Spatial Dynamics of Resistance

Genevieve Murray Joel Sherwood-Spring

Indigenous self-determination has, over the last 30 years, manifested itself spatially in the neighbourhoods of Redfern and Waterloo. But, even so, this community has not withstood the incremental spatial inequality caused by creeping gentrification. From 30,000 strong to a small 300-400 people, the community is being quickly excised from their neighbourhood, oddly enough, while support and recognition for Indigenous rights is on the rise. How and why has this occurred, and what form is the resistance taking?

Future Planning Centre, Waterloo. Image: Joel Spring, 2017.

In late 2015, redevelopment and large-scale sell-off of public housing in Waterloo was announced to make way for a new metro station and high-density private (70%) and social (30%) housing,[1] with the first wave of relocations to commence at the end of 2017. The decision to redevelop Waterloo is part of a state program involving the sell off and redevelopment of public housing estates and the transfer of public housing to privately managed community housing. The redevelopment of Waterloo and the surrounding public housing estates of Redfern and Surry Hills is significant given the importance of this place as the crucible of Indigenous self-determination in Sydney and its role in supporting the contemporary political consciousness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. To the Indigenous community, the redevelopment of the Redfern and Waterloo precinct represents much more than the loss of physical public housing stock,[2] it promotes economic growth over the stability and wellbeing of the community, and it puts up further barriers to a continued presence in the neighbourhood.  Moreover, the systemic exclusionary practices of professional planners and the state planning authorities, the large scale sell off of public land without consultation, the lack of power felt by the community, and a lack of recognition of Indigenous land rights has spurred a variety of actions in the community and across the neighbourhood in response. None of them are more prominent than the occupation of the The Block by Jenny Munro that ended with the supreme court decision in July 2015. Later that same year, and in response to the announced redevelopment of Waterloo, the resident led Waterloo Public Housing Action Group (WPHAG), in partnership with Jenny Munro, occupied the Waterloo Green with a Tent Embassy in protest.

WPHAG. Image: Joel Spring, 2017.

Strategies of resistance have been proactively lobbying and employing direct action methods through the occupation of public space. The occupation of the Waterloo Green was met with opposition, but gave WPHAG immense bargaining power with the government.

This level of action was taken to a historic level when WPHAG, with the support and assistance of volunteers from the surrounding community and with notional backing of the government, established The Future Planning, a space outside of the choreographed loop of ‘consultative’ frameworks currently used by governments for community consultation and engagement.

WPHAG. Image: Joel Spring, 2017.

The Future Planning Centre (FPC) interjected itself spatially into the conversation. It was set-up as an independent, democratic and communally run space on the estate in an old shop adjacent to the Land and Housing office and next to the central meeting place of the Community Organisations and Government bodies associated with the redevelopment. It is a forum that draws people into a dialogue with residents and became the centre of a collective and interdisciplinary team of academics, architects, planners, alternative economists, artists and activists. It provided a fundamentally unique opportunity to physically locate an oppositional viewpoint on the estate. It is defining an alternative model of negotiation and resistance that sits outside of the current technocratic, neoliberal, and participatory frameworks. The space has been used to house a series of functions seen as essential for transferring information between Waterloo public housing residents, outside community members, and the wider public. At the heart of the FPC is the need for resident directed knowledge production, which reinstates the situated knowledge of public-housing residents in the face of large-scale redevelopment of the physical fabric they reside in. This is the type of resource that has been progressively undermined in “policy-driven research on neighbourhood social conditions”.[3] The FPC, operating as a space of community discourse, allows residents and the wider community to critique and review the outputs garnered through volunteer collaboration. This process of review is typified by the way in which architectural and planning documentation is redefined by privileging the voices and experiences of residents through the collaborative physical model and cultural mapping.

The Redfern-Waterloo precinct is a local example of the types of urban redevelopment practices taking place globally. Specifically, the geopolitics of land ownership and the neoliberal colonisation of public land being enacted within this precinct represents the common strategies and techniques the private sector and governments use to ‘obviate the self-organising of tenants and residents’.[4] It is therefore important to reinstate the capacity of tenant residents to self-organise and activate as a collective political project as a way to combat the responsibilisation and individualisation inherent in the current model of ‘capacity/community building’. At this moment, it appears that WPHAG has a unique opportunity, through instances of Indigenous advocacy and privileging of Indigenous perspectives, to provide a space in which both residents and outside members can deepen their understanding and participation in developing their cultural competence, in an effort to demonstrate how a de-colonizing methodology or ethic[5] can resist the tendency of the housing authority (LAHC) to privilege the concerns of private capital and rebuild the physical environment, as well as restructure the social relationships around public tenancy as a ‘trope of consumerism’.[6]

The battle for Redfern/Waterloo is not just a symbolic one, in the defence of public housing in Australia. It is the fight for the physical centre of Indigenous Australian struggle that sits within the consciousness of an entire nation. The resistance of repeated dispossession of Indigenous land.

Waterloo. Image: Joel Spring, 2017.

Future Planning Centre Meeting. Image: Joel Spring, 2017. 

[1] Brad Hazard, letter to Waterloo housing residents, seen and cited by the author.

[2] M. J. Hromek, “Iconic Redfern: the creation and disintegration of an urban Aboriginal Icon,” Australasian Urban History/Planning History Group and Griffith University Conference, Gold Coast, 2016.

[3] M. Darcy and D. Rogers, “Inhabitance, Place-Making and the Right to the City: Pubic Housing Redevelopment in Sydney,” International Journal of Housing Policy, 14 no. 3 (2014): 236-256.

[4] M. Darcy and D. Rogers, ‘Global City Aspirations, Graduated Citizenship and Public Housing: Analysing the Consumer Citizenships of Neoliberalism’, Urban, Planning and Transport Research, 2 no.1 (2014): 78-88.

[5] Deborah Bird Rose, Reports From a Wild Country: ethics for decolonization (Sydney:  University of New South Wales Press, 2004); Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing methodologies : research and indigenous peoples (London; New York: Zed Books; University of Otago Press, 1999).

[6] Darcy and Rogers, “Inhabitance, Place-Making and the Right to the City,” 236-256.

Genevieve Murray runs Future Method Studio, a collaborative and interdisciplinary practice that sits between established notions of contemporary architecture & art — seeking to extend...

Joel Sherwood-Spring is a Wiradjuri man raised between Redfern and Alice Springs. Sydney based Architecture graduate and interdisciplinary artist working between solo works and FutureMethod...


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