Inside the Gatwick

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By Matt Barnett and John Kerrens

 

On a sunny day, this writer and a colleague visited the, what has been labelled, ‘notorious’ Gatwick Hotel.

The Gatwick stands at 34 Fitzroy Street, a building that was established by ‘Vittoria Carbone – known as ‘the Queen of St Kilda’ (Queen Vicky) – in the 1960’s. After her death in 1998, the hotel was taken over by her daughters Rose and Yvette who have run the place since then. During the War, the hotel functioned as a billet for allied troops; specifically US officers. The Prince of Wales, across the street was used likewise. The Banff building further along operated in the same fashion during the war as General MacArthur’s HQ for the Pacific campaign.

The Gatwick stands facing Fitzroy Street, an impervious white slab. An arched entrance leads up a set of steps and double doors to a landing where rooms lead down a hallway. The reception is a small wooden counter, where a police officer stands, talking to a lady who stands behind it. The police officer doesn’t bother to look at us, but continues talking to the woman, and, after a moment, intrigued by the place, we walk down the hall.

What hits you first is the smell of the place, seeping from the carpet; stale tobacco and alcohol. The hallway extends a distance where a line of doors stand closed. In the middle of it, through an open doorway, a large room stands, where shower curtains hang on a concrete floor that is half wet. Returning back to the reception, the police officer is gone, and the lady talks to a man. After a while, she looks up and we inquire about a room. The man takes a set of keys and shows us up a set of stairs to the first floor and a room.

The stale alcohol and cigarette smell is more prevalent here, but more, the smell of marijuana radiates, a noxious pungent smell. A double bed stands in the middle of the room with a couch alongside, and a dressing table. The carpet looks as though it’s at least ten years old. The redeeming feature is the window, which stands open, mercifully letting in air. The man tells us that the room is $260 per week. He then leads us to a second room, up on the next level. This one is similar, perhaps smaller, the same smell pervading, a window leading out onto the street, an old television set sitting on the dresser, and is the same price.

He then leads us back down the stairs to the reception and down the hall to where the kitchen stands. A room holding a large dining table sits empty, where there is a bookshelf. The kitchen itself holds a number of stoves and a microwave. He then shows us back to the toilet and shower block, and then brings us back to the reception. A woman walks past in a bathrobe.  The sound of two men yelling can be heard from outside. We then thank the lady for letting us see the rooms, and decline taking up the option of staying, and leave. Outside, on the street, a man stands, looking at us, holding a can of UDL.

One finds oneself wondering what it be like to actually stay here for a week, how safe it would be, how hostile the residents actually are, let alone what it would be like to live here; murder has taken place here, and a number of times. One also wonders how it is that the residents themselves can afford to live here, that is, if they are surviving solely on Centrelink benefits. If this were the case, the reasoning behind all the hostility and unrest starts to become clear.

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