By Joseph Small:
A 2000-strong crowd flooded Belmore Park in Sydney recently to voice anger over the closure of Aboriginal communities in Western Australia and the planned commercial development of Redfern’s ‘Tent Embassy’.
It was one of many held around Australia on the same day (April 10), with over 100 other protests taking place.
Despite the large police presence and the small flock of sullen, delayed commuters, the protestors appeared to be behaving peacefully frustrated.
On the night, speakers such as John Pilger and Ernie Dingo joined Les Munro, co-founder of the Tent Embassy, to share the same message: ‘Close the gap, not the community’.
The comments of WA premier, Colin Barnett, took particular spot light on the night, who said days prior “No-one will be forced from their land but the State Government can no longer continue to service remote communities”
Munro believes respecting the right of Aboriginal Australians to their own land is the first step, yet like all Australians, he said: ”We need homes, we need to be housed. It’s a human right.”
Based on the 2006 census, although only representing 2.3 per cent of the Australian population, Indigenous people comprised nearly 30 per cent of persons classified as homeless.
In 2008, in conjunction with the Aboriginal Housing Office, both State and Federal governments formed the ‘National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Housing’, which aimed to reduce these figures drastically through “increasing the supply of new houses”.
As of 2015, according to the ABS, the number of Indigenous homeless has in fact increased by 3 per cent.
The Aboriginal Housing Office declined to comment on either the protest or the rise in Aboriginal homelessness, yet maintained ”our continual engagement with the community and Aboriginal Housing Company Inc has allowed for steady and positive progress”.
Engagement and progress some community members fail to see.
“The people here have had a number of concerns on a number of times about the development plans and how Micky [AHC CEO Michael Mundine] is running this Pemulwuy Project,” said Aunty Jenny Munro, a founding member of the Aboriginal Housing Company who is now one of the Tent Embassy protesters.
“The lack of national spotlight is disgusting and there is pretty much no accountability on his end,” she added.
Michael Mudine was scheduled to speak at the protest but failed to do, fuelling the obvious frustration present in the crowd.
Max Clement was amongst the protestors at Belmore Park and has been actively involved in Redfern’s tent embassy for the past 6 months.
He said the issues “stem back to the colonial era” and described the plight of Indigenous Australians as a national tragedy.
“Allowing $70 million dollars to build some building making rich people richer rather than allocating that money to give homeless people homes and then to kick out our uncles and aunties in WA from their land. What does that tell you about our society?” said Clement.
In an overdue moment of calm, the night closed with traditional dancing and a moment of silence for prominent Indigenous activist, Uncle Ray Jackson. Yet the question still remained: What do protests like this say about our society?
At around 7pm, the crowd died down as approximately 70 per cent of people began to disperse back to their homes.
The other 30 percent without housing? I’m not too sure. Maybe ask Anthony Albanese in between songs at his DJ set in Melbourne later this month. No luck? Tell Tony Abbott you’ll give him a nice big raw onion if he gives you a straight answer.
PHOTO: Joseph Small