Priced out of home

22 June 2020 | Posted In: #135 Winter 2020,

Community groups are advocating for the Waterloo redevelopment to include affordable housing for Aboriginal people. As PAM JACKSON reports, without it, the population will be displaced, and the area’s ancestry destroyed.

From an Aboriginal cultural perspective, Redfern/Waterloo is the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation who live by the motto of, “Aboriginal land: always was, always will be.” However, with the arrival of Captain Cook on April 29, 1770, this turned out, sadly, not to be the case. Eighteen years later, the British settlement was established in Sydney, and the Aboriginal population found itself displaced. And, as evidenced by the ongoing campaign for the planned Waterloo redevelopment to include affordable housing for Aboriginal people, displacement of our mob is still very much a live issue.

Carbon dating of Aboriginal artworks strongly suggests that Aboriginal people have lived in Australia for well over 65,000 years — far exceeding that of the British who arrived on our shores a mere 250 years ago. Anthropological evidence has recognised that during the pre-colonial times, Aboriginal tribes established and maintained a metre-wide track from Blackwattle Creek to La Perouse on which they regularly trekked a distance of 20km for cultural, ceremonial and trade purposes. This track is now known as Botany Road — the main artery from Redfern to the eastern suburbs.

Redfern was settled by Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1817 who granted 100 acres of land to Dr William Redfern. Dr Redfern subsequently had a large country house built, complete with flower and vegetable gardens. The neighbours were equally affluent and today there are still fine examples of Victorian-terraced architecture and hints of Redfern’s gentrified past. But the affluent population eventually moved to other suburbs and boarders who worked in the industrial factories in existence at the time moved into the neighbourhood. Thus, Redfern/Waterloo became working-class suburbs.

This saw the Gadigal Aboriginal people relegated to the outskirts of society. A watercolour drawing by colonial artist, John Rae — titled 1850 Turning the first turf of the first railway in the Australasian colonies at Redfern, Sydney, NSW — clearly depicts this. It features Aboriginal people gathered on the fringes of a 10,000-crowd of white people attending the opening ceremony of Redfern railway station.

Around the 1920s, Aboriginal people were attracted to the Eveleigh railyards as it was one of the first workplaces in Sydney to adopt equal employment rights. The many factories that emerged within the neighbourhood also encouraged Aboriginal people to leave their rural communities and come to live and work in the Redfern/Waterloo area.

In the 1970s, essential services specifically developed by Aboriginal people for Aboriginal people — such as housing support, legal aid, medical centres etc — were established in the region, creating, in the process, cultural self-determination for the local Aboriginal population.

When taking all the above history into consideration, it is vital that the Redfern/Waterloo area remains affordable for the Aboriginal population to live in. If they are uprooted, Aboriginal people will no longer have access to the important services that the various community organisations provide. For that reason, community advocates are currently lobbying the NSW Government to designate six percent of the Waterloo redevelopment to Aboriginal affordable housing.

The destruction of the physical and social fabric of the local Aboriginal community will forever be destroyed if genuine action is not taken by the those responsible for the allocation of affordable housing. It is a given fact that the Aboriginal locals cannot afford to pay the exorbitant rents or purchase prices that are now being asked for in Redfern/Waterloo. Consequently, they will have no choice but to live in the outer suburbs, far from the area where they grew up and have spent their lives in the hope that their land “will always be”.