Australia’s Anti-Gentrification Aboriginal Tent Embassy Perseveres

Redfern’s indigenous community is fighting for housing rights.

The original Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra is repainted in support of the Redfern encampment. Photo by Flickr user The Feral Arts.

Residents of Redfern, an impoverished inner-city suburb in Sydney, Australia, are fighting against gentrification with an Aboriginal tent embassy situated on The Block, a piece of land allocated to Australia’s indigenous people in 1973. The tent embassy, founded by 59-year old indigenous woman Jenny Munro, was established last May in an effort to block the $70 million retail and student housing developement plans of the Aboriginal Housing Company.

The suburb of Redfern has been undergoing rapid gentrification, and residents see these development plans for The Block as another stage in the process. Although the plans—named The Pemulway Project—make accomodations for low-income Aboriginal residents, residents like Munro fear their needs will be overrided by commercial interests.

"In 10 years, the Block will belong to developers, that's my sad prediction," says Munro told the Sydney Morning Herald.

The Block has long been a site of dissent and protest for the aborginal community of Redfern. In 2004, the death of Aboriginal teenager Thomas Hickey sparked violent protests on The Block, referred to by mainstream media as the “Redfern Riots.” This incident galvanized efforts to “clean up” Redfern, and since then the community has been subject to a regeneration project that many residents view as an attempt to drive them out. Most of the buildings that once stood on The Block have now been bulldozed and razed, and developers describe it as the “most valuable” vacant lot in Redfern. The tent embassy protesters founded to protest The Pemulway Project occupies 10,000 square meters of “prime real estate,” contains 20 tented structures, and includes amenities like a community garden, seedling bank, sacred fire area, lounge, and kitchen.

The encampment is modelled after a historic and permanent tent embassy on the lawn of the Old Parliament House in Canberra, established in the 1970s by a group of activists after the government rejected the Aboriginal community’s request for land rights. The Canberra Aboriginal Tent Embassy originally comprised a single beach umbrella, but the umbrella has since been replaced with a more permanent structure and a number of tents. It’s consistently been a hotbed of protest and a headquarters for Aboriginal rights’ activists.

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