Tag Archives: Redfern

Restoring Redfern’s 40,000 years mural

Screen shot 2013-11-07 at 1.39.19 PM


In 1983, Redfern residents created the iconic 40,000 years mural. Thirty years later, the paint is peeling and graffiti blemishes the cracking wall. But recently, residents have united in a movement to rejuvenate the historical artwork.

Artist Carol Ruff played a key role in planning, designing and painting the 40,000 years mural in 1983. She explains how the now faded original images pay tribute to Redfern’s powerful Aboriginal history of abundance, tragedy, perseverance and accomplishment.

The salient message, “40,000 years is a long, long time/ 40,000 years still on my mind …” is inspired by Joe Geia’s song, “40,000 Years”. “We were trying to say that even before Redfern, Aboriginal people have been there, have been in that area, have known this country, this place,” Ms Ruff said.

The story begins with two Aboriginal feet, symbolising the first feet to ever step on this continent. The following images of spear-hunting, fishing, footsteps, the boats, the woman with a coolamon on her shoulder and the hunter all represent 40,000 years of Aboriginal people walking this country.

With the arrival of the first Europeans, shown by the ship and Aboriginal figures dying, the tone of the mural shifts. “Redfern to The Rocks were probably the first and worst hit areas in Australia of white settlement and people very quickly died from smallpox and other diseases that Europeans brought,” Ms Ruff said. “The Aboriginal community was decimated.”

What follows is a deeply confronting image of a young Aboriginal boy, standing in front of the first church built in the area. “That little boy represents the stolen generations and children being institutionalised,” Ms Ruff said. The image was a particularly powerful statement in the 1980s when many people had not heard of the stolen generations.

But the story does not end there. The street signs of Lawson and Eveleigh Street signify present day Redfern with the boomerang symbolising Aboriginal perseverance. “We’ll never go away, we’re here, we’ve come back, we haven’t lost our culture and we have survived,” Ms Ruff said. Featured in this section are Nana Williams surrounded by land rights colours, the 1983 Redfern All Blacks and an Aboriginal cheerleader. At the end is the tail of the Rainbow Snake, which weaves throughout the whole mural as a symbol of the long surviving history.

Over time the mural has been a significant part of the Redfern landscape. “For years, it was in immaculate condition,” Ms Ruff said. “Everybody respected it and knew if they went near it or made a mark on it that they’d be in big trouble.” It was the weather that started to take its toll on the mural. In response, “people used to go out there with pale blue paint and yellow and black paint and touch it up, not very well, but that was a really nice thing to see,” Ms Ruff recalled.

Now, residents are working to officially refurbish the fading mural. The movement started early this year when the pop-up Redfern Station Community Group (RSCG) set out to beautify Redfern with a community garden and two new murals at Gibbons Street and Redfern Station Platform 10.

Upon approaching NSW RailCorp, who owns the land for these projects, RSCG was told that RailCorp wanted the existing Lawson Street murals rejuvenated before any new murals could be created.

Key RSCG organiser, Desley Haas, accepted the reasoning of RailCorp as “common-sensical”. Residents must consider: “Why are you asking for something new when there’s something old there that you haven’t looked after properly?” she said. RSCG is currently formulating a proposal and seeking funding, preferably from Council.

Though the paint fades and the wall cracks, Aboriginality lives on in Redfern. Now, many South Sydney residents are hoping the iconic 40,000 years mural will also live on as a profound symbol of an ancient and living culture.

Published in the South Sydney Herald, p. 4, November 2013.

Leave a comment

Filed under News, South Sydney Herald

Aboriginal Housing Company – 40 years and best yet to come

SSH_AUG13_05July 25 marked the 40th anniversary of the Aboriginal Housing Company and its long-term commitment to the provision of affordable housing for Aboriginal people.

Forty years ago, being Aboriginal meant being discriminated against in the private rental market. When conflicts arose between Aboriginal squatters in Redfern and the local authorities, Aboriginal activists were inspired to set up the Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC) in 1973. The AHC began purchasing land at The Block using a $500,000 grant from the Whitlam government.

The next 40 years were marked by highs and lows, struggles and disappointments, roadblocks and accomplishments.

In the 1970s and ’80s, The Block became a new urban home where Aboriginal people could belong. CEO of the AHC, Mick Mundine, recalls a “very caring and sharing” time. Music would fill the air and kids would play on the streets.

But the good times did not last.

In the 1990s, the Redfern community was slammed with drugs and alcohol, which preyed on deeper mental issues. “A lot of people get onto drugs because they’ve got no life for them,” Mr Mundine said. “[They wonder] where else to go? That’s when they turn to grog and they turn to drugs.”

A “vicious cycle” was begun and the AHC’s land was transformed into a safe environment for criminal habits, he said.

Mr Mundine blamed the government for perpetuating a “welfare mentality” amongst Aboriginal people. But he also emphasised the need for Aboriginal people to take responsibility for their actions.

The community was deteriorating and the AHC had to face the hard decision of whether or not to demolish the beloved Block. The 2004 Redfern riots sealed the deal: “Enough’s enough,” Mr Mundine said. Tenants would be relocated, The Block would be demolished and, ultimately, redeveloped.

Over the years, the AHC has had to fight hard to keep the Redfern land. Disagreements with the state government meant that it took ten years to gain Concept Approval for the $70 million Pemulwuy Project. Mr Mundine said the state government had tried to “crucify” the AHC because they wanted the land. “That land is prime real estate,” he said, pointing towards The Block.

Today, The Block remains in the hands of the AHC. A business plan is currently being written up by KPMG and the DA approval in December last year gives the AHC five years to complete the Pemulwuy Project. Outside Redfern, the company owns 41 houses across metropolitan and country areas, which will continue to be leased to Aboriginal people after The Block’s completion.

It has been a 40-year struggle but the passion of Mr Mundine and the AHC has not waned. More than simply providing affordable housing for Aboriginal people, its redevelopment projects are about self-determination and building a new community. Mr Mundine’s hope for the future envisions a brand new community with good housing, good parents, healthy kids going to school and tenants that work to make sure the vicious cycle of the past does not return.

Many non-Aboriginal people have also shown their support for creating a better Redfern. Not only was Mr Mundine thankful to his own company, but also to the several non-Indigenous supporters such as the City of Sydney, REDWatch, Superintendent Luke Freudenstein and the recently passed Col James. “I think it boils down to respect. We’re all working together, all want to achieve that one goal,” he said. Mr Mundine paid tribute to Col James, calling him a “legend” and a “brother”. “He had a good heart, he was strong in what he believed in. He was a man that looked after disadvantaged people in housing, especially Aboriginal people.”

Published in the South Sydney Herald, front page, August 2013.

Leave a comment

Filed under News, South Sydney Herald

Redfern Station: the elephant in the room

Screen shot 2013-05-06 at 8.42.50 PM

liftredfern twitter LiftRedfern facebook

REDFERN: Denise Clark goes through Redfern Station once a week. Every time, it is “a nightmare,” she said. Five years ago, a slight kneecap injury spiralled into disaster after a surgeon made a mistake. Now, Ms Clark struggles to walk steadily with a severed nerve, a rectangular machine fastened to her leg and four artificial ligaments and a screw installed in her knee.

Even her journey to meet me in Redfern proved challenging. “I nearly cried twice,” she said. Holding the handrail, Ms Clark recalled being bumped heavily by two men rushing down the stairs.

As of 2011, Redfern is the sixth busiest train station in Sydney with over 46,000 barrier counts each day. With 12 platforms, it is second only to Central in interchange possibilities. There are no lifts or ramps.

In February, the SSH reported on the next stage of the Lift Redfern campaign. A fun, new marketing strategy of Phase Two has been to ask university students to devise a method of transporting an elephant onto a Redfern platform.

On April 11, engineering students Oasika Faiz and Matt Broom were announced the winners of the elephant competition with their hydraulic pulley design. Other less technical responses involved fairy dust, releasing mice or poking the elephant with a giant pointy stick. Lift Redfern will soon launch a similar competition for children.

Labor Sydney Councillor, Linda Scott, expressed full support, saying lifts at Redfern are “overdue”. Living in Erskineville as a mother of two young children, Ms Scott regularly has to ask for help when dragging her children’s pram up and down the station steps. “It’s just not good enough that people have to rely on the never-ending kindness of strangers,” she said.

Lift Redfern campaigners are frustrated by successive NSW governments’ inaction and broken promises. Key organiser, Bill Yan, said: “We’ve been overlooked and we want answers.”

Lift Redfern supporter, Ross Smith, said: “Ms Berejiklian [Transport Minister] is treating Redfern Station as the elephant in her room. There is a demonstrated need. There is also a marked diversion to publicly acknowledging and meeting that need.”

According to Mr Smith, “Redfern station was to be funded by the sale of government assets around the immediate area”. He said: “They’ve sold the properties but they haven’t done [up] the station.”

Denise Clark wants to see lifts at Redfern Station. “I don’t know how many more people [the government is] going to have to see fall down the stairs or injure themselves on the stairs before they do something about it,” she said. Until then, her commuting will remain a struggle.

You can sign the Lift Redfern online petition and add in your own reasons for supporting lifts at Redfern here.

Published in the South Sydney Herald, p. 5 , May 2013.

Leave a comment

Filed under News, South Sydney Herald

All Blacks the team to beat

Published in the South Sydney Herald, back page (p. 16), 1 April 2013.

Click here to see it online.

Screen shot 2013-04-28 at 2.23.33 PM

Ada Lee

REDFERN: Lisa Williams, the first female president of the Redfern All Blacks (RABs), is optimistic that 2013 will be a better year for the proud rugby league club. The first match of the season kicks off on April 7. According to Ms Williams, with a lineup of local, young and committed players as well as some more experienced players, the RABs will be the team to beat in 2013.

In recent years, however, the All Blacks have been struggling to maintain a strong presence in the South Sydney Junior District Rugby League competition. “Due to the Club contending with the changing face of rugby league, the All Blacks have had to reassess how we operate,” Ms Williams said. “We lost a lot of players to other clubs in the competition [that] looked like they were more organised.”

Since becoming president about eight months ago, Ms Williams has utilised her background in project planning to add more structure to the club. “I think now players feel like they can go and play football and feel very happy that they are going to be supported.”

The proof is in the numbers, with old players returning and new players signing up for the increasingly competitive team. Whereas in the past few years the All Blacks would be lucky to have people show up two weeks before competition, Ms Williams says they’ve already had around 30 people at training every Tuesday and Thursday for four to six weeks before the season kicks off. “We also want to be a club that provides a platform to nurture our young talent through sports development and mentoring,” she said.

Former Parramatta Eel, Dean Widders, is the A Grade captain/coach this year and is currently working with the National Rugby League on youth sports development.

With a deep family history in Redfern, Ms Williams describes the RABs as the “cornerstone of the [Redfern] community”.

Ms Williams sees sport as one avenue to help individuals tackle social challenges. “The football club is one place people can go to escape,” she said. “One of the things that the Redfern community had to contend with for a number of years was that it was infamous for drug issues and alcohol issues. So, over the years, there were a number of people who were involved with the club that have worked really hard to remove that element from the club. The club now is the space for the promotion of health and fitness.”

The RABs might not have a lot of money or even their own home ground – often a key source of revenue for teams – but, Ms Williams says, “It’s not about the money [for Redfern players]. They have commitment to their community … Lots of games have been won on the back of [that] pride and loyalty compared to getting money.”

Emerging officially in 1944, the RABs is the oldest Aboriginal rugby league club in Australia. Ms Williams said one reason the RABs was originally an Aboriginal-only club was because Aborigines “couldn’t get a game anywhere else. So they didn’t want to open it up and then have Aboriginal people miss out.” But today, and for quite some time now, she points out, you don’t have to be black to play for the All Blacks.

Leave a comment

Filed under South Sydney Herald, Sport

Farewell to Redfern Centre

SSH Feb p4

Screen shot 2013-07-27 at 4.11.20 PM

REDFERN: Community groups have been asked to leave their home of 13 years to make room for church growth. 

On January 9, community groups farewelled the Redfern Centre, located at St Saviour’s Anglican Church. The old church hall came alive with around 64 friends reminiscing over their treasured experiences with the Redfern Centre.

In 1998, three friends – the Rev. John McIntyre, Faye Williams and Jack Carnegie – came up with the idea of using the neglected church hall to house community groups.

Since 1999, the Redfern Centre has been home to four community organisations that deliver services such as healthy food delivery and affordable transport to locals, particularly to the elderly and people with disabilities.

Beyond this, Mr McIntyre said that through the community organisations local people have been empowered to help themselves and each other. The benefits have been felt by clients but also by volunteers. Shaun, a volunteer, said the Food Distribution Network (FDN) enabled him to feel the responsibility of a job.

According to the community organisations, since Mr McIntyre left St Saviour’s in late 2005, the church has considered reacquiring the hall for church initiatives such as a soup kitchen. Mr McIntyre said he disagrees very strongly with the church’s decision. “I feel that church and community should work hand-in-hand,” he said. “[The church is there] to offer what we have to the community.”

Regarding St Saviour’s new plans, Jane Rogers, Manager of South East Sydney Community Transport (SESCT), believes compromises could have been made.

Many community members are deeply saddened by the closing of the Redfern Centre. Ms Williams, former Home and Community Care (HACC) Development Officer, believes the church’s decision is “very poor”. “If the church supports the general community, they end up stronger than if they make a distinction between the church community and the general community,” she said. “It’s disappointing.”

Several people at the farewell emphasised that the biggest tragedy for community groups is the loss of collaboration, which was made possible by being co-located and centred in the local community. “We’re all scattered again,” said Ms Rogers.

All four community groups are now forced into commercial real estate. Chris Campbell, Coordinator of FDN, said: “Now we have four agencies paying separate rents, separate electricities [sic]… It makes it harder for us to help people.” FDN has been unable to find new premises.

Ms Rogers said that even for SESCT and Neighbour Connections who are relocating to Ultimo, their new residence would not be permanent due to high rents. “Now we’re in limbo,” she said.

Published in the South Sydney Herald, p. 4, Feb 2013.


Read the statement St Saviour’s Anglican Church issued to the SSH under request that it not be amended or abbreviated.

Read Jan McIntyre’s open letter to the St Saviour’s congregation.

Leave a comment

Filed under News, South Sydney Herald