268 Gore Street, Fitzroy

The following is a summary of the Oral History Project, Interview with Val Noone and Mary Doyle, 5 August 2015, by the Fitzroy History Society.

The owners of this house previously lived in a rented house in King William Street next to and owned by the Catholic Church. It was an open house to which they allowed homeless people and draft resisters for the Vietnam War to stay. This was in late 1971. The house was run by Mary Doyle ( a social worker at St Vincent’s who worked in the first Alcoholism Clinic) and Brian Noone. Val Noone (Historian) came to join them in the last weeks of 1970.

Gavin Fitzpatrick (parish priest) who replaced Luigi d’Astergno (parish priest of All Saints 1968-1969) wanted to extent the Sacred Heart School and make a playground, so the terrace in which Mary, Brian and others were renting and another were demolished for this purpose. There was a lot of such demolishment going on as across the road, the slum clearance was well underway for the creation of Atherton Gardens.

Finding a property for young people and homeless people was a challenge, the banks were not able to provision for a cooperative purchase. However, assistance was provided by Lou Hill, who had rented at the property in Gore Street and knew that the house and the one next to it were coming on the market. So a group was formed and with the assistance of a friendly bank manager they purchased 266 and 268 Gore Street and knocked a hole in the wall. They moved into 268 on 11 July 1971. Another group moved to 29 Bell Street which was managed by Brian Noone.

Many of the people staying in the open houses, first at King William St and then later at Gore Street were homeless, Mary had met a lot of them through her social work at St Vincent’s Hospital. Val describes them as “we thought they all looked old, but for instance, a couple of the men we knew very well, whose funerals we went to and so on, would have been 30 or 40… I’m thinking of a fell called Charlie Davis, and another one called Noel Black, and they were both quite young really. But the others… they’d be returned men from the war, they’d be 45, 50 I suppose.” Mary had met Brian at the Gill Memorial and then Brian worked at the Hanover Centre. They formed a group Brian, Chris Tucker, Judy Chow, Bernard and Deidre Slattery, and started the open houses, with a feature being that anyone could come and have an evening meal, but they couldn’t house everyone due to the lack of room. Mary says “We wanted it to be small, to learn how to take personal responsibility for what came to us… The open house grew out of a sense that institutions were not treating people with respect. And out of our decision to try to live a simple self-sufficeint life in an area where homelesss and disadvantaged people felt relatively safe, that is, Fitzroy at the time was the nearest Melbourne had to a ‘Skid Row’. Our aim was to see if we could live side by side with them to share our lives, to learn… we were seeking a ‘safe haven’ for discussion and action on social change, for example, on the Vietnam War and the Moratorium”.

The social initiative was run independently of any assistance.

Val and Mary married in 1974 and in 1975 were expecting their first child. At this stage 266 was sold and the shareholders all were paid off including those on 268 Gore Street allowing Val and Mary to stay in the house and they have been there since. Their children went to primary school at Sacred Heart and to secondary school at Collingwood College (then called Collingwood Education Centre).

Val and Mary have been active in the Fitzroy community, fighting against the freeway, for the establishment of one-way streets, street closures to reduce the use of the roads as a thoroughfare, and part of the Gore Street Area Action Group. They are also social, having a Boxing Day Street Party each year for their street.

For further information review the FHS interview.

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