Locked in the nine blocks

Jul 8, 2020 • 13m 24s

Five days ago, the Andrews government used police to lock down nine public housing towers. We spoke to one resident, Hulya, about what is happening inside.



Locked in the nine blocks

260 • Jul 8, 2020

Locked in the nine blocks

[Phone rings]


Hi there, It’s Hulya. We don't know what's going on. It was like instant. We tried to rush out and get just a few bits and pieces, but we weren't allowed to leave.

They were setting up and they told us to go back inside. So we did. And now it's, what, ten past seven? And still no information unless you go downstairs and come across the police and then ask them what's going on.

They'll tell you that the building's in lockdown and go back to your house and wait for further instructions.

No one's knocked on the door to say anything.

The way the building's been locked down, it's like a prison.


From Schwartz Media,, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

As Melbourne goes back into shutdown, residents in nine public housing tower blocks enter the fifth day of forced lockdown by police.

Critics say the response is disproportionate and should not have involved police. Premier Daniel Andrews argues the measures are necessary to contain coronavirus.

Inside the towers, residents are afraid and have limited access to food and other necessities.

We spoke to Hulya, a resident in Flemington, over the course of the lockdown. This first call took place at 7pm on Saturday, three hours after police shut down the tower she lives in.


I'm just a little bit concerned because I'm guessing a lot of people would have supplies for tonight. They could have warned to say, you know, it's happening at what, eleven fifty-nine - what they did with a lot of the other suburbs.

The stair exit is closed like this. There are police outside at the fire exit as well. So there's no you can't, like, come in and out without them seeing you. At every point of exit, there are a few police officers. Last time I counted, there were fifteen police cars. Don't know how many actual officers are outside though.

And it's kind of scary when people don't speak English and they've gone downstairs - like this old man who's trying to leave, an elderly gentleman, and they told him to go back inside and he didn't understand why. He didn't understand why. And he's really confused. So he did go back inside and went back upstairs to his house. But he doesn't know what's happening.

Like why do you need a gun and why do you need to display it? You know what I mean? You don't need that. You don't need to be intimidating people who are already anxious. And some people have mental health issues. People have PTSD. A lot of people who live here also are from war torn countries. And they've come out of that. Now, they, you know, go downstairs to say, oh, my goodness, police with their guns and things. What is that? I mean, you might need a few officers. That's fair enough. But the scale of it, it's insane. It's there to make you feel like you’re little and they'll squash you. That is exactly what it is there for. That's what I think, anyway.

I can't find the right words, but it doesn't feel good when you’re treated differently to the other suburbs that have the exact same problem. Yeah, doesn't seem right at all. I mean, it feels discriminatory, actually, it feels that we’re being discriminated against because we live in public housing. It's just.. it's kind of strange.

[Phone rings]


Hi, so it's Hulya again. It's been well over 24 hours now, and we are yet to receive anything or any supplies or even a knock at the door to tell us what's going on.

I just tried to scrape together a meal, basically for myself and my partner, and I'm just trying to get something into my toddler because, being autistic, they don't just eat anything. And so, yeah, I'm trying to feed him. For us, it's one we can scrape together something, but we're running out of bread and we need milk.

I don't personally know anyone that's got the virus in the building, I don't even know if it's true anymore. Seriously, it's getting to that point. And I'm not a conspiracy theorist at all. But it's getting ridiculous.

Since the beginning of this whole COVID saga, I’ve taken extra steps and precautions not to go out, but they’ve caused complete chaos and panic, that’s why I’m really super scared to go outside at all now.

Archival tape -- announcement:

We have onsite testing at the bottom of the building... We would like all residents to be tested today, please help us so we can help you. The test only tests for coronavirus, and nothing else. I’ll repeat that again...

[Phone rings]


Today, I've been tested. They announced over the P.A. which levels they would like to come down. You basically need to follow that. So every hour that they're doing us three or four levels. Yeah. Hopefully we'll get the results back in one or two days

The first night definitely was. I did feel a bit of anxiety because of how quickly it was happening. The next day, though, my anxiety kind of turned into a bit of rage just because of the minimal communication and the type of communication that was being made.

I mean, you see, everything is on you. Basically… you need to go downstairs. You need to find the right people to speak to. You need to call the phone numbers to organise whatever you need. And even then, they're not... they weren't delivered.

What's it called? Community Union Defense League, CUDL. So people from there have been so lovely. They actually have just contracted me saying they've bought some more meals for my toddler and began to try to get them to me today in the afternoon. So that's fantastic. But, you know, these are all other organisations. These aren't what Premier Andrews said.

I'm getting more anxious as it goes along because we were told five-day lockdown. But the papers that have been handed out to us, the detention instructions say 14 days.

I’m in a group chat with a few people now, from a few buildings. And one of the guys, he said, like, he's waiting for his glaucoma medication and he's still not got that, so… It's just, yeah, it's really an explosion waiting to happen.


We’ll be back in a moment.


Archival tape -- announcement:

You can come down for testing now, in another hour, level four, level five and level six, one more hour after that.

[Phone rings]


It’s what, twenty past, twenty-five, past three. What does it say? I don't even know what day it is anymore. Seriously, Monday?

When I go downstairs, the feeling down there is pretty... I don't know how to explain it. It's a really foreign feeling. It's like we're in a different land. But the building that I normally, you know, that you normally come in and out of every day is just, it feels so, so foreign to me at the moment. Everyone's in this protective equipment, police officers standing around. It just doesn't feel right.

I've not had a bad experience with them, but the other people, the ones that are going, you know, that are actually doing the announcements over the P.A... I think they need a little bit more understanding of our situation just with the attitude.

Archival tape -- announcement:

There is some food available outside, however it's not what you all seem to want. And we are working on getting some fresh produce for you.


The more you sit idle, your mind starts to race and then you start to think of all the terrible scenarios. And then you're on social media reading things because you've got nothing else to do. Yeah, it's just really bad for your mental health. Definitely. Especially when you come across those really nasty comments. Calling you names and calling you opportunists and things like that.

I've got nothing to hide. I'm not ashamed that I live here. You know, that's basically what I feel like, they're trying to make me feel, you know, to be ashamed that I live here. Look, things can happen to anyone I’ve only lived here for about two years now. Prior to that, I was a full-time working person.

I had a perfectly great life. Everything was fantastic. But things can happen.

And now with people making comments like, ‘all you guys getting everything for free anyway’, things, you know, things like that, like, what good does money do if you don't have your freedom? Saying things like, ‘burn the place down’, ‘they're all useless’, things like that. They just, these people, they just, they're adding to the stress of the situation, I can say. Definitely

It seems to me like they think that because this is basically government housing, they have the right to do anything in these buildings. So it's whatever they say goes, there's no consideration as to what, you know, what people are feeling or what people need - no consideration for human life here at all. I don't know why it is that these people... we’re being punished.

You know what, I'm really upset at the moment, like just thinking about it, and I don't want to burst into tears. So, no, I'm not going to say anything because I think it might be taken the wrong way. Like, I just, my general message is, my general message is just that - just stop putting on a show. To people out there. just all of this stuff that's being said that we're being provided with. You know, I never had anything against Premier Andrews. I actually did not or don't still.

But why the lies? Or if they're not lies, or if that's what you've instructed, then it's not being done, mate. So you need to follow up on what's happening.

I hope it's only five days and that, you know, it's going to be over soon, hopefully. So, yeah.


Field reporting on this episode was done by Elle Marsh, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.



Also in the news -

The Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced a lockdown of metropolitan Melbourne, effective from midnight tonight, for a period of six weeks.

Under the reimposed stage three restrictions, people in Melbourne and one regional shire will only be able to leave their homes for four reasons - work, food, exercise or medical care.

Those restrictions are not as severe as the ones placed on the nine high rise towers, where residents are still unable to leave for any reason.

Victoria yesterday recorded its largest daily increase in COVID cases since the start of the pandemic, with 191 new cases.

Several states have now announced they’re closing their borders to Victorian residents.

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am, see you tomorrow.

Five days ago, the Andrews government used police to lock down nine public housing towers. Residents are afraid and have limited access to food and other necessities. We spoke to one resident, Hulya, about what is happening inside.

Guest: Hulya, a resident in one of the Flemington towers.

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7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem.

Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief.
Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

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260: Locked in the nine blocks