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Indigenous school in Redfern presbytery

The proposed redevelopment of an unused Redfern presbytery as an Aboriginal school has been met with some opposition reports Navot Rom in the South Sydney Herald in November 2009.

The St Vincent de Paul Presbytery, a heritage building on Redfern Street, has been in a state of disrepair for a couple of decades, something which was made worse by last year’s fire. Confirmation of the Church’s redevelopment proposal is yet to be confirmed by the Sydney City Council.

“It just came out of nowhere; the Council has been trying to get the Church to activate that premises for years and years and years and they wouldn’t do anything. Then suddenly, out of the blue, they’ve come up with this proposal for a small school for Indigenous children, which is strongly opposed by the local Aboriginal men … because they weren’t consulted,” said Irene Doutney, Redfern based Councillor for the Greens.

Mark Spinks, Chairperson of the Babana Aboriginal Men’s Group, said “[It] sounds alright to me, I went to a Catholic school … we have a hundred members, so we also got a hundred opinions … if they’re building an Aboriginal school, why would I have a problem with it?”

However, Don Clark, Treasurer of Babana, said, “We haven’t taken a vote yet, but it would seem that there is some opposition for a number of reasons … there are some concerns about it”.

The proposal, which represents Church plans, was officially submitted by Cracknell and Lonergan Architects. Peter Lonergan said, “We had a few community consultations … there was some concern that there hadn’t been any consultation, and that’s why we had the consultation … I don’t know if it took care of it, but it certainly informed [the community] … It’s kind of difficult, that aspect of it … It’s a very expensive operation [so they want to be sure] … There were some objections raised by Council … there were sort of bureaucratic impediments put in place by Council, and that certainly didn’t help”.

Both Council and the Church have been careful with releasing information regarding the proposal for a school, which is no longer available on the Sydney City website. Father Clesio Mendes, Parish Priest of St Vincent de Paul’s Catholic Church, is currently residing in a new presbytery on Great Buckingham Street. When asked about plans for the presbytery in Redfern Street, he said, “It is no longer my responsibility … I don’t even have a key anymore … This belongs to the Jesuits now”.

One parishioner, regarding a meeting with Church representative Father Ross Jones about the plans for an Aboriginal school, said he was “not very forthcoming regarding the details of the development thus far, nor how far the development had proceeded”.

Similarly, when asked about Sydney City Council’s plans, the project’s representative Kylie Anne Pont referred enquiries to Media Contact Josh Mackenzie, who said of Council’s replies to enquiries that “sometimes they don’t get through, but we do our best”.

When asked about the difficulty of getting information about the development proposal, Councilor Doutney said, “I hear this all the time. We are supposed to provide documents to everybody … I’ve had complaints from resident groups and other sort of self-appointed social commentators and they constantly complain about not being able to get information, and I know some of them actually went and got information via the Freedom of Information Act”.

The heritage building remains in a dilapidated state. The roof is covered by a tarpaulin, the beams are exposed, markings from the fire can still be seen on the brick walls, all the windows are boarded up, and all the doors and gates are chained, padlocked and barred by metal gratings. The development proposal is currently attached to the presbytery wall.

PS. Council has now given approval for the school at the presbytery.

Photo: Ali Blogg -  Present scene at St Vincent’s in Redfern