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ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEWS ABOUT THE BLOCK - 2006

5 January 2006


LYN TURNBULL


Lyn Turnbull and her husband, Geoff are members of REDWatch, a community group who monitor Government involvement in the Redfern Eveleigh Darlington and Waterloo area to push for outcomes that benefit the community.  (See http://www.redwatch.org.au/)


Okay we were talking, Lyn about how you got involved with REDWatch and the emails that you and Geoff distribute. What was the aim of the Updates?

The emails started just after the Premier’s Department released the RED Scheme as part of the Redfern-Waterloo Partnership Project. It was clear that the consultants employed were using information to play various groups in the community off against each other. To stop that happening, we thought it was important that everybody was aware of as much information as was possible. The publicity for consultation meetings was very poor and there were times where the only people that turned up were the people who had found out about them through reading our emails. After the RED Scheme was met with such negative community response, the government realised that they needed to take a different approach. When they couldn’t get the Aboriginal Housing Company to sign up to the way of developing the Block that they wanted, they set up, the Redfern-Waterloo Authority (RWA).

REDWatch was formed just before the legislation to set up the RWA. Because the state government assumed that the Labor party candidate would become the Lord Mayor, at the mayoral elections after South Sydney and the City of Sydney were amalgamated, they thought they’d have control over the area. When Clover Moore won, the RWA was set up with powers to allow the state government to develop all the land they own in the area, which is about a third.
Because there were people from all the main political parties on the delegation that went in to lobby for changes as the legislation was being rushed through parliament, REDWatch was successful at getting some changes made. One problem with the Act was that, while there were boundaries for the Redfern-Waterloo Authority area, it allowed the minister to extend them without having to refer back to the government at all. So the government were probably looking at being able to amalgamate the Redfern-Waterloo Authority area with the Green Square development to the south. That clause was changed restricting the extension of boundaries to five per cent of the initial area defined.

So in terms of development issues what are your main concerns?

Because Redfern stands in the way between Port Botany, the airport and the city, things like major transport links are seen as more important to the state government than the needs of the local community which are being neglected. State Rail Authority has to develop Redfern Station but instead of the funds coming from the main state budget, Redfern community is being told that the third of the land that the government owns in the area needs to be sold and developed that which will inject another twenty thousand-odd residents into the area. They also want to redevelop the public housing areas in Waterloo and Elizabeth Street, Redfern, by maintaining the number of existing tenants but social engineering and 'diluting' the concentration of public tenants by allowing private developers to come in and build new mixed residential housing.

With the advocacy that you have been doing, there is a great deal of public information going out there, how effective have you been so far, in your view?

Well I think that the changes in legislation have been very important but there is increased community awareness of the dilemmas that a series of eighteen-storey buildings up either side of Gibbon Street coming up to the station will do to the area. Traffic flow issues, because the other thing is that they are trying to get a lot of employment in the area. But I think there is also an awareness of the discriminatory way in which some of those principles are being applied in the community so while the state plan, the objectives in the legislation, in the state government’s perspective say that they want to have maximum density for employment around the station and residential around the station to improve usage of the area, they will not allow the Aboriginal Housing Company to have the same floor space ratios as what they are allowing themselves on land that they own in the Eveleigh area, which is equi-distant from the railway station.

So you have been co-operating with the Aboriginal Housing Company in terms of the Pemulwuy Project, can you tell me a little bit more about that Project and how that has become a pivotal issue in your involvement with them?

Geoff has been very involved particularly on the Pemulwuy Task Force which was put together to get support from people who have expertise in housing, planning and social planning issues .

They are talking now, the Minister for Planning and Mick Mundine?

Yes, they are talking again. When they met Frank Sartor said, ‘Well this isn’t the plan that you showed me two years ago,’ which is what the Housing Company has been trying to get across to him the whole time. We have talked to the community around, we have been consulting with people, getting input from various experts in terms of community safety, in terms of the social planning as to what the viable size of community can be and looking at some of the commercial groups that will be able to participate in the non residential side of the development that Frank Sartor keeps on saying he wants.

So it is making some progress in that case as I understand. So would it be fair to say that it is a community action group that makes that viable and that this is one of the main thrusts of your activities?

Well one of the interesting things that we did in terms of the public housing issues was linking people from Waterloo to people from Minto. It is one of the places where residents have had huge a public-private partnership development out in the south-west. People from there visited residents from the Waterloo Towers, showed them around the area and just talking about what common problems they encountered in dealing with the Department of Housing.

So ideally give us a vision of the type of community that you would like to exist given the background.

REDWatch is building links between local people from different political backgrounds who discover they have a lot in common in terms of wanting this community to continue to be a very vibrant and diverse community.  The problem is that a lot of the planning that the government is doing seems to be aimed at people who will be attracted to the area in the future as the area gentrifies, rather than planning for the existing community, so people with high needs are being overlooked in the process. For instance, it will become too expensive for lots of people living in the high-rise because they are ageing and will have to move out of the area as the government is selling Rachael Forster hospital which would have been a good place to build residential aged care.

The other impact on the public housing is the changing tenancy requirements from the Department of Housing which will mean that people’s tenure is much shorter and so while the Redfern-Waterloo Authority’s plan looks at providing employment opportunities for people, if people are successful in taking up those employment opportunities, they are then no longer eligible for public housing and would need to move out of the area because housing is too expensive. Then there would be another lot of high-needs public housing tenants moving in who would again face the same sorts of problems. Those sorts of things are not being addressed within the social planning that seems to be being considered.

It is very insightful that kind of thing that most people are not aware of that private community dynamic.

It takes time for any new resident to start to feel that they are part of a community and there are negative social costs when the turnover of tenants is high. The other thing that isn’t being considered at all is affordable housing for students in the area with Sydney Uni & UTS so close. The change in this street is really obvious when we first moved in, most people living here were nearly all migrant families who had been here since the 1960s and 1970s and lots of uni students. There might have been three Anglo households in this street. It’s changed a lot and this year, one house in the street sold for over a million dollars. With big companies like Channel Seven moving their headquarters into the Australian Technology Park, it is probably going to mean lots of the old families will move out. The thing about all of this change is that the gentrification was happening anyway, but it was happening slowly at the sort of pace that would probably have allowed the change to happen in a way that was not as confrontative as it is.

Being forced to happen in a way that will shift the balance in a radical way?

Shift the balance so it becomes more difficult for poorer people to live here so the character of Redfern is lost. The change is happening rapidly so that it’s hard for people to adjust.

So what is your personal story and the demand on your involvement here, you are involved with so many different organisations, I presume?

Oh there are common links between my involvement on the Management Committee of The Settlement because the majority of the kids that The Settlement provides services for are kids from the Block and what RRR [Redfern Residents for Reconciliation] does to try and support people from the Block. I’m also a member of South Sydney Uniting Church.

Doesn’t the church have a community service as well?

Well one of the things the church is supporting is a project with the Exodus Foundation which has been asked to provide special education programs for children at all the schools in the area. It’s one of the good initiatives of the RWA. They are going to use the church property in Alexandria which is close to Alexandria Park School as their centre.

What about The Settlement clientele, are they mostly kids from The Block?

Mostly yes.

What kind of activities do they have in The Settlement?

For the children, there are the after-school and holiday programs and programs for kids who are at risk of becoming homeless and dropping out of school, but increasingly we have had fairly major involvement with men’s issues in the area. So while Mudgin-gal has always existed for the women in the area over the last couple of years, The Settlement has been running some men’s programs with the Department of Probation and Parole and with the Department of Health. For instance last year, The Settlement took a group of men and young men on a trip to the Centre helping them connect with their roots within the Aboriginal community and a non-urban Aboriginal experience.

That is wonderful. Is there anything else you want to say?

Okay, one of the issues that The Settlement faced about eighteen months ago was that after being in Edward Street for eighty years, a group of people who lived or owned property in the area stacked the Management Committee of The Settlement. They were people who had bought their houses in the 1990s mainly at a time when the Aboriginal Housing Company was pulling down houses on The Block and real estate agents around the area were selling property and telling buyers ‘look, the houses on The Block are coming down. This is going to be the next Paddington, you’ll make a killing on the property. Come in and buy cheap real estate and sit back and watch it appreciate.' That particularly led those people who lived in Edward Street to feel that the only thing that was depressing their real estate values was The Settlement because The Settlement owns low income housing and has programs that catered mainly for the Aboriginal children. All children’s activities are noisy and they made the area less desirable in potential purchasers’ eyes. So they stacked the Management Committee and it wasn’t until they painted out the mural of the front of the building that people came to realise how much tension there was.

The mural was painted in the 1980s by some now very prominent Aboriginal artists like Bronwyn Bancroft, Tracy Moffatt, Fiona Foley, Avril Quail and Geoffrey Samuels, to name but a few. It had got to the stage where that particular Management Committee had a sign on the door that said: ‘All children should use the back door.’ It came to a head when people who had been involved over the years discovered that the committee were in the process of trying to purchase some property elsewhere and transfer all The Settlement’s activities to that property and to sell the property in Edward Street. Because The Settlement is so old, it is in the peculiar situation of having its own Act of Parliament and we were able to use that to get some publicity, again to use the parliamentary process to get some amendments to the act through the Upper House and were able to avert the property being sold. The racism the Aboriginal staff had to put up with from that committee means that it’s been a difficult process revitalising The Settlement but we are getting there.

How long did that take?

That has basically taken...probably in the last four or five months, you can say that people are feeling like they are comfortable and programs are starting to run effectively and the Management Committee is no longer seen as the enemy.


I recall some months ago, I can’t even recall the actual time, the tension...resulting in the loss of the job of the co-ordinator and then he was reinstated later.

That is correct, yes, because the co-ordinator had been the meat in the sandwich between the old Management Committee and the Aboriginal staff so he had been seen as the person that had been frustrating the old Management Committee’s abilities to do what they wanted in terms of disposing of the property.

In the interest of people getting some background on The Settlement, that was an arm of the university, a welfare arm?

There was a worldwide social work movement called ‘The Settlement Movement’ back in the 1890s and the association with The Settlement Movement led to Sydney University Social Work Department setting up our Settlement where the people who were going to work with the community actually lived and participated in the community, which is why The Settlement owns houses.

One of the really interesting things that Red Watch has been involved in is helping a group called Squat Space use their 'Tours of Beauty', they call it ‘Redfern Tour of Beauty: the future is so bright, you’ve got to wear shades,’ and instead of just giving a whole list of facts, they take people on a tour of the local area so they start out down at The Settlement and as they stand in The Settlement, I tell them the story of The Settlement. They hire a bus sometimes or sometimes they have a whole heap of bike-riders who cycle around the area, they then go up to The Block and hear the story of the Housing Company, then up to the old TNT Towers where the RWA has its offices and get a talk from a REDWatch member about some of the developments that will happen, then usually a drive around some of the sites that have been declared ‘state significant’ so that the local government rules not longer apply.

They then go down  and have a look at the old school and the court house, both of which will have very different uses under the state’s plans, then go down to the public housing estate at Waterloo and another REDWatch person talks to them about the history of the 1970s slum clearance programs that happened to allow the high-rise to be built. Then they end up at one of the newer housing developments in Waterloo that are almost ‘gated communities’ to see the contrast and then finally end up at the art galleries in Dank Street to get an idea of the sort of new Redfern that the government would like [people] to see.

Who organises this stuff?

Squat Space is an art co-operative, so we must put a link to Squat Space’s site from the oral history site.


Absolutely! That is fascinating. You couldn’t get a much better and more impartial tour than that.

Well the fascinating thing is that the Redfern-Waterloo Authority has been invited on a number of occasions if they wanted to put their side of the story but they won’t participate.


I wonder why.

Interviewer: Deborah Ruiz Wall


     
   
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Lyn at the Settlement on a Tour of Beauty
     
   
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