July 2nd, 2003


the Block.

The suburbs of Sydney known today as Redfern, Erskineville, Surry Hills, Darlinghurst and Paddington are part of an area that traditionally belonged to the Gadigal peoples, a clan of the Dharug. This land was densely populated because of the rich resources, but in 1790 smallpox decimated hundreds of the Dharug. Today, the Aboriginal population is concentrated in various enclaves.

In 1973, the Federal Government released a grant to fund a housing project in Redfern, marking the beginning of 'The Block' as a symbol of urban land rights. Bound by Eveleigh, Vine, Lois and Caroline Streets, it is a special place for a diaspora of Aboriginal people driven from the country into the city and is regarded as the 'Sydney waterhole', a gathering place for Aborigines from anywhere in Australia. There is a strong sense of community in the Block seldom found in suburban Sydney. While Aboriginal people quietly move towards self autonomy, political forces have come into play and this social laboratory for housing is about to become lost to urban gentrification.

Redfern is generally regarded as a focal point for drug use in Sydney. There is a proportion of Aboriginal people within this community who are using drugs and alcohol, as there is in the wider community, and it is a real concern. Low levels of education, lack of employment skills, a high unemployment rate, and transient home life all provide a fertile background for drug dealings, crime, death, addictions, overdoses, and a high arrest rate. These are symptomatic of a greater problem and a grim reminder of the failure of policy, or a lack of will, on the part of the wider community to address the severe disadvantages experienced by Indigenous Australians.

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