• An artist's impression of the Pemulwuy Project's student accommodation. (AHC)Source: AHC
Fears have been reignited within the Aboriginal community in the inner-Sydney suburb of Redfern.
15 Nov 2018 - 5:30 PM  UPDATED 16 Nov 2018 - 10:09 AM

Tensions are growing over updated plans to build a high-rise development on the Block offered no guarantees about the affordable housing promised to Aboriginal families.

The vacant land was the first and largest urban land rights claim by Indigenous people in Australia.

Under the latest proposal lodged by the Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC), a student accommodation complex up to 24-storeys high would be built on the site as part of a development known as the Pemulwuy Project.

Following a 15-month tent embassy protest in the Block, Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion pledged $5 million towards affordable housing in 2015.

The AHC, which owns the site, and developer Deicorp have since increased the student housing portion of the development.

But the NSW Department of Planning warned in a report last month that there are no guarantees that the 62 affordable housing residences promised for Indigenous families will be built.

“There is currently no restriction on title guaranteeing the 62 dwellings … being provided as affordable housing,” the report said.

“AHC is not yet registered as a community housing provider and a housing provider has not been nominated.”

In a separate statement, the NSW Department of Planning said that the current proposal includes accommodation for 110 Indigenous students.

"This provides further diversity of housing within Pemulwuy and is in addition to the commitment for 62 affordable housing units which still remains," a spokesman said.

At a public hearing held by the Independent Planning Commission on Thursday, many community members voiced concerns.

Jenny Munro, an activist and Wiradjuri Elder who led the fight to guarantee Aboriginal housing would remain as part of the redevelopment, was scathing in description of the project.

“I consider it to be the final nail in the coffin of the demise of the black heart of Sydney,” she said.

“The signs are there and they are ominous. We now number less than 300 people in this community.”

Lisa De Luca, who previously acted as Ms Munro’s lawyer, questioned the planning and community consultation process.

“There is no appreciation and no study done on how it affects the culture, the history, the Aboriginal spirit of the place,” she said.

“They originally got this development through at eight levels - on the provision that they would provide 62 houses for Aboriginal people. That's gone now - and now it's 24 storeys.

Ms Munro’s daughter, Lorna, a long-term resident of Redfern also framed the suburb’s gentrification in stark terms.

“We have been displaced, we have had land stolen, and that has led to many social issues that we are experiencing today,” she said.

“This is the first Aboriginal urban community with all of these great things that have strengthened it, and kept it vibrant and kept it surviving. If this place goes, everywhere else will fall after it, and it's pretty much replicating the way invasion has spread throughout this country.”

Taressa Mongta, a member of the Yuin Nation who lives in the neighbouring suburb Surry Hills, suggested that the Indigenous connection to Redfern may be lost.

“It just seems to me that somehow everything has been turned upside down, it doesn’t seem fair,” she said.

“It's just another wave of dispossession, I don't see where our community will be able to hang on. We have a niche here and we feel safe.”

“We'll just be outnumbered, forgotten and slowly wiped out. This is a cultural genocide.”

Block being sold out to 'little rich white kids', warns Munro after push for a massive increase in student housing
The Federal Government has disputed the Aboriginal Housing Company's claims that a $5 million grant has stalled, after the AHC blamed funding delays as the reason for a major increase in the size of the Pemulwuy project.
Inner Sydney’s Aboriginal community fear they are being pushed out for ‘white hipsters’
The towers, gentrification and what will happen when the last public housing in Sydney’s traditional Aboriginal neighbourhood disappears. A special report by Danny Teece-Johnson.
Explainer: Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy and Aboriginal Housing Company dispute
The Aboriginal Housing Company's plan to develop retail space and affordable housing on 'The Block,' in Sydney, has been opposed by members of the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy. NITV takes a look at the history of the dispute.