Material from the Gary Foley Collection

Block's new life of hope - $27m plan for `cultural housing' in Redfern

Wallace, Martin
The Daily Telegraph
11th October 2004

PLANNERS are on a mission to regenerate the Block in Redfern by building decent housing and stamping out the area's notorious criminal reputation.

Their ground-breaking development is aimed at bringing fresh hope to the Aboriginal community as well as training and jobs for the area's teenagers.

The Aboriginal Housing Company -- which owns much of the land on the Block -- has even picked up an innovation award from the International Security Management and Crime Prevention Institute. For almost 30 years the area has been blighted by derelict housing, poverty, abject despair, rampant crime and the scourge of heroin addiction.

The local community's deep-seated distrust of authority and claims of police victimisation boiled over in February with the death of 17-year-old Thomas "TJ" Hickey, which triggered a violent riot.

Locals want to move ahead with the $27 million Pemulwuy Redevelopment Project which is aimed at providing decent homes for 350 people and stamping out crime on the Block.

Derelict houses, which have long been used as shooting galleries by junkies and provided escape routes for the bagsnatchers who attack unsuspecting victims at Redfern train station, will be demolished and replaced by specially-designed cultural housing. The whole Block area will be opened up and alleyways, which are home to muggers, dealers and rapists, will be removed.

"This is probably the most important development to happen in the Aboriginal community for 200 years," project manager Peter Valilis said.

"Redfern is like a mecca for Aboriginal people so we are convinced that this development will lift the spirit of everyone round here." Plans include jobs for local youths in gardening and security work.

Leaders will also teach them traditional arts and crafts which will be sold at market stalls on the Block.

The plan features 62 three- or four-bedroom houses -- one for each family of the Gadigal clan, Redfern's traditional owners. Construction is expected to take 18 months and will start early next year once plans are approved by Sydney City Council.