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S­tanding tall, shining bright

WATERLOO: Saturday September 9 saw the much-anticipated launch of social action art project #WeLiveHere2017.

Public and private housing residents, community workers, local politicians and musicians, friends old and new shared concerns and hopes regarding NSW government plans to redevelop the Waterloo estate. The redevelopment will disrupt the lives of up to 4,000 people to make way for higher-density apartments (for existing residents as well as residents of additional private and affordable housing) and the Waterloo metro station.

The twilight gathering on Waterloo Green witnessed the Matavai and Turanga towers aglow – a powerful symbol of community resilience. Three hundred coloured lights had been installed by residents in their apartment windows to express various emotions – fear, anger, grief, anxiety, caution.

“We love our home and we care for one another,” said a long-term tenant, moved to tears by the spectacle. “I’ve been feeling so anxious this past year, I can’t tell you – this project is wonderful because it says we’re people with rights and real feelings.”

Uncle Ray Davison gave a welcome to country and Uncle Max Eulo conducted a traditional smoking ceremony. Jenny Leong MP spoke of fundamental rights to safe and affordable housing. Architect and Independent Councillor Philip Thalis applauded residents’ telling their stories and standing up for what they believe in. Labor Councillor Linda Scott met with locals for conversation around inclusive community and sustainable development.

Angeline Penrith and Luke Carroll emceed a dynamic lineup of performers including poet Lorna Munro, banjo player John Archinal, the Redfern Dance Company (sensational!) and Counterpoint Lok Wan Cantonese Opera and Dancing Group. Geoff Morrell and David Field of The Number 4 Band had audience members of all ages up dancing. Hip hop artists Listic and Kween G delivered original and upbeat sets. Free food was provided by OzHarvest, with free mocktails by Trolley’d.

Supported by Art & About, with partners Counterpoint Community Services, Carriageworks, and the Waterloo Public Housing Action Group, #WeLiveHere2017 was designed by filmmaker Clare Lewis and producer Carolina Sorensen, in consultation with a strong leadership group including activist Richard Weeks, academic Jenna Condie, Wiradjuri Elder Jenny Munro, Matavai resident and writer Catherine Skipper, and Mary Laumua and Becz McCorquodale who played key roles in community engagement and did much of the “heavy lifting” with regard to the installation. The leadership group are grateful for the help of many dedicated volunteers.

Overall, the project comprises the lights installation, a social media archive of portraits and stories, as well as a documentary focusing on people central to the action and activism (to be shown on the ABC in 2018).

“The lights offer a silent way of showing presence,” Ms Sorensen said. “It’s important to listen for what people in the redevelopment zone really want, to support them, and to help build a broad supporter base. It will take time and we need to maintain momentum for resistance to what many see as a form of social cleansing.

“We’ve seen this before – overwhelming change that exacerbates anxiety, gentrification that divides the community. Some people not directly affected by the redevelopment hadn’t realised what’s planned for Waterloo. Now they are more aware.

“I try to reflect on the role we all play, on arrogant attitudes – what it’s like moving into a new area, often with a colonialist belief in the superiority of our culture – ‘our’ bars, cafes, and so on – over the culture of the local people.

“The redevelopment is a massive undertaking – over 40 acres and 15-20 years. I hope we can all learn to be more respectful and to see that Redfern-Waterloo is shaped by what’s already been – proud Aboriginal and working-class histories, many cultures – as well as what’s currently in place.”

 

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