Aboriginal residents in inner Sydney alternatively expressed outrage and cautious optimism after plans were approved to build high-rise accommodation for 600 students at The Block in Redfern
The vacant land was the first and largest urban land rights claim by Indigenous people in Australia.
The NSW Independent Planning Commission approved on Monday the latest plans, with conditions, for a higher tower than had first been proposed on the vacant site opposition Redfern Station.
The commission said the proposed 24-storey tower would not have “significant social or cultural impacts” and will include 110 beds for Indigenous students and 62 affordable homes for Aboriginal people.
However, Jenny Munro, an activist and Wiradjuri Elder who led the fight to guarantee Aboriginal housing would remain as part of the redevelopment, remains scathing about the project.
“This means the final nail in the coffin,” she told NITV.
“This is the final blow in the process of social exclusion.”
Ms Munro says the Aboriginal Housing Company, who owns the land, has its priorities skewed.
“I’m 64 years of age and I was a young woman and part of the dream when the Aboriginal Housing Company started,” she said.
“That was at a time when we couldn’t get anywhere to rent, when racism was so bad and we could see the dream of Aboriginal housing for Aboriginal people.
“Now we’re being locked out of that. Where’s the voice of our people in all of this? Where’s our way of doing things?
“This is nothing to be proud of. The students will greatly outnumber the Aboriginal families. That wasn’t the dream.”
The Aboriginal Housing Company declined to comment. However, other Indigenous residents appear more optimistic.
Redfern community leader Shane Phillips wants more affordable homes for Aboriginal people in the area said those could be built on other sites.
“I think we all wanted to see more housing for blackfellas,” he said.
“At this point we just need to keep our footprint in Redfern and these 62 houses will help us do that.
“But the block is only part of keeping our footprint in the area. We’ve been working really hard to make sure our footprint is all over that area.”
Mr Phillips said he was also concerned about the size of the student tower but encouraged by the possible number of Aboriginal students who could call it home.
“I don’t want a tall building there,” he said.
“But how many of those students could be blackfellas? And then we’ve got 62 families on that patch of dirt.
“What we’re getting as a community is 62 houses. I was one of the last to leave the block and that was tough to see when there were only a few people left.
“But now we can repopulate. We’re never going to outpopulate the students but if we have 62 strong families on that patch of dirt, that’s something.”