Centre relocation anger

By Dawn Cohen

It is only a demountable room in Ballina Primary School, but for Reninya Roberts, it is hope for the future.

Now the Department of Education is taking it away.

The Aboriginal Resource Centre has been a night school and community centre for Ms Roberts and other members of the substantial Ballina Bundjalung community.

It also provides education in Aboriginal language and culture.

The Department of Education wants the demountable for other purposes.

"When I was at this school, we didn't have this place," said Ms Roberts.

"They called us 'coon' all the time.

"So we fought back, and then got suspended.

"We didn't get an education.

"But this place is our place. It gives our kids pride as well as education and that keeps them in school."

The centre is currently at the perimeter of the school grounds, with easy access from the street.

"We will relocate them in a proper building within the school grounds," said a spokesperson for the Minister of Education, Carmel Tebbutt.

However, the proposed new building requires users to pass through the school office.

For elders, like Birtha Kapeen, walking through the office triggers off old anxieties.

"I wasn't allowed to go to school with my white friends," said the Lismore-born Bundjalung woman.

"We were seen as contaminating the whites.

"Walking through the office is hard on the older ones.

"Nobody will feel as comfortable."

Ms Kapeen said the Department of Education did not talk to the community about the proposal before advising the centre coordinator it was scheduled for removal.

A spokesperson for Ms Tebbutt said the Department of Education admits there was no consultation.

For Ms Roberts, whose children attend the school, the lack of communication carries a familiar sting.

"It makes us feel nothing much has changed," said the 27year-old.

"That our needs don't matter.

"Our kids need to feel the wider community supports them.

"Don't take our only place away."

The removal, scheduled for last Friday, has been temporarily postponed following protests from the local Aboriginal community.

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