IN 1998, James Cain led the firefighting team aboard the HMAS Westralia during a catastrophic fire that killed four sailors.
Seventeen years later he’s still reliving the nightmare, debilitated by post-traumatic stress disorder.
But that’s not all: his misery is magnified by people he and his partner Jay Gallacher call neighbours from hell.
“It’s been nearly 16 years of shit,” Mr Cain says. “Every tenant Homeswest has put in has been just horrible.
“Over the years I’ve been attacked with a samurai sword, threatened with a shotgun and there have been threats to damage the cars.”
Despite numerous complaints to the WA housing department, the Carrington Street couple say nothing is done to demand better behaviour.
Their litany of grievances includes shouting, brawling, human defecation on their front doormat and overcrowding—the property next door is a one-bedroom duplex but many more are often living there, they say.
“It’s like a half-way house. Most nights there would be four or five people staying.
“When the previous tenants were here there were 14 people living in that duplex. I have documented all my correspondence with the department but nothing gets done.
“When does the three-strikes policy come into effect? The last letter just before Christmas from the minister said there were planned scheduled works—what’s that going to achieve, it’s all asbestos so what are they going to do? We want it knocked down.”
Mr Gallacher says he can escape the troubles through work but he fears for his partner.
“James is at home all day because of his PTSD and I have this anxiety that I could come home one day and he could have topped himself,” Mr Gallacher says.
Monthly counselling sessions are often consumed by the pair detailing their problems with neighbours and barely touch on Mr Cain’s deep-seated issues stemming from the Westralia fire.
“We report the incident, they investigate, they send the tenant a letter saying they would investigate the complaint, the tenant smartens up their act and things are better for a short time. Give it a week and they’ll all be back,” Mr Gallacher sighs.
The Herald knocked on the next door neighbour’s door and a teary Rahui Emsly answers, speaking softly through a closed security screen door.
“They want these two units pulled down,” she says, referring to Messrs Cain and Gallacher. “I’m just too tired now … I can’t have anyone here, even my son who suffers from chronic seizures.”
Conceding her home is a source of trouble, she says, “I’ve just had grief for four years. I can’t control the fights … I’ve had trouble since I’ve been here and it’s sad.”
She’d asked Homeswest for a transfer to a two-bedroom unit where she can better accommodate her 30-year-old son but has been told there is nothing available.
“They have offered me counselling but that won’t help,” she says.
“I’ve had enough … I’m going back to Melbourne. I came to WA 12 years ago to sort my marriage out but that didn’t work. I don’t have any support here and just one friend.”
A WA housing department spokesman says the tenancy has received a single strike that has now expired, but is under investigation for a new complaint lodged in November.
He says the department will “take appropriate action if the complaint was substantiated”.
Mr Cain says that’s the most common response he gets from the department.
In the latest incident in November, police turned up and arrested someone.
“James has noted all the police incident numbers and given them to Homeswest,” Mr Gallacher says.
“It’s not just about the tenants, it’s about Homeswest … it’s just a stupid department.”
by EDDIE ALBRECHT