Supporters of Sydney’s Aboriginal community have threatened to hold a sit-in at the National Center for Indigenous Excellence (NCIE) to protest the impending closure.
The staff and locals are calling for an investigation into how the center in Redfern has suffered a loss of $2 million a year, and for the federal organization that manages it to apply for funding to keep it open.
Locals were shocked Monday to learn that the center would close in a week, despite having become a cultural and community artery for local Aborigines since opening in 2006.
The water and fitness center staff will be out of work in a few days.
The National Center of Indigenous Excellence is the beating heart of the Aboriginal community in Redfern.
I spoke to the CEO and Chairman of the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation and the member from Sydney today.
— Linda Burney MP (@LindaBurneyMP) August 2, 2022
Programs that support the local Aboriginal community, including employment services, have already been halted, while working parents will be forced to find alternative childcare.
The center’s operator, the Commonwealth’s Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation, has been at odds for years with the leaseholder, the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, over how to keep the institution’s doors open.
But center staff and community groups operating on the property didn’t hear of the talks until Monday, at the same time they were told the center would be closing.
The facility’s much-used basketball center was packed on Tuesday afternoon when speakers called for help.
Hundreds gathered at the NCIE after the abrupt news that it would close Monday, leaving dozens of Aboriginal workers out of work and leaving young people without their safe place.@Jodan_Perry & @rachaelknowles_ reporthttps://t.co/9Mr3fFNj3O
— NITV (@NITV) August 2, 2022
Redfern Youth Connect co-founder Margaret Haumono urged the two organizations to come to an agreement or find someone to help fund the center.
“We need to keep this for our children, we need to keep this for our entire community that uses this center,” she told the crowd.
“I want to know what’s going on. I want to know what the money was spent on.”
The atmosphere heated up as council members tried to tell their side of the story.
“We will do everything we can to keep this center open,” the director, Yuseph Dean, told the public.
People have vowed to return to the center next Monday morning, when the institution will close, to hold a sit-in on the basketball court to protest the closure.
Members of the company were not present on Tuesday but said they could not reach an agreement with the municipality on how the center can remain open.
The municipality, which is funded by a trust, refused to assume the center’s operating debt.
“Our organizations have worked together in good faith to try to secure the future of the NCIE,” a joint statement said.
“We have not been able to come to an agreement… we are disappointed with the outcome.”
Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney described the center as “the beating heart of the Aboriginal community in Redfern”.
“I strongly encourage the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation and the NSW Aboriginal Land Council to work together to find a solution so that the center’s programs and services continue to benefit the local community,” she posted on social media.