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Multi-million dollar upgrade for ILC site

The site that once housed Australia's first Aboriginal theatre is under re-construction reports Annabel Boyer in Precinct South Sydney Edition Issue 4/2007 in November 2007.

Having stood derelict for 20 years, the burnt remains of Redfern's old Black Theatre now belong to the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC).

The new building will be a three-storey commercial development that will provide benefits and opportunities to the Aboriginal community.

In 1972, the Black Theatre was an old warehouse, leased from the Uniting Church. It was then renovated and developed into a theatre and studio area. Many well-known activists and artists from the Redfern indigenous community were involved in productions there.

The theatre gave many people the chance to express their political beliefs through performance as well as providing a gathering space for the community.

Millie Ingram was an Aboriginal activist in Redfern in the early 1970s. She used to spend time at the Black Theatre and went to see the productions.

"It was really good because in those days it started to showcase Aboriginal art and Aboriginal dramatic art," she said.

However, with a lack of funding and with those involved having many commitments, gradually the Black Theatre gave way to other more pressing concerns such as the battles for reconciliation and land rights.

By 1977, the Black Theatre was no longer operating. It was used for a variety of other purposes, including a preschool, before eventually falling into disrepair.

The site was under the jurisdiction of ATSIC until the commission was abolished in 2005. Now in the hands of the ILC and $8 million is being spent to redevelop it.

Although the Black Theatre was only in existence for five years, that identity has remained with the building.

Today, Ms Ingram is the CEO of Wyanga Aboriginal Aged Care Services, next door to the old Black Theatre.

She is also a member of a committee to create a new national black theatre company. She hopes that the new building - which at this stage has a vacant floor - may be used for this purpose.

"lf you had a theatre in Paddington or Balmain it would not have the same significance. It could be something really significant because of the site itself and because of the high profile Redfern has," she said.

Eric Roberts, media liaison officer for the ILC, said there has been extensive community consultation over what to do with the site because of its history.

When it is completed, the third floor will house a radio station and recording studios for Gadigal Information Services, broadcaster for Koori Radio.

The ground floor will be occupied by retail and a small exhibition devoted to the site's history.

What the middle floor will be used for has not yet been decided.

Work on the building is expected to be completed by March 2008.

Source: University of Technology Precinct South Sydney Edition Issue 4/2007 page 19.

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