Photo by the Sydney Morning Herald’s Dean Sewell.
There could be trouble ahead in Redfern. I can remember when, in search of affordable hotel accommodation attending a conference at Sydney Uni in 1998, I stayed in nearby Chippendale. The hotel manager warned me not to walk the streets after dark, a warning I ignored because walking was the quickest way to get back from the campus. I didn’t encounter anyone, just observed a lot of Koori flags hanging from the rundown terrace houses. My only other direct experience of Redfern is gazing out the train windows, a quick drive through once or twice, and the portrayal of the suburb (and the Block) on the excellent ABC series Wildside (now being repeated on Monday nights after Lateline).
I’d been wondering how long the developers could be held back from such a strategically located inner-city area.
ELSEWHERE: A former Redfern Councillor suspects mixed motives in the Carr Government.
Redfern’s reputation certainly doesn’t encourage a sight seeing tour for interstate visitors. The inner city suburb is home to the Block, managed by the Aboriginal Housing Company since 1970, and the site of frequent controversy, most recently over the death of Indigenous teenager T. J. Hickey in February. Redfern has also been in the news recently because of the actions of Sydney Archbishop Cardinal Pell in appointing conservative Priests from the Neo-Catechumenate movement to St. Vincent’s, once the parish of Fr Ted Kennedy and a hub for the Indigenous community – a subject of some discussion a while back in comments on one of Ken’s posts, and documented here.
Now Redfern has returned to the SMH headlines, with a report uncovering a Carr Government $5 billion plan:
to redevelop Redfern and the surrounding suburbs that involves seizing control of Aboriginal housing on the Block and letting private developers take over two-thirds of the area’s public housing estates.
Under the 10-year plan, the Government will tear down the residential towers in Waterloo and privatise $540 million worth of public assets in a bid to double the area’s population to 40,000, create 20,000 new jobs and give the central business district room to expand. In a major piece of social engineering, 20,000 new private renters and owners will be brought in to balance out the 7000 public housing tenants in the area, many of whom are poor, old and disabled.
A number of issues are raised by this plan – the over-riding of Clover Moore’s Sydney City Council, the possible future pressure by new residents to force out public tenants, and probably most significantly, the degree to which such a solution actually responds to the endemic social problems of Australia’s largest inner-city Indigenous community. Not to mention the perennial issue of self-determination. I’m not particularly hopeful about the eventual outcome – I strongly suspect the SMH is right that what is driving this plan, and the creation of the Redfern-Waterloo Authority, is profit rather than the public good.
In Joh-era Brisbane, the Government dealt with a similar area, South Brisbane, by bulldozing it for the World Expo 88 site and relocating public housing to outer suburbs with few services and job opportunities. This action, characterised by special planning laws and a sweetheart industrial deal with the AWU, was little remarked on at the time by a supine media growing rich on real estate ads. The only noticeable public opposition came from welfare groups, public radio 4zzz-fm and two Catholic priests, Fr Dick Pascoe of Graceville (never mentioned in the Courier-Mail without the addition to his name of the prefix “Red”) and Fr Peter Kennedy of the local St. Mary’s Catholic Community (another social justice oriented inner city parish also in the news lately for departing from the Vatican line).
Subsequent promises after the site was redeveloped as Southbank to maintain sightlines to Highgate Hill, and to provide public housing were not kept as public space was hived off for expensive apartment developments, cafes and retail and pseudo-monuments to political egos like the Grand Arbour and the “World’s Greatest Boulevard” (formerly Grey Street). And the Goss Government introduced site-specific legislation giving security guards quasi-police powers which were mostly used to move on and ban Indigenous youths.
State governments often take planning powers into their own hands with the justification that local governments are too close to developers. Ironic, really…