Sunday, 4 November 2012

Koori Centre Cuts

Earlier this year, myself, members of the local Redfern community and many supporters of Aboriginal rights staged a small photo shoot in Redfern in front of the Block's Aboriginal flag, to show support for Damien Hooper at the Olympics:

Unfortunately, Sydney Uni doesn't share in the same level of goodwill towards the original owners of our colonised land... Despite acknowledging the Cadigal people of the Eora nation whose land the university was build on, the administration has pushed ahead with implementing a new strategy for Indigenous education which has raised serious concerns by the students, particularly due to the fact that the “Wingara Mura — Bunga Barrabugu” strategy will scatter the Koori Centre’s functions and staff across campus in 16 faculties".

In the above article SRC Indigenous Student Officer Narelle Daniels highlighted the key concerns students had with the changes:

"How long will students have access to Koori Centre facilities like the library, computers and common room?
It’s not just about the rooms, it’s about keeping Indigenous support close to home. We simply don’t want 16 different places … But when we’ve asked for a meeting with him [Houston] reception keeps putting us off."

Although students have gotten word of this restructure coming down on the Koori Centre at the end of Semester 1, due to SRC elections taking place this semester the campus activists who took on the management over staff cuts in Semester 1 didn't play a huge role in organising. Koori students have been collecting signatures and attempting to at least get a meeting with the DVC Indigenous, Shane Houston, to discuss the implications of the restructuring on their experience and ability to remain at Sydney Uni.

Resistance members collecting signatures during the SRC elections

By the end of semester Koori students were feeling quite uncertain about the future - particularly given the break for exams begins this week, and students will be off campus and unable to mobilise any action against closing the common room for months. So at short notice a rally was called for the final week of semester, at which over 60 students turned out to support the Centre remaining open. As soon as the action was called it got picked up by the national movement; Alice Springs radio called Kyol Blakeney, one of the organisers, for a live interview, and a letter was read out from Gary Foley, legend of the Tent Embassy movement!

Kyol told me:

I promote the idea of more black fullas in Uni and more understanding throughout the wider community of the culture but I do not condone the idea of the removal of the Aboriginal support staff as it makes no sense to take away support when you are trying to encourage other Aboriginals to come to uni and succeed. That is the reason why I am in the protest and against Shane Houston.
At a meeting with Houston at the end of the protest, Kyol and the other students from the Koori Centre got the following commitments (posted around the Save the Koori Centre FB page):
Space and facilities – common room, computer lab
Indigenous Student Support & ITAS Co-ordinators – Tanya Griffiths and Freda Hammond to be reinstated into their office in the Koori Centre at 2 days per week minimum with their own office space.
Faculty support – support officer (Indigenous within each faculty.)
2 additional support officers with roles towards – ITAS, Working with Cadigal, Basic Personal Support.
Looking to seek funding for an entirely new Koori Centre that acknowledges the word (Aboriginal/Cadigal) in the title. This will include common room, Computer lab and Indigenous support staff at a minimum.
No faculty-specific common areas – There will be only one big community space for every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student on main campus and the University of Sydney.
Ie they won! (At least the lion's share of demands, although the dispersal of the academic programs doesn't seem to be on the table for discussion anymore, and students of those courses have recieved notification presenting it as a fait accompli).

Of course, we haven't seen the students demands incorporated into the new strategy yet, so it's all tentative... It's now summer break, so the uni may try and take advantage of the absence of students to reneg and hope nobody notices... but the inspiring action sofar has certainly showed that the student movement at Sydney Uni hasn't gone anywhere. And they know the latent power of the student movement and its' ability to create PR nightmares and untenable situations for management.

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