What started as a small public housing project, their work in the community has now evolved to award-winning, large-scale developments that are changing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders' futures.

For Alisi Tutuila, a proud Worimi woman from Karuah, she always knew she wanted to champion change for her people. From her early days growing up in social housing at The Block in Redfern, she could see the struggles her community was facing and knew that this type of life wasn't right for them.

Alisi is Chairperson for the Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC), one of very few Australian Indigenous-led organisation to have sustained 50 successful years of business in 2023. AHC provides accommodation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders', with residences stretching from Redfern, on the Eora Nation, to the Northern NSW towns of Casino, Grafton and Taree, on Bundjalung, Gumbainggir, and Biripi Country.

What started as a small public housing project at The Block, is now an award-winning, large-scale development that Alisi says is changing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders' futures.

"Spending my late teens on The Block, there were struggles, but it was the sense of community and connection that really shone through and made the place what it was, and still is today.

"AHC is about more than just providing accommodation, it's about creating a community for our people. My goal is to not only look after those who are a part of AHC now, but set up for our future, so they do not have to face the struggles that we did and those before us," she says.

Building a community

AHC formed in 1973 when a group of Aboriginal leaders and supporters purchased the first six houses on The Block with a grant from the Whitlam Labor Government, to help combat the overcrowding and homelessness the local Indigenous population was facing. In 1994, AHC acquired the last house on The Block, making it a fully Indigenous-owned residential complex.

Their most recent project has been redeveloping and revitalising The Block as part of the Pemulwuy Project, turning it into a mixed used site with three precincts, which includes affordable housing for 62 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, a gymnasium, commercial and retail space, a gallery, student accommodation with 596 beds, and a childcare centre.

Over the past two years, the Pemulwuy Project has won numerous design and development awards, including the Australian Good Design Award; The Urban Developer National Award for Development of the Year - Social Infrastructure; The Urban Taskforce Development Excellence Award for Urban Renewal; and most recently, The UDIA NSW Awards for Excellence in both Social and Affordable Infrastructure and Urban Renewal categories.

"The Pemulwuy Project is by far my proudest achievement as Chairperson for AHC. Being able to give children and families a safe place to live, and build that sense of community at the precinct, with both residential and commercial facilities, it's exactly what I dreamed about for The Block, and it's been incredible to be a part of that," Alisi says.

"The demand for services like ours is so strong at the moment. In the last 24 months our list of applicants has nearly tripled. We need to keep growing to meet demand for support to Indigenous individuals and families in need and the Pemulwuy Project is a big part of this. Being able to lease out commercial facilities at Pemulwuy has not only helped us fund the residential side but supports future growth including housing support to our community right across the state."

The Aboriginal Housing Company

Helping First Nations people and businesses make a difference

AHC has been banking with CommBank for 30 years, and Simone Kenmore, CommBank's Executive Manager of Indigenous Business Banking says supporting Indigenous-owned and led businesses like AHC is incredibly important for the development of a strong and sustainable Indigenous business sector.

"There is remarkable strength and resilience in the Indigenous business sector, and when we support First Nations businesses, we strengthen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities more broadly," Simone says.

"AHC is a prime example of this, as a business that is not only focused on delivering accommodation, but building a community for their people, and creating connection for all generations."

CommBank has been able to support AHC by offering access to their financial literacy programs for those living in AHC accommodation.

"It's important that everyone has equal access to resources to help them be financially secure. Our team has been able to provide support to give them the information they need to take control of their finances, whether that be personal or business," Simone says.

"It's a priority at CommBank to support First Nations peoples to lead and drive organisations in their communities, and ensure they are equipped with the all the tools and information they need to make a difference."

CommBank is committed to listening to Indigenous businesses so we can tailor our support and contribute to a thriving Indigenous business sector in Australia. Learn more here www.commbank.com.au/business/indigenous-banking

Things you should know

  • This article represents opinions and views of the customer's personal experiences only and has been prepared without considering your objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on this information, consider its appropriateness to your circumstances. Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124.