ACT News


Shot in the night stirs old war memories

Garang Leek hadn't heard a gunshot since he escaped a war zone in Sudan four years ago - until the early hours of Wednesday morning.

The 24-year-old was up watching television in a unit in Stuart Flats in Griffith when he says he heard the shot about 2am. But he didn't venture outside.

''I didn't come to check it out - it might not be safe,'' he said.

The bullet went through a street-facing window and closed curtain of a ground-floor unit on Light Street. At the time of writing, police were unable to confirm whether the bullet had been fired from a car or by someone on foot.

Mr Leek, who works dismantling old electrical equipment and has been staying at the flats for about a month, said he rarely hung out outside the flat, and was sometimes scared.

He came to Australia with his family as a refugee about four years ago, and has since become a permanent resident. He lives with his brother and a friend, and the three of them tend to keep to their flat when they aren't at work or studying. He said he'd become accustomed to the safety Australia has to offer, and was shocked to hear gunfire again.


''Four years in Australia, and this is the first time I've heard a gunshot,'' Mr Leek said.

A woman living in another block of the Stuart Flats said it was a terrible place to try to bring up her eight-year-old daughter.

The pair heard the gunshot, and the young girl was too scared to go back to bed or to take herself to school.

''This morning she wouldn't go on the bus [to school],'' her mother, who asked not to be named, said.

''She made me walk right around, she didn't even want to walk out the front here. For an eight-year-old, it's terrible. She goes to my grandparents' place and she wonders why the police aren't driving around her place three or four times … she thinks it is normal."

The woman said they had been living there for about five years, but between incidents - such as a recent fire in a nearby flat - and some unruly neighbours, it was impossible to live a normal life.

''She's got nowhere to play, nothing. She can't come out the front,'' the mother said. ''I just want her to feel comfortable and safe.''

She said the only way authorities could improve the complex would be to destroy it and start again.

Another resident from a nearby stairwell, Ben, didn't hear the shot, but was woken by the police activity about 3am.

Ben, who said he was currently on a methadone program after having problems with drugs, said the flats weren't always an easy place to live, but it was still surprising to hear about a shooting next door.

''Especially if it was someone in a car driving - it doesn't take much to miss, for a bullet to go through someone else's window. We're all pretty close together here so it's no good,'' he said.

''I'm not real fearful of being here, but I feel sorry for some of the other people that do live here … there's a lot of people here that lead very normal lives and work and don't have anything to do with anything criminal.''

He said the Stuart Flats had good blocks and bad blocks, and there were problems with drugs, drug dealers and people fighting within the complex - but it wasn't any worse than other public housing complexes around the capital.

''When you put a heap of people, disadvantaged people in one area, that's what happens. It's notorious, this place, for drugs. People come from far and wide to score,'' Ben said. ''It's the way it is with any of these units like this, same as Illawarra Court or Gowrie Court - they're all the same. It's really hard to live a normal sort of existence around here. Everyone's sort of caught up in some drugs or whatever.''

Peter Chemhere, a 25-year-old who moved to the flats two years ago after spending time on the streets, said much of the problem came from the public housing environment, which isolated the residents from the rest of the Canberra community.

''Sometimes I feel rejected living here,'' he said. ''You can tell with the surrounding what it's like. This place, in this suburb, is the only place that's different. Living in a place like here you have to expect anything and anything can happen. People who live out of this area, out of this main part, they are afraid to come here because of the way this place is built. It's built to put away some people.''

Mr Chemhere said the Stuart Flats should be knocked down, and mixed housing, where public tenants could associate with private residents, be built in its place. ''This place needs to be pulled down. All government places have to be built like private housing so there's no difference in valuation of people,'' he said.

''If you look at it, it just tells you what it's like. Look at our housing, government housing, it's different to private housing. Private looks nice, you know. And if you're in a nice home, you will feel comfortable, you will feel worth it. It feels like you're someone. But if you're not … you lose hope."