Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Chip off the old Block

Part of Redfern has been running sore for years. A new development promises to clean up the drugs, violence and poverty. But some locals say they have heard it all before.

The new plan provides for a new, eco friendly homes, no drugs, safe open spaces and Aboriginal home ownership for residence, on a range of incomes. Notorious Eveleigh Street may even be renamed in the process.

The vision of the Aboriginal Housing Company is not a noble one. A social plan completed this year describes the project as "one of the most significant development opportunities on Aboriginal land in urban Australia", one which could pave the way for similar plans around the country. Says AHC's executive officer, Peter Valilis: "As long as we have tenants who are mutually responsible we will end up with good properties that are low maintenance. We are working towards being self-sufficient".

The AHC faces an uphill battle to sell tenants.

It would be unthinkable for a multi million-dollar development in Sydney to falter because of a washing line. But the washing line is symbolic of the uncertainty residents are feeling.

The AHC evolved from a group of squatters who occupied empty terrace houses on Louis Street in 1972. The Witlam government granted an initial $530,000, which enabled the company to first buy property. Since that positive start, the situation deteriorated as social and drug problems grew.

What is certain at this stage is the company's promise to eliminate drugs from the area, using "zero tolerance" clauses in leases to eject tenants who are found to be using or dealing drugs?

A spokesperson for Justice Action Ms Stolen Generation said, "This policy will not eliminate drug use.This is no more than prohibition instituted by a private company and stood over by a privatised government who does not want to know about drugs that are awash at yuppie night clubs where the who's who gather to get stoned. The last thing drug users need is to be tossed out of their home on to the street. What loser came up with that idea? This is an invasion of our privacy", She said.

The new prospects for the Block are tied to the Governments $7.2 million Redfern-Waterloo Project (RWP). But here too, it appears relations have broken down between the local Aboriginal community and the RWP. Despite repeated claims of widespread consultation, residents of the Block say they have not met Michael Ramsey, the head of the project, or other representatives from the RWP.

But for all its good ideas and commitment to the community, the project has failed to win the trust of the residents. "Nothing better than an Aboriginal Protection Board under another name" was a repeated criticism. Others believe the RWP is simply doing the bidding of the AHC.

By Gregory Kable 10 December 2002