Building a Sydney marae: Our culture must thrive in another land

A group building a marae in Sydney has responded to controversy surrounding the build.

The Sydney Marae Alliance say they have the support of local Aboriginal groups to create the 20 acre cultural hub in Greystanes on the outskirts of Sydney.

The group was given the greenlight to take over the lease of the land earlier this year.

The move has led some to question whether it’s appropriate to build a marae on Aboriginal whenua. 

Vice-chair of the Sydney Marae Alliance Louise Barber (Ngāti Hine) spoke to Re:’s reo Māori series Ohinga on a recent visit to Aotearoa. 

“It is unreasonable to think that all … Māori can come home,” she says. 

“I don’t see the negative aspect of having a cultural centre at all. It has nothing but positive opportunities.”

“Why is a cultural centre not a place that we can create for our people to be and know who they are and thrive? Why is that a bad thing?”

“Regardless of whether it’s your whare, your business, you’re driving on the roads - all of us are on Aboriginal whenua.”

Louise says a lot of the concerns people have about the build is based on things that have been misunderstood. 

“We have not taken the whenua,” she says. “We are literally leasing that parcel of land for 20 years.”

Māori have had a presence in Ahitereiria that dates back to the 19th century. Now, it’s estimated around one in six Māori live across the ditch. 

Louise says many Māori living in Australia struggle to maintain their culture - and having a marae in Sydney would help many reconnect to their whakapapa. 

“The next generation - and we come across this all the time - they don’t know how to connect to their own identity,” she says. 

“Some are fortunate like us and they continue to come to replenish but the vast majority don’t. So whilst we keep growing our population in Australia, the connection with home diminishes. Without a place to recreate the whanaungatanga then how do they access it?”

Sydney Marae Alliance says they have a strong connection with local Aboriginal people. The group says mana whenua are in full support of the marae being built. 

“We have partnered with local iwi for 30 years back - our intention has been to walk in partnership, always,” Louise says. 

She also says many Māori in Australia are behind the project.

“We are told from our people, we need this,” Louise says. “Our people need this, my kids need this, my mokos need this. So there’s a very strong voice from our people that we need this, urgently.”

This is part of our reo Māori series, Ohinga, created by Mahi Tahi Media, with funding from Te Māngai Pāho and the NZ on Air Public Interest Journalism Fund.

Stay tuned for a new episode every week.

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