Only support service for Blue Mountains Indigenous community threatened with closure after NSW government warns of eviction

The only support service for indigenous people in the Blue Mountains faces an uncertain future after learning they were being evicted from their premises by the New South Wales government.

The Indigenous Cultural and Resource Center has been operating for nearly 30 years in a cottage on the site of a former facility for children of the Stolen Generations and mentally disabled in Katoomba.

The Indigenous Cultural and Resource Center is one of the organizations working on the site.(ABC News: Nakari Thorpe)

Now staff have been told the building failed to comply with accessibility and bushfire safety regulations and the NSW government is unwilling to pay the millions what it would cost for upgrades.

This means the service will have to find new premises and staff fear they will not be able to pay commercial rents, and the service, which provides vital support to the community, will have to close.

“The government has goals of ‘closing the gap’ it wants to achieve and the closure of Indigenous organizations is widening that gap,” said Indigenous and Cultural Resource Center Board Chair Bernadette O’Bryan. .

“I don’t understand how they can say one thing and do the opposite.”

Currently under an agreement with the state government, the community organization pays no rent.

two women sitting next to each other and smiling
Ms O’Bryan, left, says the closure of the ACRC runs counter to the Government’s targets to close the gap.(ABC News: Tony Ibrahim)
an old man showing a picture
Uncle Edward Walker says ACRC services saved his life.(ABC News: Tony Ibrahim)

Dharawal elder Uncle Edward Walker said the service provided vital support when he was diagnosed with cancer.

“[They] picked me up at my front door and took me to the hospital [to have radiotherapy] for eight weeks,” he said.

“If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know how we would have survived.”

Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill accused the government of exaggerating the problems so they could sell the land.

“This is a political decision to dislodge an important community building to earn a few dollars with no compassion or concern for the community organizations there,” he said.

“The thought that they might be left homeless by what I believe to be a heartless act is appalling to me.”

a man wearing glasses smiling
Mayor Mark Greenhill says the government has no compassion for community organizations.(Facebook: Mayor Mark Greenhill)
a mural on the exterior of a brick building
The native service is the only one of its kind in the Blue Mountains. (ABC News)

Cr Greenhill claimed the government had neglected the site for years and left it to decay.

“Now conveniently he wants to use his own negligence to kick important community service organizations off this site,” he said.

Local estate agents estimate the sale of the 2.4-acre site could bring the government up to $2 million.

The NSW Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) said it was working closely with the community group to find alternative premises.

“DCJ remains committed to working collaboratively with the Blue Mountains Aboriginal Cultural Resource Center to assist them in their goal of providing services to their local community,” a spokesperson said.

The Blue Mountains Aboriginal Culture and Resource Center receives around $300,000 a year in funding from the NSW government.

an outdoor swing set in a yard
The Indigenous Cultural and Resource Center has operated from the Kedumba Chalet since 1996.(ABC News: Tony Ibrahim)
children's toys in a container
Gateway Family Services offers counseling for traumatized children and adults.(ABC News: Tony Ibrahim)

Three other community groups are also at risk of eviction, including Gateway Family Services, which provides counseling, support groups and emergency food services.

“I think it’s disappointing that they showed up and said, ‘You and your friends, this is too hard, stop what you’re doing and get out,'” general manager Gregory Lazarus said.

“The government expects us to vacate the premises and properties will invariably be sold.”

Mr Lazarus said it would be difficult to find an affordable alternative property in the Blue Mountains.

a man wearing glasses holding a cup and smiling
Mr. Lazarus says finding an alternative space will be difficult.(ABC News: Tony Ibrahim)

The DCJ’s real estate portfolio grew by $509 million over the past fiscal year, according to its 2021 annual report, to a value of $7.6 billion.

The disability nonprofit Leura Day Options, which receives about $900,000 a year in state government funding, and the Blue Mountains Wildplant Rescue Services are also being kicked out.

The state government says repairing the 50-year-old buildings and upgrading the site would cost $2.4 million.

“The property…has significant accessibility and bushfire safety non-compliance issues that cannot be addressed within the property’s existing zoning,” a spokesperson said.

a woman wearing glasses sitting at a table sorting seeds
The Wildplant Rescue Service also operates off site.(ABC News: Tony Ibrahim)
a group of green plants in a special indoor growing area
Plants that would otherwise be lost to development are rescued as part of the work done by the Wildplant Rescue Service.(ABC News: Tony Ibrahim)

The Mayor of Blue Mountains City Council, who is responsible for zoning, disputed this.

“It’s a pile of garbage,” said Cr Greenhill.

“If the state government had these concerns, where is the letter addressed to me?

“We will change the zoning if necessary.”

Uncle Kerry Mckenzie was 10 years old when placed in the former Clairvaux Children’s Home which occupied the site.

a sign outside
The Indigenous Cultural and Resource Center received $305,734 from the Department of Communities and Justice.(ABC News)

It took him almost 50 years to be ready to go back, as he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“They were ridiculously cruel. I couldn’t understand why they did what they did,” he said.

But in recent years, he has found refuge at the Indigenous Cultural and Resource Center.

“You can always go to the place and have a cup of tea and sit down and do some yarn.”

a woman watering plants
The sale of the Clairvaux community center could bring the government nearly $2 million.(ABC News: Tony Ibrahim)

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