Tensions are running high at Redfern’s Aboriginal tent embassy after charges were laid against its founder, Jenny Munro.
The protest site on the Block was established in May as part of a campaign against commercial development of the land, which was handed back to indigenous people in the 1970s.
Work on a $70 million retail and student housing development on the 20,000 square metre vacant plot owned by the Aboriginal Housing Company was expected to begin this year, but opponents say the plans make no allowance for affordable housing for Aboriginals.
Ms Munro was arrested last Monday and charged with assault following an altercation with a resident from a nearby street. She said it was just one instance in a long and escalating “campaign of intimidation” to attempt to force the embassy and its supporters off the land.
She said barring her from her temporary base is a deliberate interference with her right to protest and fears that attacks against the embassy’s residents will intensify.
“We’re calling for police superiors to step in before someone is seriously hurt here,” said Ms Munro, whose bail conditions do not allow her to visit the area, which has come to be dominated by a dozen tents, makeshift vegetable patches and a smoking firepit.
In the wake of her arrest, rumours that police were set to evict tent embassy residents were quickly met with a group of around 100 supporters descending on the Block. They are part of a “rapid response team” that Ms Munro said was ready to defend the embassy whenever called upon.
The unrest comes two weeks after the revelation that developers Deicorp Construction, which is working with the AHC on the development, used allegedly racist advertising to push its marketing of the Redfern site – a move that angered the indigenous community but did not appear to affect plans for the commercial project.
“The housing company’s complaint about Deicorp’s racist advertising hasn’t dampened their resolve. They still continue to push ahead with this development come hell or high water,” said Ms Munro.
A spokesman from Redfern police station said there were no plans to evict any tent embassy residents from the contentious land and that any police activity in and around the Block was “business as usual”.