A love story

Rose and Yvette Gatwick 

When I heard Tim Winton comment on one of his best reads of the year, a novel about domestic violence, he expressed how kindness can be transformative. It made think about kindness and what it means to be kind.

While thinking about this, I happened upon a documentary, The Last Chance Hotel’. It was about twin sisters, Rose and Yvette, who had managed The Gatwick Hotel in the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda, for 50 years! Their parents had initially purchased The Gatwick and it had historically been rooms for ‘gentlemen’, visiting Melbourne from the country. When the sisters took it on, it accommodated 80 residents who were homeless, marginalized, had drug and alcohol problems, mental health issues and were isolated. The Gatwick was referred to by outsiders as “ hotel of horrors” and “hope for the hopeless”. To my surprise, some of the residents had been there for thirty years. Many of the residents or “guests” were there because they had exhausted other services. Many saw Rose and Yvette as ‘family’.

Yvette and Rose worked 16 hour days, cleaning, picking up syringes, washing graffiti from walls, fixing broken windows, laundering and making the rooms “homely” with trinkets and pressed pillow cases. They created a family home for those who had been sleeping rough.

Even if the Gatwick was full, there was floor space and the offer of a blanket. The sisters had to struggle to find funds to keep the Gatwick running and the cost of complying with the changing council regulations. Rose and Yvette were eventually pressured to sell their Gatwick.

What shone through was how a modicum of kindness can transform a moment, a day, change how one feels about oneself and perhaps, a springboard to make a positive change in one’s life.

Yvette and Rose gave a sympathetic ear, change for a coffee, a smile, a hug and practical care. They proudly recollected that some of their residents moved onto employment. Others had continued to volunteer and work at the Gatwick until its closure.

The Gatwick was sold to the TV program ‘The Block’, to be renovated into four luxury apartments. When completed Yvette and Rose bought one of the apartments so that part of the Gatwick would remain within the family. They were also able to purchase some other properties, which they rent out at minimal cost to 15 previous residents of the Gatwick.

The sisters exuded warmth and kindness. They called the community, the Gatwick, and their part in it, a “love story”. Each room was a shrine to the resident who resided there. The bed in the room was lovingly made with an inscription left inside before the door was finally boarded up.

These two strong women transformed the lives of their residents, through their kindness and welcoming arms.

We hope we can continue to do the same here at Bonnie’s.

Written by Margy who feels privileged to be privy to the journeys of women and children at difficult times and the smiles on the women’s faces as their life takes an upward turn.

Photo by ABC and iview and by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

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