Picket line halts destruction of Koori school

June 18, 2011
Picket to save Ballerrt Mooroop College.

An emergency phone tree on June 6 mobilised the extra support needed to stop workers coming on-site to begin demolishing part of Melbourne’s only Aboriginal school, Ballerrt Mooroop College (BMC).

The workers from the demolition company, ADCO ,decided, as long as there were people staffing the picket line, not to cross it. The Building Industry Group of unions, including the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union, the Electrical Trades Union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the Plumbers Union are considering banning work on the site.

Parents, former students and supporters have been camping in the school gym to stop the demolition of their school since November 24.

The school community was successful in stopping attempts to start demolishing the gym in late 2010. June 6 was the first attempt by the Education Department to begin work on demolition this year. This is because Ballerrt Mooroop College school council sought heritage protection orders under state and federal laws to protect the school. It said the whole site is an Aboriginal Place and should be protected. Artefacts have also been found on site.

The Education Department refused to negotiate and sent the school a letter confirming that it had not changed its plan to destroy BMC heritage areas including the Ceremonial Ground, Gathering Place and Spirit Tree.

The former John Brumby Labor government supported mainstreaming and wanted the BMC to eventually close and all the students be sent to mainstream schools. The new Baillieu Coalition government has kept that approach.

The Education Department intends to shift the Glenroy Specialist School (GSS), a school that caters for severely disabled children, onto the BMC site and squeeze BMC into a tiny corner of the site.

The BMC school council has tried to negotiate with the GSS council in the belief that the two councils could sort out the situation amicably. However, the GSS council has refused to meet with the BMC council.

The BMC school council would like to keep their whole school but has been prepared to negotiate to accept the GSS moving onto their site as long as the BMC gets to keep the school gym, the Ceremonial Ground, Gathering Place and Spirit Tree.

Under the GSS current plans, the school gym would be bulldozed for 130 car parking spaces and the Ceremonial Ground, Gathering Place and Spirit Tree would be separated from the BMC and would be in the GSS grounds.

The BMC educates the most disadvantaged students in the Aboriginal community. A former student, Helen, told Green Left Weekly that it wasn’t until she came to the BMC in Years 11 and 12 that her dyslexia was picked up. That was the reason why she had been in trouble in her previous schools.

The campaign would welcome supporters to join their protest at the Ballerrt Mooroop College, 208 Hilton St, Glenroy.

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