BY OWEN RICHARDS
SYDNEY — A student occupation of the Goolangullia Aboriginal unit at the Bankstown campus of the University of Western Sydney has entered its third week. The occupation — a rejection of a university restructure and its effects on Aboriginal welfare and education — is the longest occupation to ever be held on a UWS campus.
Students issued a declaration of occupation on September 18, in response to moves by university management to relocate the unit to the Blacktown campus of UWS.
What most angered the students, according to Aboriginal Rural Education Program teaching representative Nicole Alexander, was the complete lack of consultation with any of the parties that are likely to be effected.
The attitude of UWS management was typical of past and present treatment of Aboriginal people, according to Alexander, who said that management's program is "a modern-day removal to a modern-day mission, the old protection board revisited".
The Goolangullia unit was established in 1982 and was the first of its type to be set up. Its establishment was achieved by a campaign on the part of the local Aboriginal community.
For UWS students, Goolangullia is essential for Aboriginal students to receive the kind of educational and social support they need to participate in university life.
The unit provides a teaching program that allows rural-based Aboriginal students to attend block-release courses that allow them to stay with their families and to continue to participate in their community life. The removal of such programs will be a backward step for Aboriginal students and the Aboriginal community, making participation in university study less accessible for rural students.
Goolangullia also provides emotional, cultural and social support for Aboriginal students, who face the pressures of isolation and racism.
According to Alexander, the unit provides a community for Aboriginal students, with cultural and spiritual significance. The UWS management, says Alexander, does not recognise that its existence is " a cultural, a spiritual issue".
The Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal occupiers have received much support and plenty of visitors, including people off the street, local Aboriginal representatives and community members, the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, academics and the Reconciliation Council.
On October 11, the occupiers hosted a campus rally involving speakers, bands and a free barbecue to publicise the issue and attract support. The students have also produced t-shirts and badges.
The occupation has received many supportive faxes, letters and emails from around Australia. The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union has been extremely helpful.
UWS management has refused to meet with the occupees until the occupation has ceased. The student activists have pledged, however, to maintain the sit-in until management guarantees the security of Aboriginal rights and education on campus.
The local Aboriginal community has encouraged the students to "keep fighting, no matter what the cost".
Says Alexander, "we are prepared to stay here as long as it takes".
The occupiers invite all community members to visit them. The Bankstown campus is located at Bullecourt Avenue, Milperra (take the Henry Lawson Drive exit off the M5, or catch the train to East Hills station and then a two-minute bus trip to the campus).