"Cool Hotel Chaos" (Australia)                                                                                                              Portfolio

October 2016 - June 2017

 

This is the story of the end of the legendary Gatwick Private Hotel in Melbourne. Its owners, twin sisters Rose Banks and Yvette Kelly, have sheltered for 20 years those who had nowhere to go, e.g., penniless people, drug addicts, prostitutes, and ex-convicts. The Gatwick has been a gateway for many, and a house for decades for others. In the fast-gentrifying neighborhood of Saint-Kilda, the building became spoilsport. Its notorious reputation precipitated its fall. The sisters felt forced to sell the property. Channel 9 bought the building for its reality show The Block. The 1930s hotel had been split into luxurious apartments. Its reconstruction was aired in the 2018 season of the TV show.

Before its final closure in July 2017, the Gatwick was sold out almost every night and accommodated between 100 and 150 people. For many residents, the Gatwick evoked a home, a family, "a place where nobody judges you". "Exotic", "intense", "paradise", "hell", each resident has his own perspective on the Gatwick. All were lucid about the dilapidation of the place but agreed to greet the Herculean work done by the twins. Rose and Yvette played the role of substitute mother for many residents through their presence and their actions: free haircuts, mended clothes, small gifts at Christmas. At the age of 14, they started working at the Gatwick--then run by their mother. When she passed away in 1998, the twin sisters took over. The imposing building of 2700 square meters, three levels, a hundred rooms, was outdated. Linen, cleaning rooms, repairs… the day-to-day work was endless and exhausting. Frequent repairs weighted on the hotel budget, all the more as only a few residents payed the totality of their moderate rent.

For Mickael, the night watchman, crystal meth precipitated the fall of the Gatwick. Paranoid delusions and violent behavior often hatch under this drug influence. "People who take it become unmanageable, they do not even sleep anymore." Between January 1 and October 11, 2016, 97 calls were made to emergency from the Gatwick, including 21 for overdoses. The paramedics did not enter the Gatwick without police escort. At night, after Mickael’s shift, all Saint-Kilda’s nightcrawlers were flowing in the building to buy, sell or inject drugs. Every morning, a hundred of needles were collected in the hotel. To avoid tensions between the different groups of guests, Rose and Yvette placed on the top floor, the quietest residents, the oldest, some at the Gatwick for 30 years.

The closure of the Gatwick, wrongly announced so many times, took residents by surprise. The Saint-Kilda Housing Community, a local NGO promoting housing affordability, was mandated by the Town Hall to supervise the shutdown. The NGO hired security night guards to secure the entrance to the building. The population decreased from April to June, 2017. The rooms were gradually emptied, and the doors and windows condemned. Rose and Yvette continued cleaning, tidying and repainting the empty rooms. Rose recognized "it's like moving chairs on the Titanic’s deck [...] but I want the Gatwick to leave on a proper way". Some registered residents managed to be relocated thanks to the Saint-Kilda Housing Community and other social services. Rose and Yvette helped the residents to move their belongings and to relocate.

The Gatwick was sold to Channel 9 in July 2017. In November 2017, its reconstruction began: the roof had been torn off, the central staircase demolished, parts ripped open. A page is turned in Saint-Kilda, "the end of an era" according to a former resident. The Gatwick made the highlight of the 2018 season of the reality show The Block.