There is escalating anger and resistance amongst sections of the local Indigenous community to a government attack on an Aboriginal school in Melbourne. Ballerrt Mooroop College is the only school in Melbourne explicitly for Indigenous students. In operation since 1996, it runs with the assistance of minimal government funding, and is now is having part of its school grounds appropriated for another school (Glenroy Special School).
Apparently the previous principal of Ballerrt Mooroop College (an Indigenous person) acted against the wishes of the local community. The agreement to let the government use their land was done in a deceptive way, without fully consulting with the school community.
The situation is an attack on one of the few
institutions in Melbourne that nurture Aboriginal culture. It represents a continuation of the same ideology behind the Northern Territory Intervention which was introduced by the Howard government in 2007, and has continued with equal vigour under Labor.
The attack on Aboriginal education is an act of cultural genocide, and the attack on an Aboriginal-run school is also an attack on self-determination. In this case, the school has been undermined by a sustained period of inadequate funding, and it has also succumbed to devious bureaucratic manoeuvres to sign away the land without the full participation of the community.
In the last few days, members of the school community
have been protesting and conducting a sit-in at the school gymnasium. This is the first building that is to be demolished to make way for the facilities of the special school, in this case a parking lot. The protesters have successfully halted the demolition, and there are negotiations with CFMEU officials to exert influence on the building work at the site.
The school is also reaching out for support from outside their community. They called a protest on Wednesday 24 November and on 26 November held a meeting so people could network and discuss strategy.
Defenders of Ballerrt Mooroop College are justifiably asking why the special school had to be built on one of the few areas of Aboriginal-controlled land that exist in Melbourne. They are asking why it cannot be built on the site of the soon-to-be-vacated Glenroy Primary School. There are also suggestions that the special school’s existing site could be adequately redeveloped to their needs with proper funding.
There is an emerging political framework which is counterposing the demands of the two schools, forcing them into competition with each other. Both schools require decent resources and space to conduct their teaching. Both are schools that service highly marginalised and under-resourced communities in Australian society. It is important to reject the idea that they are pitted against each other, and that one of them has to lose out.
The Glenroy Special School deserves quality facilities and adequate funding to run the school.Ballerrt Mooroop College is entitled to control all of its land and have full access to resources to conduct the education of their students in whatever way they see fit.
However, this is far from the reality, and the school has never been adequately funded. It has never been given the appropriate level of public support to achieve what it set out to do – a recurring scenario with projects that are Aboriginal-run, for Aboriginal people.
The government provides a drip feed of cash,
with constant promises that they will provide massive injections in funding for social services. It never happens. And now, only a few short years since Aboriginal organisations managed to exert any form of self-determination, we see the government blame Aboriginal people themselves for the less than amazing outcomes. Their lackeys in the media proclaim the “self-determination experiment” failed, and what follows is the re-emergence of 1930s-style assimilationism.
The demolition of the gymnasium is scheduled for Friday, 17 December 2010 and we encourage all those who are able to picket to stop the bulldozers to defend the school on this day.