected, and ensure everyone is compensated.  His view of the current offer:  “Imbecilic”.

Maybe Mr O’Farrell should pop round to the video store and order the WestConnex Board to join him in a private viewing of The Castle.


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