The Guardian 6 July, 2005
Fighting to save The Block
NSW Minister Frank Sartorís vision to gentrify Redfern and to ease the path for developers came one step closer to reality last month with the gazetting of The Block and other key sites in Redfern as State significant under the Redfern Waterloo Act.
Ironically this grab for control over Aboriginal land coincided with the start of Reconciliation Week and only days after the funeral of one of the true champions of self-≠determination, Father Ted Kennedy.
When asked about the planning controls over The Block going to the minister Frank Sartor, Peter Valilis, Project Director for the Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC), revealed, "The AHC wrote to the Minister for Planning, Craig Knowles, in February expressly objecting, as the land owner, to Frank Sartor taking planning control over Aboriginal land on The Block, especially in light of his negative views toward Aboriginal people. Naturally we are unimpressed The Block has been designated State significant without any notification or consultation, but this is typical of the autocratic and secretive way Frank Sartor seems to operate with regards to Redfern."
The Minister for Redfern Waterloo has publicly stated his opposition to the Aboriginal community continuing to reside so close to proposed lucrative sites around Redfern Railway Station. He has also made no secret of his intention to block any attempts by the Aboriginal Housing Company (the private landowners of The Block) to rebuild new Aboriginal homes and provide affordable home ownership (for the first time) to Redfernís Aboriginal community.
The Aboriginal Housing Companyís redevelopment proposal (the Pemulwuy Project) has attracted international acclaim and awards for its innovative inclusion of 62 low-to-medium-density family homes, a public civic space and retail/commercial area, artist markets, a student hostel, a sports facility and an Indigenous business college.
The project has also attracted broad local support from Sydney City Council, non-Aboriginal neighbours and the local business community.
When asked about the future of Redfern, Peter Valilis said, "The local stakeholders who have a long-term interest in the area recognise the potential for Redfern to become the hub of Aboriginal cultural tourism for Sydney. Obviously this cannot be achieved without a prominent and stable locally-based Aboriginal community. Thatís what the Pemulwuy Project is proposing."
Up until late last year the Aboriginal Housing Company maintained a very close co-≠operative relationship with the NSW Premierís Department and spent three years working to resolve all the issues that would ensure The Block did not become a slum again.
When asked about the support of the NSW government for the project, Michael Mundine, chief executive officer of the Aboriginal Housing Company, said, "The Government Architectís office, under instructions from the Premierís Department, prepared the final plans for the housing component of Pemulwuy Project. I donít understand what the NSW government is now objecting to."
In light of the duplicity of the NSW Government towards the Aboriginal Housing Company and the Redfern community, leading academics and experts have lent their support and expertise to the project. This eminent group is chaired by Tom Uren and includes Professor Ed Blakely, chair of the NSW Metro Strategy, and Dr Vivienne Milligan, director of AHURI (Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute).
The Aboriginal Housing Company hopes that with this groupís support and guidance, the project can finally achieve a prompt conclusion, in spite of the efforts of Frank Sartor to derail the process.
When asked why the NSW government has back-flipped on their support for Redfern, Michael Mundine said, "I donít think the NSW Government ever really supported us, the Premierís Department was just stringing us along.
"The AHC was an open and honest partner in its co-operation; the NSW Government on the other hand has proven to be dishonest and untrustworthy in its dealings with the community.
"Redfern is a cash cow for the Bob and Frank consortium and they seem ready to sell out the blackfellas to get what they want. The have a plan for Redfern that doesnít include the poor or people with dark skin, and they must see The Block as a blockage to their plans."
The Aboriginal Housing Company has vowed to fight for self-determination and has not ruled out a legal challenge if the NSW government tries to prevent it from providing new housing to Aboriginal people on The Block.
Aboriginal Housing Company Sydney