You are here: Home / Media / Pemulwuy inspires battle for The Block - 15.07.2005

Pemulwuy inspires battle for The Block - 15.07.2005

Pemulwuy was the Rainbow Warrior who in the late 1700s united Aboriginal clans to resist the British. This earned him the reputation as the most famous freedom fighter in Aboriginal history. Another battle is now brewing - this time between the NSW Government and the Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC). The company has a plan to redevelop its prime land, The Block in Redfern. The Government has a plan to take over that development. Samantha Derrick Southside News Issue 3/2005 page 15.

For five years the AHC worked with the University of Sydney, local businesses, urban planners, architects and community as well as the NSW Government to develop the Pemulwuy Project.


The project would mean building 62 homes for Aboriginal people on the Block - symbolic of the 62 families of the Gadigal tribe in Redfern who were wiped out by smallpox during British settlement. It would also mean demolition of the brick wall opposite the Redfern railway station and the construction of a public civic space, retail area, artist markets, student hostel, a sports facility and an indigenous business college.


The Block, the first piece of urban land returned to Aboriginal people, has long been notorious for its social problems. Neglect as well

as drug and alcohol problems have beset residents.


Driving the Pemulwuy Project is a desire to reverse this image and create a positive icon of self-determination for the Aboriginal people.


"The Pemulwuy Project is for the future of the next generation, that's our main goal," said Mick Mundine, chief executive officer of the Housing Company.


"It's (The Block) known all over the world ... so we could show people that Aboriginal people can do things themselves, self-determination, we can do it and we going to be a role model for a lot of people and organisations."


Sydney University researchers, social planners and the ABC worked together on the Pemulwuy Project.


Professor Col James who works with Sydney University Housing Centre was one of those involved from the beginning. The Centre carried out a detailed study of The Block's residents, their disadvantages, hopes and aspirations.


The AHC "insisted on doing a social plan first ...and that social plan has driven the architectural expression of it", said Prof James.


"It's pretty much to do with responding to Aboriginal culture, responding to the urban requirements of the site, responding to crime,

reconciliation, health and jobs."


The social plan won a community housing innovation award in 2001 and just last year it won an international crime prevention award.


"The Planning Institute of Australia has looked at this project and said `this is fantastic planning', we've had developers come in and say `mate this is second to none'," said Peter Valilis, the AHC's project manager.


"This project is now recognised internationally as having the best security planning of any other project."


Public planning workshops were held and the initial Pemulwuy plan was drawn up in early 2002. But after rigorous crime prevention testing, the plan was redesigned and the final model designed.


Mr Valilis said The Block's major social problems were addressed in the Pemulwuy Project plan and families who would rent the homes represented a broad socio-economic mix of low and middle incomes. There would also be the possibility of home-ownership schemes for the residents.


"Where it's going to change is that we're going to have a mix of incomes," said Mr Mundine.


"And now we're talking about home ownership, that's going to bring a lot of pride and self-determination back into the community."


The State Government had been a close supporter of the project - they provided the government's architects to draw the Pemulwuy plan, requested Macquarie Bank to conduct a financial forecast of the project and signed a memorandum of understanding with the AHC and Sydney University in 2003 stating it's commitment to the redevelopment of The Block.


But the AHC said things changed when the RWA was formally constituted.


"They introduced the RWA and all support stopped, ... they don't want to see any Aboriginal housing on The Block," Mr Valilis said.


Reports say that the Minister for Redfern Waterloo, Frank Sartor told the AHC board he didn't want any Aboriginal housing on The Block and at a maximum he would accept no more than 19 - the number of houses currently on The Block.


"We've got 19 houses left on The Block and he (Frank Sartor) just wants to refurbish the houses and the rest of the land use it on an economic basis, small business and business college. But as we said in the past this land is for Aboriginal people and that's the way it's going to stay," said Mr Mundine.


Mr Sartor's office has said he does not believe 62 dwellings on The Block is a sustainable vision.


"It is likely to concentrate high-dependency tenancies and re-visit past mistakes," his office said on his behalf when approached by Southside News.


Peter Valilis said: "Nobody wants this to be a ghetto again


"The fact is he hasn't even looked at the project ... for three years we worked with the Premier's department to address all these sustainability issues. They kept putting the bars up and we passed every one of them. We exceeded all their expectations to the point they ran out of bars to put up."


Under the RWA Act all planning controls and approvals provided for under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, will move from the Minister of Planning and City of Sydney Council to the Minister of RWA - enabling the minister to override heritage laws and approve all developments within the proposed area. The RWA is now the approval body for the Pemulwuy Project.


The AHC has fought back establishing the Pemulwuy Vision Taskforce headed by Torn Uren, who was part of the Whitlam government team who originally handed The Block to the Aboriginal people in 1973.


The battle continues.



Photo: Grand vision... Innovarchi Architects prepared this draft of the Aboriginal Housing Company's vision for the commercial component of the Pemulwuy Project. The Eveleigh Street redevelopment includes a retail/office building. a plaza, an indigenous Business College, a student hostel and the Gadigal apartments.


Recent editions of Southside News can be found at