‘You can’t sell stolen land’: Mass eviction looming for Aboriginal tenants

More than 100 people gathered at Picnic Point in Toowoomba, west of Brisbane, on Saturday 2 February, to protest the auction of 37 houses against the wishes of their decades-long residents.

The homes used to be social housing, but the company that owned them collapsed last year. More than 100 Indigenous residents are at risk of homelessness.

“We weren’t given a chance to appeal or fight what’s happening”, Bernadette Gibbs, a Kooma woman of the area, told Red Flag. “We just got a letter. No one’s taking any responsibility. We rallied to get the housing in the first place, but now the government’s not worried about 37 families – we’re at the bottom of the line. We are having our lives taken away.”

Patricia Conlon, a traditional owner of the country on which the houses were built, is helping the tenants in their campaign to win housing justice. 

“My biggest concern is, why doesn’t the government step in?”, she said. “Why can’t they purchase these houses to give these people an opportunity to live? They say they want to help. Thirty-three other houses from this block have already been sold. The government was part of lifting those caveats that allowed these houses to be mortgaged and sold … It should be rent to buy, it shouldn’t be rent and rent and rent for years.”

The tenants have been told that they will receive help in the private rental market, but the Palaszczuk Labor government could immediately intervene and return their homes to social housing. The only parliamentarian pushing the residents’ case is Greens MP Michael Berkman. He noted in a media release:

“If [the state government] doesn’t intervene this will be another episode in the long history of mistreatment and dispossession of Aboriginal people in this country.”

Conlon also said that residents have faced intimidation: “These families believe there is no hope. They were told their houses were going under the hammer and if they don’t let it happen, they’ll be arrested”.