A short documentary history of the Block in Redfern
Material from the Gary Foley Collection

AM Program
Friday, June 6, 2014

Redfern stoush intensifies over block development project

CHRIS UHLMANN: The stoush over an iconic parcel of Aboriginal land just outside Sydney's CBD is intensifying.

The Block, as it's known in Sydney's Redfern, is set for a massive makeover which the developers say will revitalise the community. But opponents have set up a tent embassy and they say they'll stay there until their concerns about the project are heard.

Lindy Kerin reports.

LINDY KERIN: It's the famous and sometime infamous heart of Redfern. The Block was purchased by the Aboriginal Housing Company back in the 1970s to build homes for a growing number of families. But the properties fell into disrepair and in a controversial move, tenants were relocated and the homes demolished to make way for the Pemulwuy Project.

The CEO of the Aboriginal Housing Company, Mick Mundine, says the development named after an Aboriginal warrior will be a new beginning for The Block.

MICK MUNDINE: We're building 36 town houses, three and four bedroom. We're building 26 two and three bedroom apartments on top of the new gym. And that's the block land, the 6,500 square metres.

LINDY KERIN: The project will also include a childcare centre, art gallery and student accommodation that will help fund the housing side.

But not everyone who applies will be welcome. Mick Mundine says tenants will have to meet set criteria.

MICK MUNDINE: The tenants that had been relocated, it all depends on their tenant history. If they're known to be selling drugs and detrimental to the organisation, it will be very hard for them to come back.

LINDY KERIN: So it sounds like you are going to be picky though on who lives here at The Block?

MICK MUNDINE: Well, we've got to. We don't want to go back to that mid 80s, 90s. We don't want to go back to the vicious cycle of crime, drugs and alcohol. I mean if we do let it get back there, what's the point of building this new project?

LINDY KERIN: But there's strong opposition to the project from some locals and they've set up a tent embassy at The Block. There are at least 12 tents and a makeshift kitchen stocked with donations.

JOSEPH MILES: Anyone want a cuppa? Hot water boiled.

My name is Joseph Miles. I grew up here since I was a young fella and what they're doing here is not right. They want to build houses and flats here, but they want to give it to someone else. And you got blacks who come from here, grew up here and they're living nowhere.

LINDY KERIN: The tent embassy's spokeswoman Jenni Munro says the Aboriginal Housing Company has lost sight of its priorities.

JENNI MUNRO: You know, our problems with housing have been well documented over the past and this organisation here was mandated to maintain the housing and keep creating housing. The development and the Sydney University developments and interests with other people involved, not our people.

LINDY KERIN: And how long do you think you'll stay here for?

JENNI MUNRO: Indefinitely, indefinitely - until this issue is resolved to the satisfaction of the community and not the board, or Micky.

LINDY KERIN: He says there will be Aboriginal housing on Aboriginal land here, that it will be affordable housing. He said that there will be restrictions; there will be requirements that people have to meet...

JENNI MUNRO: No, no, no, no, no. Micky Mundine is not our god. He doesn't decide who the good blacks or the bad blacks are. He needs to understand he sits in the camp of the blacks that are selling us out.

LINDY KERIN: But Mick Mundine defends the project and he's determined to see his vision become a reality. He says the protesters need to understand that times have changed.

MICK MUNDINE: They want us to go down there, bring the police, kick them off. It'd be like going back to the early 70s, you know. Them days are gone. I mean they're there, and I don't what they're there for, they want to negotiate. There's nothing to negotiate because they squatted there without permission from the Aboriginal Housing Company. The Aboriginal Housing Company own the land.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Mick Mundine from the Aboriginal Housing Company speaking to Lindy Kerin.