By Gary Duffy, Socialist Party Sydney
Arrests have continued after tensions between police and Aboriginal youth in Sydney?s inner city suburb of Redfern broke out into open clashes on the night of 15/2/04 following the death of a young Aboriginal boy believed to have been being chased by police.Since the beginning of white occupation in Australia, it has been a history of racism, oppression, abuse and theft. Stolen land, stolen children, stolen culture. The Block, ownership of which was handed over to the Aboriginal community during the Whitlam era of the 1960?s has been the centre of continuing tensions and clashes. A small patch of land and houses were given back to Aboriginals in Redfern and given to the control of the Aboriginal Housing Company.
However after years of neglect and no further assistance the area has been allowed to become a haven for drug addicts and petty criminals. Despite all the talk of improving relations and ?community policing? the police are still seen to ignore white guys in sports cars openly dealing drugs in the area while they keep their focus on aboriginal youth just waiting for them to commit an offence. And there are plans to destroy the block and in particular turn it away from its original purpose, the provision of affordable housing for Aboriginal people. These plans have divided the Aboriginal people themselves, from those who want to preserve the block for low cost housing and those who want to see the area redeveloped with other amenities e.g. shopping centre etc.
There have been various calls , including some from within the community itself, to demolish the Block, much of which is in a serious state of disrepair. Liberal NSW Opposition leader John Brogden, is one of the latest to call for the Block to be ?bulldozed?, whilst federal Labour leader Mark Lathlam, ?blames the parents?. However as Aboriginal activist Gary Foley has said in response to NSW Premier Bob Carr asking where were the parents: ?The parents are still living in the same shit that they have lived in ever since they were kids?.
The police gave two stories about the Aboriginal youth killed in Redfern, firstly that they were out to catch a bag snatcher, the next several weeks later that they were out to bust drug dealers and that this was the real reason for the violence. Their inability to stick to the one story and their two week delay in coming up with the latest one does not generate any confidence in their stories.
Bob Carr has called for three enquiries into the violence at Redfern , just after announcing that he had full confidence in the way that Police had handled things- this does not lead one to have much faith in an unbiased outcome of any of these reviews or of any Royal commission that might be set up by the Carr government. In any case this will not address the real issues affecting Aboriginal people of the entrenched racism and poverty in Sydney and throughout Australia.
Besides the permanent residents, the Block also acts as a temporary home to many Aboriginal people passing through Sydney. Getting rid of the Block would be any developers dream as it is a prime real estate location. There are undoubtedly huge social problems in the area, but as one long time Aboriginal activist, Pat Eatock, put it: ?We have to defend both the Block and the community because if Redfern goes, then White Australia will be better able to forget and ignore the urban Aboriginal community altogether as it is our public face. The problem of ghetto life is obviously the poverty but the strength is that at least our kids are growing up knowing they are part of a community rather than being isolated in a predominately white community. Why should we have to accept all the values of white society and give up our aboriginality just to get basic health and education benefits for our people??
By Gary Duffy, Socialist Party Sydney