An Aboriginal tent embassy was established at the Block in Redfern on National Sorry Day last week to protest the Aboriginal Housing Company’s (AHC) planned Pemulwuy project.
The project, which had its development application recently approved, will provide for a commercial precinct, student accommodation and affordable housing for the Aboriginal community.
While funding for the retail precinct and student accommodation is guaranteed, no funding for the affordable accommodation aspect of the project has been secured.
One of the founding members of the AHC, Jenny Munro, who also camped at the original tent embassy in Canberra in 1972, is concerned that current AHC chief executive Mick Mundine may not go ahead with the affordable housing component.
“It should be our people housed first, not last. Mick is effectively dispossessing us again,” Ms Munro said.
“His statement … that this is private land, not Aboriginal land, is the biggest insult you can give to Aboriginal people.”
Ms Munro believes that as the AHC already has backing for the commercial development from construction company DeiCorp, this will be the focus of the project.
Mr Mundine dismissed this claim, arguing that the AHC was currently negotiating with the government about funding for the affordable housing component.
“Our main focus is affordable housing. On the Block land itself, we are building 62 affordable houses. That’s approved in the DA,” Mr Mundine said.
“Building for the commercial part will start this year and we’ll work hard with the government to start the affordable housing next year.”
The AHC was established in the early 1970s to provide low-income housing for the Aboriginal community. However, the last tenant in the original terraces on the Block was evicted in 2011, and the terraces torn down soon after.
Kaye Bellear, who was also a founding member of the AHC along with her late husband Bob Bellear, the first Indigenous judge in Australia, is calling for a return to the original AHC mandate.
“The membership should be opened up … a new board should be voted in and then people need to sit down and work out how they can house Aboriginal people on that block,” Ms Bellear said.
Ms Munro said the tent embassy would remain in protest until the community “[got] satisfaction … and these issues are addressed by the membership and the board.”
The tent embassy has grown from one tent set up on the first day, to a ring of tents, on what has become one of the highest priced vacant blocks in the inner city.