Aboriginal activists in Redfern have scored an initial victory, with plans to begin further bulldozing at The Block held off. The newly-established Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy has been camped on the site since the middle of June, opposing a major new commercial redevelopment.
“We’re looking to maintain our presence here, and resist any efforts to turn any soil over if it isn’t for housing for Aboriginal people”, Aboriginal activist Jenny Munro told Solidarity. “Low cost housing for Aboriginal families should come first, not last”.
One hundred and five protesters gathered early in the morning of Monday 7 July, the day work at the site was scheduled to begin. But the demolition teams never turned up.
Housing in The Block was purchased for Aboriginal people in 1973 with money granted by the Whitlam government. The area had already housed the inner city Aboriginal community for 60 years, but developers were trying to buy up homes in the area and force them out.
Now the Aboriginal Housing Company that was entrusted with the properties has turned on the local community. It plans a major commercial redevelopment on the land that would effectively exclude Aboriginal people. Much of The Block has already been bulldozed.
The development includes commercial housing and retail properties, but there is no guarantee of any low cost housing for Aboriginal people.
The redevelopment plans make provision for 62 low cost houses, but they will only be built if the state or federal governments agree to put up the money. Neither have any intention of doing so.
The ABC’s Lateline program quoted a source from the former NSW Labor government who, disgracefully, said that, “money had been withheld from the Aboriginal Housing Company because of concerns that re-building affordable homes in The Block would create a new urban slum with major crime and drug problems.
“The source said that 62 dwellings for Aboriginal tenants was far too many and that the area would work better with art galleries, cafes and a weekend market.”
The Aboriginal Housing Company, headed by Mick Mundine, argues that money made on the commercial redevelopment could later be used to fund low cost housing.
But according to Jenny Munro, “our community is being dispossessed by Aboriginal people who think that they own all of this [The Block]. It was created by the community for Aboriginal people in the inner city are and they have moved away from that mandate.”
The Tent Embassy protest has received support from a number of veterans of the 1972 Tent Embassy protests in Canberra.
The Tent Embassy at Redfern is standing strong, but it is expected the bulldozers will turn up soon. They are urging everyone to come down and help “blockade The Block” when they arrive.
Look up “Blockade for the Block” on Facebook for updates
By James Supple