Aboriginal Housing Company

2008
CC BY-SA 2.0
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Aboriginal Housing Company

In 1972 IBK Constructions, a large development company, purchased several houses in Louis Street, Redfern, and surrounds. The houses had been home to predominantly Aboriginal families for over 60 years. [1] IBK Constructions began forcibly evicting Aboriginal residents from their homes, as it planned to completely redevelop the area. But Redfern had become a centre for the Aboriginal community in Sydney, a place where Aboriginal people were 'able to do their thing without interruption from the so-called normalcy of the dominant culture'. [2]

The Aboriginal community in Redfern was facing both increasing rents and pressure to move to outer suburbs. The situation came to a head when 15 Aboriginal people were arrested for trespassing – they had simply refused to leave their homes.

The group was discharged into the care of priests at the Redfern Presbytery. News spread of the available shelter and the number of people living there grew to 50. Eventually they were served an eviction notice by South Sydney Council. [3] After protracted negotiations with IBK Constructions, the group was able to secure use of the empty premises in Louis Street until construction began. [4]

The properties were run down and in need of repair, so the group organised a 'mop and bucket' brigade. Members of the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF), the Electrical Trades Union and the Plumbing Trades Employees Union assisted with repairs to the houses. Once the houses were repaired and occupied, the group refused to move from the premises, banding together to resist police raids. The BLF supported the Aboriginal struggle by placing a ban on building development in the area. [5]

The beginning of The Block

The group then formed a delegation to the then federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Gordon Bryant, to request funding for an Aboriginal housing project. In 1973 a formal submission was made for federal funding and by April the federal government bought 41 houses in the block bordered by Louis, Vine, Eveleigh and Caroline streets. This area was to become colloquially known as 'The Block'. [6] The Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC) was then incorporated in 1973 to manage the grant. This is now seen as the first successful land rights claim by the Aboriginal community.

The acquisition of land by an Aboriginal community group attracted more people to the Redfern area. Unfortunately, the Aboriginal Housing Company was unable to cope with the significant social problems facing the Aboriginal community as a result of colonisation. The disadvantages of the Aboriginal community in health, unemployment, poverty and alcohol and drug abuse were concentrated in the urban environment, and Redfern became the focal point for negative media reports. [7] The area owned by the company rapidly deteriorated, a result of overcrowding and lack of funding for maintenance.

The Pemulwuy Project and the Redfern-Waterloo Authority

In 1997, the Aboriginal Housing Company initiated the Pemulwuy Project, with a view to replacing the houses on The Block and creating 'a clean, healthy and safe environment in which the next generation of Aboriginal children can live harmoniously'. [8] Aside from building new homes, the Pemulwuy Project included plans for community facilities such as a gym, elders' centre and courtyard.

The gentrification of inner city areas, including Redfern, has meant that the Aboriginal Housing Company has faced increasing pressure to sell its land to developers. The push to develop the area was formalised by the state government with the creation of the Redfern-Waterloo Authority in 2004. In addition, the company has faced an uphill battle in attempts to secure government funding and support for its own development plan for The Block. [9]

Notes

[1] Robert Bellear, 'Breakthrough', in Robert Bellear (ed), Black Housing Book, Amber Press, Broadway, 1976, p 4

[2] Robert Bellear, 'Breakthrough', in Robert Bellear (ed), Black Housing Book, Amber Press, Broadway, 1976, p 4

[3] Robert Bellear, 'Breakthrough', in Robert Bellear (ed), Black Housing Book, Amber Press, Broadway, 1976, p 4

[4] KJ Anderson, 'Place Narratives and the Origins of Inner Sydney's Aboriginal Settlement, 1972–73,' Journal of Historical Geography, vol 19 no 3, 1993, p 322

[5] Robert Bellear, 'Breakthrough', in Robert Bellear (ed), Black Housing Book, Amber Press, Broadway, 1976, pp 4–5

[6] Robert Bellear, 'Breakthrough', in Robert Bellear (ed), Black Housing Book, Amber Press, Broadway, 1976, pp 4–5

[7] New South Wales Legislative Council, Standing Committee on Social Issues, Inquiry into Issues Relating to Redfern/Waterloo, Report 32, August 2004, the council, Sydney, p 37

[8] Aboriginal Housing Company Limited, 'Pemulwuy Project Profile 2000–2006,' Aboriginal Housing Company Limited, Redfern, p 2

[9] Sunanda Creagh, 'Fee too much for Block project', Sydney Morning Herald, 20 March 2008

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