A battle against extinction in the name of social improvement

Superposition Studio, designed by Future Method (Genevieve Murray, Joel Sherwood-Spring), makes a strong point through an artefact. Several tables, which when combined take the shape of Cockatoo Island, have “terrazzo” tops made from Redfern demolition rubble set in a binder and the surface smoothed. It sums up the way colonisers destroy an Indigenous culture and try to absorb its remnants by making over the past – building, rebuilding, developing – to accord with each new version of their still colonial selves.

The Block, Redfern – site of resistance. Photo: Jack Carnegie
The Block, Redfern – site of resistance. Photo: Jack Carnegie

This temporary venue, itself on land unceded by the Gadigal people, and having been in turn a penal settlement, an industrial school for girls and a reformatory, a major shipbuilding site and dockyard, and now a site of entertainment for the chattering classes, demonstrates how the past is subsumed and smoothed over by each edition of the colonial narrative.

Gentrification, the process of “renewing” or “redeveloping” a neighbourhood to conform with middle-class taste and values, has been for Redfern, and will be for Waterloo, a means of extinguishing local Indigenous and working-class culture.

The panel, consisting of Linda Kennedy (a Yuin woman, architectural designer and founder of design studio Future Black), Lorna Munro (a Wiradjuri/Gamilaroi woman, educator and poet), Keg de Souza (artist and activist) and Joel Sherwood-Spring (a Wiradjuri man, currently a Master of Architecture student and working at Future Method), offered their perspectives on the effect of unprecedented development on communities such as Redfern and Wollongong.

Kennedy, speaking with a quiet passion, advocated the need for an overall shift in the design process, thinking and practice. Her experience of development in the Wollongong area is that traditional Aboriginal uses of, and practices in caring for, the land have been over-ridden altogether with the effect of totally eradicating the past. She demands that present and future development place value on black ways of knowing and doing as a priority “whereby country and community come first in all projects of design within the built environment”.

Munro is strongly passionate, even vehement, about the destruction of the Aboriginal past. Her memories of growing up on The Block emphasise the sense of belonging and connectedness that made this area of Redfern a visible manifestation of black history and black presence in Sydney. Resistance against the recent development, and protest against broken promises, is vital as the battle for The Block is a battle against extinction in the name of social improvement – a familiar and bitter story. Unfortunately, as de Souza, a resident of Redfern, pointed out, we are all complicit in this extinction simply by being here.

While all the adult talking (expertly managed by Sherwoord-Spring) was in progress, the children found excellent entertainment in a tangled mound of long, sausage-shaped cushions made from discarded paint drops. A Future Method creation, the “Roly-Poly” could become an indispensible item for a well-prepared public forum.

‘Debris of Displacement’ panel discussion Superposition Studio, Cockatoo Island, May 19, 3-5pm

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