It’s been five months since Indigenous activists took to The Block in Redfern in an attempt to obstruct the redevelopment plans proposed in the Pemulway Project by the Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC). Unlike many protests, the Tent Embassy continues as an activist stronghold in the heart of Redfern, where it has remained through rain, hail and shine.
After plans to build student accommodation on The Block were announced, many local Indigenous residents expressed concerns the redevelopment would not address the housing needs of the Aboriginal community and set up the embassy in protest. Today there are more than five large tents, makeshift household appliances, and no intent to move until the AHC completely shut down the Pemulway Project.
Now, the Tent Embassy seems to be set up for longevity. The area has slowly accumulated more sustainable equipment and better amenities to make a more permanent home for the residents. “They’ve certainly gotten the word out there about the Embassy,” said SRC President-elect Kyol Blakeney, who just finished his year as Indigenous Officer with the SRC. “As a protest, it has grown and is continuing to grow.”
Over the past few weeks, weather has not been on the side of embassy-dwellers, with winds of 106km/h and heavy rain hitting the Embassy hard. Facebook has been a useful form of communication in this time, with statuses calling for volunteers to help tidy up and asking people to bring any useful materials to withstand the ever-changing Sydney weather. “The use of social media is definitely a huge part of the rallying,” said Blakeney. The protestors are relying on donations from people to stay on The Block. Someone actually donated a laptop, and this in turn has allowed them to promote the action and make contact with fellow activists.”
The people of the Tent Embassy have faced violence from the AHC and other incidents. As a result, many people are concerned for their safety at night, particularly because most of the protestors are women. Despite this, Blakeney said, the Embassy is still calling for more people to show solidarity with its protest. “Just like how the Canberra Tent Embassy has stayed there for 42 years and will stay until their rights are achieved, I expect Redfern to stay there until the AHC respond to their concerns and they achieve sovereignty.”
Despite the struggles the Embassy has faced, the tents are still up and the fighting for self-determination and Indigenous rights continues. Blakeney has said that he will continue to support the Embassy and work with the SRC in 2015 to help the movement grow. “As President I’ll have to hand over a lot of my current role [as Indigenous Officer] but I am still committed,” he said. “Having already halted redevelopment once, what this ongoing protest has shown us is that direct action works.”
Image: Jennifer Yiu