A new picket line was set up on August 10 to defend Melbourne’s only Indigenous school, Ballerrt Mooroop College (BMC) in Glenroy.
The day before, electricity was cut to the school gym and the locks were changed as the education department announced that the school gym/community hall (which is a traditional gathering place), the spirit tree and the ceremonial grounds would be demolished to make way for the Glenroy Specialist School (GSS) to come on the site, leaving the BMC with only a few classrooms.
The school’s supporters’ phone tree was activated and about 30 people turned up to defend the school. Construction workers erected big fences around part of the BMC and the adjoining park but didn’t attempt to enter the main part of the school.
The education department’s action took the BMC by surprise because the BMC and GSS school councils were in a mediation process initiated by Moreland Council, aimed at reaching a compromise that both schools could live with.
BMC spokesperson Gary Murray said on the campaign website: “The greatest act of betrayal and treachery has happened today, perpetuated by the state and in particular the VDEECD [education department].
"A letter and the old GSS/VDEECD Plan destroying our heritage was handed to BMC today, confirming the destruction of our cultural heritage precinct and disrespecting our traditions, customs, beliefs and observances … They have disrespected the only Indigenous school in Melbourne and their school council, staff and students.
“They have undermined a serious mediation process between GSS and BMC and undermined the very outcomes agreed to by both schools including the latest [compromise] plan …
"They are about to now destroy our Spirit Tree, Ceremonial Ground and Gathering Place starting sun-up tomorrow, truly an act of heritage bastardry, racism and unlawful discrimination supported by Aboriginal Affairs Victoria.
“The mediation didn’t break down, but was completely ignored.”
The mediation process resulted in two compromise plans being sent to the education department and education minister Martin Dixon.
Despite the compromise reached, the education department announced on August 10 that the mediation process had failed and the BMC would lose its school gym and ceremonial grounds.
The BMC school council is making another approach to the education minister with the compromise proposal.
Meanwhile, the picket and the occupation of the school gym are being maintained. BMC school council members have been occupying the school gym almost continually since November 2010 when they discovered the plan to bulldoze the school gym and shift the GSS from its current site to the BMC site.
The current and previous Victorian governments have played the two disadvantaged schools off against each other.
The GSS caters for 150 children with severe disabilities.
The BMC is also disadvantaged. It has been on the site since 1996 and had a preschool, a primary school and high school, including Years 11 and 12.
Several years ago, the state Labor government talked about shutting it down. The school community won a reprieve, but the government changed the school’s registration in 2009 from being a general school to a Koori pathway school. In 2009, the government closed the BMC’s primary school and Years 11 and 12. Only Years 7-10 now remain at the BMC.
Pathway schools are only for students who don’t fit in at mainstream schools. The college cannot enrol students independently, but instead gets referrals from the education department. This has led to a decline in enrolments to 18 students.
The BMC’s low enrolments is a result of being made into a pathway school. It is being used by the government to justify its plans. Taking this land will also make it difficult for BMC to ever regain the closed primary school and Years 11 and 12.
Mainstream media coverage has focused on the $18 million being given to the GSS, ignoring the destruction of the BMC.
Supporters are encouraged to visit the picket at Ballerrt Mooroop College, 208 Hilton Street, near Glenroy railway station. Donations of food and firewood are needed.
[For more information visit the campaign website.