A plan to add 10 storeys to a student accommodation building – forming part of a controversial redevelopment plan of the area known as The Block – has left Aboriginal residents furious, claiming it will "white-wash" the community.
Once a thriving Aboriginal community, The Block is now one of the most coveted parcels of land in inner city Sydney.
In the 1970s then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam granted the Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC) funds to purchase houses and land for the Aboriginal community. It was an ambitious and bold plan to create affordable low cost housing for disadvantaged Aboriginal people.
But by 2011 the last Koori community members living at The Block had been evicted and their houses demolished to make way for the Pemulwuy Project, a multimillion dollar redevelopment.
The project has been mired in controversy, and has drawn criticism from Aboriginal people over a lack of transparency.
In 2015, the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy (RATE), a group of community members headed by elder Jenny Munro, camped on the empty land and refused to leave until the AHC guaranteed that affordable Aboriginal housing would be built before commercial enterprises.
After a Supreme Court battle and intervention from the federal government, the AHC agreed to build Indigenous houses first, followed by retail spaces and a six storey student accommodation complex.
On Monday the AHC announced a dramatic change to the $70 million Pemulwuy Project, saying it wanted to increase the student accommodation from six storeys to 16, thus increasing the number of students living there from 152 to more than 500.
The AHC says it's the only way it can pay for the 62 affordable homes for Indigenous people.
"The decision to increase the student accommodation component was made in order to make the Pemulwuy Project more financially viable," Alisi Tutuila, chairperson for the AHC, told BuzzFeed News.
"By increasing the student accommodation component, we are able to... build the entire Pemulwuy Project at once, and it also means we remain debt free.”
Ken Canning, one of the founders of RATE, told BuzzFeed News that increasing student dwellings from six to 16 storeys was a "stupid" idea that would "completely overwhelm the Aboriginal community" and turn it into a "homogenous student community".
"We [RATE] fought very hard for Aboriginal accommodation, not for this," Canning said. "Once again we see Aboriginal people being pushed to the fringes; once again pushed out of Redfern. It's a complete white-wash, all for the dollar," Canning said.
Canning warned of clashes between the Indigenous community and students if the development went ahead.
"You are putting some of the most impoverished people next to international students who largely come from a wealthy background," Canning said.
"It's a volatile mix and it's inevitable [that] resentment will grow among the Koori community there, who feel like they are being dispossessed of their own land. Violence will break out."