By Mia Sanders:
There’s a community of impoverished people who are in danger of being dispossessed – right in the middle of Sydney. It’s the Aboriginal Tent Embassy at the Block, in Redfern.
For more than a year, activists have been occupying land which was once given to the Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC) which was then promising to build quality, affordable housing for the neighbourhood’s low income population. Many long-term Aboriginal residents of Redfern/Waterloo are currently living in overcrowded, unsuitable state housing, or in homelessness, while Aboriginal land is being taken over for commercial development.
The AHC, together with property developer Deicorp, wants to build expensive apartments for overseas students and others. Aboriginal activists, including some who have lived large parts of the lives in Redfern, are understandably disappointed and outraged.
According to Felon Mason, a young Aboriginal activist who has spent the last year campaigning for justice, believes that the AHC has completely lost the plot. He’ll tell you straight about federal and state governments’ systemic racism and corruption. He’s angry that the AHC wants to get the poor Aboriginal people to leave the area.
The establishment of the Tent Embassy in 1972 in Canberra led to the landmark recognition of Aboriginal rights by the Gough Whitlam government. Things were looking up, also with the landmark Mabo ruling. But since the Northern Territory intervention – initiated by the John Howard and continued under the ALP government – and the Barnett-Abbott push to forcibly close remote Aboriginal communities, Aboriginal people are justifiably feeling under huge pressure.
Some statistics paint a very grim picture – an indictment of successive government’s paternalistic and racist policies.
Since 1989, the imprisonment rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has increased 12 times faster than the rate for non-Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people represent only 3% of the total population, yet more than 28% of Australia’s prison population are Aboriginal. Aboriginal people represent on average 17% of the prison population, except in Western Australia and the Northern Territory where they account for 43% and 84%.
Despite entrenched discrimination and racism, Aboriginal people have survived and are fighting back.
Felon Mason put it like this: “The systemic racism and corruption causes fear among the remaining Aborigines in Redfern, as they’re slowly pushed away from their ancestral lands to make way for high-rise developments.
“But we are not going away. Redfern Tent Embassy is here to stay, and we are calling on people to come and show us their support.”
The Commonwealth and state governments are refusing to release public funds for any Aboriginal controlled community housing projects anywhere in Australia. This discriminatory policy needs to end. Public funding must be allocated immediately for Aboriginal community housing for the Block and across the country.
For more information on how to support the cause, contact the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy via Facebook (search for ‘Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy), or contact Mia Sanders, chairperson of the UWS Resistance Club on OrgSync.