Posted on September 20, 2010

Sydney’s Notorious Aboriginal Ghetto to Be Demolished

Bonnie Malkin, London Telegraph, September 20, 2010

Sydney’s notorious Aboriginal ghetto, The Block, is to be torn down and replaced with a $60m (£36m) redevelopment in an attempt to break the cycle of drug dealing, unemployment and endemic crime.

Synonymous with heroin abuse, violence and policies that were meant to improve the lives of Australia’s Aborigines, but resolutely failed, The Block’s crumbling houses will slowly be bricked up over the coming weeks.

The strip’s 74 residents have been handed eviction notices and ordered to find new accommodation by November 19, when the bulldozers are due to roll in.

The demolition will mark the end of a troubled era for the neighbourhood, which, with its decaying homes and graffiti-sprayed walls, is a far cry from the picturesque harbourside precincts more commonly associated with Australia’s largest city.

Just two miles west of the city centre, The Block was set up in 1973 by Aboriginal activists with the backing of the Whitlam government.

The first urban land rights claim in Australia, it was a direct response to the widespread discrimination Aborigines experienced in the private rental market.

The project worked well initially, with the Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC), which was set up to manage and develop The Block, employing several residents to maintain the buildings.

But in the mid-1970s government funding for the project dried up and the four streets that made up the precinct fell into disrepair. Then, in the nineties, drug dealers brought heroin into the community, making it a virtual no-go zone, even for police. In 2004, a 17-year-old Aboriginal boy was killed while trying to evade officers.

His death triggered race riots in Redfern, leaving 40 police officers injured and sealing The Block’s fate.

Today, just 15 habitable properties remain on The Block. But while the project to redevelop the area has been in the pipeline for more than a decade, some locals have complained that they have not been consulted.

However, local Aboriginal leaders believe that knocking down the houses is the only way to rid the area of its reputation as a violent, drug-fuelled slum.

“We need to clean out the crime–we want the evil spirit out of this community.” Mick Mundine, chief executive of the AHC, told the Sydney Daily Telegraph.

“Whether they like it or not, this (development) is going to happen,” he said. “A lot of people will complain. They’ve been here a long time but it’s time for a change.”

In place of the dilapidated, ageing terrace houses, the AHC plans to build a 62-home development. The area will also be renamed The Pemulwuy Project, after a famous Aboriginal warrior.

Indigenous residents will be invited to return when construction is complete in 2013.