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The Block and the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy

I have been living in Redfern, Sydney, for about month and a half now. It didn’t escape my attention that Australians I have met refer to this particularly area as “dodgy”. When I tried to find out where did this idea come from I was always told the story about the Block and the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy. This is the story I have managed to construct after speaking to some of the local people:

In the 1970s there was a great movement to provide affordable housing for Aboriginal people in this area. This initiative was strongly opposed by local landlords, however after months of fighting and lobbing, the Block was purchased by Aboriginal Housing Company. The Block, a big building that used to accommodate many families, with Aboriginal flag pained across the entire back wall, quickly gained bad reputation that is still a common topic of conversation about Redfern. Few years ago a part of the Block was decided to be torn down, which resulted in protests from the residents. Protests turned into a riot, riot turned in a fire that resulted in damages to surrounding buildings. The Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy was created shortly afterwards in the spacious field behind the Block. It has been ten years since the riot and yet every day I walk past the Embassy and see the tent surrounded by protest signs demanding affordable housing for the Aboriginal population.

I feel this story illustrates well the timeless conflict between Aboriginal and Australian people, which I so poorly understand. On one hand, there are the people of Aboriginal origin still enraged by their ancestors being pushed out of the land that they used to consider to be theirs, by neglect their perceive to be domain of every government and by the local investors and landlords they perceive to be corrupted by money. On the other, people who see opportunities for estate development in an area so close to the city, displeased by the crime and violence they perceived the Block to the be the source of.

As I walk along the Embassy and stop to get scratched by stray cats I try and put myself in the shoes of both sides. I can imagine the arguments they perceive to be relevant, I can think of the examples they would use in a discussion. However, I think my understanding is very limited, because as a stranger to this land I have no capacity to feel that they feel. I was brought up in an extremely culturally uniform country so I fail to feel rage, injustice, I don’t have the sense of community with the people I think I belong with.

I have chosen to tell this story, even though you wouldn’t find the Block on any postcards, because I feel there is more depth and more meaning to it than any other of beautiful legends I have heard while living here.

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