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Rob Welsh Speech to City of Sydney Principles of Cooperation Agreement Signing

Speech By Rob Welsh, Chairperson, Metropolitan Aboriginal Land Council 11 April 2006.

I would like to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation on whose land today’s agreement will be signed.

I’d also like to acknowledge our Aboriginal elders.  And also the non-Indigenous elders.  Thank you for sharing this day with us.

Thank you to the Lord Mayor, Cr Clover Moore, the Acting CEO, Monica Barone, councilors and staff for entering into this relationship with the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council.

Thank you also to the Governor of NSW, Your Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, for your presence at today’s ceremony and for your continued support of Aboriginal people in this state.

It’s significant that this agreement is being signed here in Redfern.

As the wording of the agreement points out, Redfern is seen as the hearth of the Aboriginal struggle for land, justice, coexistence and recognition.

It was only a few kilometres to the east of here that the invasion of Aboriginal lands began in 1788.

The Gadigal people of this area were among the first Aboriginal people to see the white sails of the First Fleet round the heads and land at Sydney Cove.

They were among the first Aboriginal people to resist the invasion of their land, the first to be struck down by smallpox and other introduced diseases and the first to become decimated by random killings and massacres.

Many years later, Redfern again became a focal point for Aboriginal history when for the first time urban land was given back to Aboriginal people here at what would come to be known as the Block.

It was in Redfern that the first modern Aboriginal institutions were formed – the Medical Service, Housing Company, Legal Service and Murrawina pre school.

And it was in Redfern when the then Prime Minister, Paul Keating gave his famous speech acknowledging the truth of the frontier conflict and stolen generations.

The document we sign today recognizes all of this history.

But just as importantly, it also commits us to achieving practical outcomes that will help shape the future of this suburb and this city.

This is crucial because the history of Redfern has again reached a tipping point.

Transport pressures and the fact that Redfern is close to a CBD that needs to expand have meant that our suburb is changing forever.

Although the Redfern Waterloo Authority has been created to facilitate development and human services, the Sydney City Council still has responsibility for large parts of Redfern.

This is one of the reasons why the principles of cooperation agreement we sign today is so important for Aboriginal people.  The agreement establishes formal communication, consultation and negotiation processes between Metro and the City of Sydney.

It also opens the way for possible future projects to improve employment, education and training opportunities for Aboriginal people, including tourism management and community development.

We want to work with the City of Sydney to ensure Indigenous people maintain our presence in Redfern and the suburb holds on to its Aboriginal identity.

Some are fearful of Redfern changing because they think that Aboriginal people will be forced out.

But I think this sells our people short.  Most Aboriginal people want the redevelopment of Redfern and Waterloo to proceed.  But we want to have a say in how this occurs.

We have to be partners in this change, not passive victims of it.

We want Redfern and Waterloo to become secure and prosperous for everybody, including Aboriginal people.

Metro Land Council wants to work with the City of Sydney as well as the State and Federal Governments to ensure that this change helps make Redfern once again a site of Aboriginal hope and achievement.

Why couldn’t Redfern’s distinctive Aboriginal identity one day attract international tourists and people from all over Australia?

They would come to eat at Aboriginal owned and operated restaurants and cafes, visit galleries and markets selling Aboriginal produced art and crafts from our community, go on tours organized by Aboriginal travel businesses and watch performances by Aboriginal actors, dancers and musicians.

Redfern may even be the site of a National Gallery of Indigenous Art and a Museum of Aboriginal History.

Like Harlem in New York and Brixton in London, what was once the scene of a race riot could become the most dynamic part of the city.

In this way, Aboriginal culture will be a source of economic empowerment for our people and pride for all Australians.

However, this vision will not be fulfilled unless it includes adequate housing for our people in this suburb.

To give you an idea of the scale of this problem, the Metro Land Council currently has one hundred and twenty families on our housing waiting list.  Some of these families have been waiting for a house for more than 10 years.

So bad is the shortage that I’ve recently heard reports of 10 people being crammed into a three bedroom house.

Adequate housing is essential for a stable family life.  Without it, it’s almost impossible for people to find and hold down a job, and to keep their children healthy.  It’s also very difficult for those children to do well at school if they don’t have a proper place to study and feel safe.

Some people believe that Aboriginal housing is incompatible with a redeveloped, commercially prosperous Redfern.  Some of them no doubt look forward to a day when there are no more black faces around here to get in the way of business.

But Redfern means so much to our people that this will never happen.  Aboriginal people will always come back here even if we have to sleep in the streets.

Redfern always was and always will be Aboriginal land.

The real question is not whether or not there will continue to be an Aboriginal presence here, but what kind of presence?

Will our people be the faces in the street you try and turn away from as you enter your shiny new offices?

Or will there be a place for our bright young graduates working inside?

Will there also be a place for Aboriginal apprentices and construction workers building those offices?

Will there be a role for Aboriginal entrepreneurs to develop businesses that service the influx of new residents, workers and visitors to this part of the city?

Today’s agreement provides a framework for our Land Council and the City of Sydney to contribute as equals towards answering some of these questions and making our community a better place for all residents – Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

We hope that it will lead to similar cooperative working relationships being developed with State and Federal Government agencies.

On behalf of Metro I thank you Madam Lord Mayor (Clover) and your council for taking this step with us.

It’s a great pleasure to be sharing this event with our Governor, Professor Marie Bashir whose long standing support for Aboriginal people is very much appreciated by our community.  I’m sure that like me you’re looking forward to hearing the Governor’s address.