Drastic action was taken after a riot in Dubbo, with a notorious housing estate bulldozed and its residents relocated. But the problem wasn't solved, merely dispersed.
The afternoon Lee-Anne Ebsworth was released from jail, a PCYC bus drew up outside her home on the distressed western outskirts of Dubbo.
"If you don't get out of Dubbo, we're going to kick you out on the street," she recalls the housing officer telling her, having learned of her arrest for fighting on the estate.
So she piled into the bus with her nine children and a nephew, and they were all carted 400 kilometres south to a caravan park outside Wagga Wagga.
It was the harbinger of what was to come for Dubbo's Gordon Estate.
Two months later a family feud-cum-riot on New Year's Eve 2005 made national headlines when two policemen were injured and their car set alight, and the government decided to take drastic action. Gordon Estate would be closed down.
Its 1300 predominantly Aboriginal residents were shipped out, their homes knocked down or sold off to private buyers, and the suburb was renamed Rosewood Grove.
Some derided the strategy as social engineering, but in 2010 it was awarded the Australian Crime and Violence Prevention Award and the then Minister for Housing David Borger declared it a success - Dubbo had fallen from being the fifth-worst area in NSW for break-and-enter to the 28th and a stash of affordable housing had been created.
But that was not the end of the story for the former residents of Gordon Estate, who had scattered across the town and state, or for the police trying to contain crime or the wider population of Dubbo.
New pockets of crime
Today, Dubbo is grappling with an ice problem and the long-term crime rate has not improved since 2005, with the inland city sitting at two or three times the state average for offences such as break-and-enter, malicious damage and theft from a motor vehicle.
NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research hotspot data indicates that crimes such as non-domestic assault have been virtually erased from the area which once housed Gordon Estate, but new pockets of crime have emerged elsewhere in town. Domestic violence is dispersed across the metropolitan area. Malicious property damage has moved from the north-west and taken root elsewhere.
Stephen Lawrence, a local councillor and criminal barrister, observed that crimes such as car theft, which dropped around the time the estate was dismantled, rose again shortly afterwards.
There was no doubt that clumping together people with entrenched social problems bred crime, he said. But more resources needed to be invested in measures such as drug and alcohol rehabilitation for any meaningful change to occur.
"The closure of the Gordon Estate simply moved people around, in many cases to other other areas of concentrated social disadvantage, for example other parts of west Dubbo and east Dubbo and other regional towns," Mr Lawrence said.
"Some of those areas have markedly deteriorated in terms of crime since."
'It was an attack on their dignity'
Former Gordon Estate residents who moved within Dubbo faced a tough time also, separated from family members and unwelcome in their new neighbourhoods.
Dubbo residents knew that former estate tenants were moving into their streets when rows of houses were renovated with identical fences and coats of paint - a calling card from the Department of Housing.
"As long as it was happening in Gordon Estate they could deal with it, but they didn't want that problem next to them," former Dubbo mayor Mathew Dickerson said.
"And then you start to see racism come out. We had to work hard in the community to make sure they saw this as a good outcome."
Wiradjuri elder Frank "Riverbank" Doolan sympathised. "If you spent years buying a home in a good area and suddenly they close down a housing estate in the worst part of town and move some of the people into your street, how would you feel?" he said.
But it was equally traumatic for the former tenants, most of whom had been blameless in the problems of the estate, he said.
"It was an attack on their dignity and I think that's a real tragedy," Mr Doolan said.
"Lives have been uprooted. They could have gradually transitioned people. They could have worked closely with our community."
From the perspective of Family and Community Services, the policy was a resounding success in tackling social disadvantage. Former tenants told the department that their children were attending school more frequently since they moved.
A small proportion of tenants chose to move out of Dubbo, but only at their own request, the department said in a statement. "FACS would never relocate anyone to another town against their wishes."
Ms Ebsworth's new house in Wagga Wagga was burned to the ground while she was out of town one year later, and she has spent the intervening years between Dubbo and Broken Hill, unable to get public housing and evicted from private leases for defaulting on rent payments after suffering domestic violence.
"Fifteen years later I still don't have a home," she said. "My kids haven't been settled."
She wants to sue the housing department for discriminating against her while the other family she was fighting on the night of her arrest was resettled in Dubbo.
Her lawyer says she should concentrate on finding a house.
"I say, 'I don't want a house - I want to sue them for what was taken from me'."
Split in two
North-west Dubbo has been split into two distinct precincts - with the former Gordon Estate houses rebuilt or revamped in what is now known as "Rosewood Grove", and older houses filling out the remaining blocks.
When the area was built in the late 1960s, it was populated by Ansett airline workers, policemen, school teachers, council and energy company employees and the district agronomist.
But around 1990, local resident Marian Pearson noticed the housing estate was becoming more raucous, with fires every night, fighting and break-ins. Large groups of youths used to sit on her front lawn and urinate on the shrubs. Bricks were thrown through her window.
She and her husband decided to sell, but they had left their run too late. "Nobody wanted to buy it," Mrs Pearson said. "It was just plain horrible."
For the Pearsons, the destruction of the estate was a vast relief.
"It's completely turned around," Mrs Pearson said, though she misses the old days, before the bad times, when the streets were full of children and the women chatted out the front of their houses.
These days Mark Ebsworth is the unofficial watchman on the block, parked outside his house on most days. He moved down from Bourke in the 1980s and witnessed the transformation of the area, when large groups of Aboriginal people from neighbouring towns started moving into the estate, bringing trouble, according to some.
"Some people around here are glad they all got out," Mr Ebsworth said. His relatives were among them, replaced now by white folk who keep to themselves.
"That's a good thing," Mr Ebsworth, a relative of Lee-Anne, said. "It's quiet here."
Those newcomers include Nerida Baxter, who moved to the area last year. The house she bought with her husband had been sitting on the market six months, though it was virtually new, and they had enough change from the transaction that they are now planning to build a double garage.
"It's a beautiful home and I don't know why it was on the market for so long," she said.
"It was only because the area had a reputation from previous years."
A new direction
Dubbo police have recently taken a new approach to policing, pulling more people over for checks and searches. They say it has led to a reduction in crime. Mr Dickerson said one upside of diluting crime across Dubbo was that residents were motivated to do something about it.
"One of the integral parts to getting long-term solutions is to get to the point where you don't see them as low-income problems or education problems or unemployment problems or even Aboriginal and white problems," he said. "You just see them as community problems."