Despite persistent lobbying, Camellia has been overlooked by the government as a station site on the much-needed transport link. The project will now deliver six stops for Sydney’s east versus just three in the more populous, yet comparatively jobs-deprived west.

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For a connection that was mooted to help reverse the west-east jobs exodus, the Metro project now looks primed to deliver the opposite. Stations at sites like “jobs-rich” Pyrmont will mean even more workers funnelled into inner Sydney from the west. Meanwhile, prospective Camellia inmates will literally “hear the train a comin’” but never arrive.

“You need to put the prison somewhere” was the reported rationale from a senior government source quizzed on the Camellia option.

The contemplation of a prison-led recovery for this critical part of western Sydney is courageous. This is an area the Greater Sydney Commission labelled Sydney’s Central City, with Camellia specifically flagged in its district plan for “advanced technology and urban services”. The proposed alternative looks distinctly different.

The prison site option is particularly troubling in light of the region’s cultural composition. Western Sydney is home to the nation’s largest urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. First Australians account for well over a quarter of Australia’s adult prisoners. Concentrating blatantly failed justice infrastructure in a “precinct” model at this, or any comparable site, would be demonstrably regressive.

Save the odd overnight stay, Johnny Cash never did a prison stretch. Still, he held “real feeling for the down and out”. Camellia Prison Blues wouldn’t have quite the same ring to it, but the fact it is being contemplated 50 years down the line is enough to make you hang your head and cry.

Andy Marks is the director of the Centre for Western Sydney and assistant vice-chancellor at Western Sydney University.

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