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Next steps in fight for Indigenous centre

The ceremonial fire at an inner Sydney Indigenous community centre has been extinguished as the fight to keep the gates open moves into a new stage.

The fire was lit about two and a half weeks ago, and kept burning since, fed by the community members who have been meeting at the site as they work to secure its future.

Tribal Warrior Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Shane Phillips said the fire was an important acknowledgement of Indigenous elders and ancestors.

“We must honour their legacy … by standing together, remembering through this fire, and keeping that fire going for the right reasons, and the reasons are we are community, we look after each other,” Mr Phillips said on Saturday.

“This fire will go out today, the fire sticks will replace them with a message, with all of us again taking this in a different direction,” he said.

Community members rallied at the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence in Redfern earlier this month after the shock announcement it would close within seven days.

Neither the operator, the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation, and the owner, the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, could agree on who covered the centre’s $2 million annual loss.

Mr Phillips said community organisations are in the process of consolidating their demands for the centre and meetings were scheduled with the ILSC and NSWALC.

The goal is to find a sustainable business model so the centre does not need government support.

“Until there’s ink on the paper it’s not completely done,” he said.

Redfern Youth Connect executive director Margaret Haumono said the negotiations are a first step.

“Finally we got them to the table,” she told those gathered at the centre on Saturday.

“It’s now time for our community to be heard,” she added.

“Our first fight was for the kids, and this place was going to be taken away from them,” Ms Haumono said alongside her son Solomon.

He joined other children in heaping sand on the fire to extinguish it on Saturday afternoon.

Ms Haumono said keeping the centre open is a legacy that needs to be left, although it hasn’t been easy.

“It’s been a wave of ups and downs for us here in community, the biggest blessing is we all stuck together,” she said.

“They couldn’t divide us, we’re too strong here in Redfern.”

The journey to keep the centre open is ongoing, although the ILSC and NSWALC agreed to continue operating the fitness and aquatic centres to continue community access on August 9, a day after the centre was slated to close.

The two government organisations also agreed “a resetting of the relationship is needed between the organisations and the community”.

Former Australian Human Rights Commission Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner Mick Gooda is assisting the centre in mediations with the government organisations.

The centre opened in 2010 on the site of the former Redfern Public School, purchased from the NSW government by the federal Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation.

Ownership of the site was transferred to the NSW Aboriginal Land Council in June.

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