Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Suburb No 28: Redfern

So, Redfern. Small suburb, big themes. So much so I could have easily hung around another week. 
Another month. 

I lived there for a few years as a uni student. And of course I've driven through it since, on my way
to wherever. But once again, it wasn't until I spent hours in the place, walking without speed, 
eyes wide open, that I realised I hadn't really seen Redfern or thought about what it represents
for a long time, maybe not ever.

A simple example: Redfern Oval and Redfern Park. Two years ago the oval was all about rugby league,
with a great big old stadium and closed off to the public. The neighbouring park, interesting
but not inviting. All changed. They knocked down the stadium and replaced it with a part public, part
sports space. At the same time they freshened up the park. What a difference. I lingered, strolled, 
admired. Two years it's been like that! Who knew - obviously not me.

I also didn't know about another amazing development in Redfern, a 'National Centre for Indigenous

Excellence', set up to "host programs and facilities for young Indigenous people to help them
achieve their dreams and aspirations in the areas of sport, art, education and culture". It only officially
opened last month so I'm less of a lame-brain for not knowing that.

On a more modest scale, the eastern side of Redfern, closer to Moore Park, has also changed a great deal,
peppered as it is with bohemian-designer smart. 

With so much change in the air, I half expected to find The Block, a crumbling, troubled corner of
Redfern that passes as 'Aboriginal public housing', to have undergone a transformation. But no.
It looked - and felt - the same as it's always done.

Some history: Gadigal 'moved on' by the British in 1790s. Named after surgeon William Redfern
who built a country house in the area. Lebanese moved in during the 1850s and got busy running
shops and factories. From 1920-1940s, Aboriginal people from all around NSW moved to Redfern
looking for work. Overcrowding by 1970s saw the start of a housing project that became The Block.
Troubled ever since by drugs and violence, yet important to the Aboriginal people as a meeting
place, there are now plans to 'rebirth' The Block, "to restore a strong and healthy Indigenous
community to Redfern with an emphasis on tradition, cultural values and spirituality" (redwatch).

Other than that, Redfern today is home to many things Aboriginal, including dance, radio, health 
and employment. As well as plenty of whitefellas from all over the globe, a mix of the publicly
housed, student renters or home owners who like the fact they can live just three km from the
city centre without paying through the nose for it.

Let's wander...

Part 1: New energy



free, now


she lights up a room too (former Electric Light Station)

he'd be amazed (National Centre of Indigenous Excellence)

she has her own crowning glory

Part 2: But how far have we really come?

where's the justice? (former Court House)

still so far to go (mural by Roy Kennedy)

I spied the red mural on the side of a terrace near the train station, accompanied by the following 
text: "(Mission boy dreams) From far back as I can remember I've always wondered when we would
have our own home. And 70 years on I'm still wondering. Roy Kennedy"

It was originally an etching done in 2005 by Aboriginal artist, Roy Kennedy,
born in 1934, Griffith,
of Wiradjuri people.


public housing

free as a bird?

Buddy Rose 

I met Buddy at the top of The Block, riding on his bike, didgeridoo strapped across his body. He seemed
like a nice guy, keen to have his photo taken with 'my people'. When we were finished, he suggested
that maybe today wasn't a great day to venture any further into The Block - someone celebrating
their birthday was stirring up trouble and he didn't want me getting in their way. 

Buddy's bike

Part 3: Can we go to the park?

thumbs up

no encouragement required

the fabulous five

down to the oval

wide open spaces

totem pole and towers

Part 4: Ladies from the Eastern Bloc - now living in the western block

Having met a number of Aboriginal people at the new National Centre of Indigenous Excellence,
I wandered down the hill to have a chat with a bench full of women originally from the Eastern Bloc, 
now living high in the towers of Redfern-Waterloo. Diversity indeed.

from Moscow, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan

twin peaks

matching mauve

Part 5: The Greeks

The local Greek Orthodox Church happened to be celebrating Greek Independence Day when I
dropped in. After more than a decade of fighting (1821-1832) Greece won its independence from the
Ottomon Empire - and peace finally ensued.

Eiphnh, 'peace'

serious dress up

well worn

a special Sunday

showing his mettle

Part 6: A colourful suburb, still - Colours of the desert

burnt orange :: 1

burnt orange :: 2

Rose's Corner

Part 7: A colourful suburb, still - Red and green

red squares

and ferret makes three

fading glory

Redfern's green side

heartfelt :: 1

heartfelt :: 2

Redfern House

Part 8: A colourful suburb, still - Purple/Pink

purple haze :: 1

hair and nails

purple haze :: 2

Part 8: A colourful suburb, still - Blue

brings to mind a Greek fishing village (St Maroun's Cathedral)

please bless the village with much fish

security, whichever way you go about it

delicate and robust

tall stories

take me to your leader

Part 9: A colourful suburb, still - Black and white/Browns

black and white is always in fashion

he cuts cloth not coiffs

devils and angels

a suburb of diversity

it's a sign

the Case Factory

has Redfern gone soft?

long legs

Horse Crossing

unless you're sitting on one, in which case you need not worry

Part 10: The future?

may it be bright

Beauty in Redfern? I was surprised by how much, in a number of ways. And the best thing? That as
much as it has changed, it still has its own unique identity, distinct from pretty much any other 
suburb in the city. Hope they can keep it up.

See you next week.


  1. Simply brilliant - I hoped you go back after Eveleigh. Again and as every week Thank you Louise!

  2. Wow Louise - what a brilliant post that was! Great idea to start (and end) with Aboriginal imagery, and a mix of cultures in between. And very witty comments under the photos this time - well done!

  3. Gorgeous. As always.

    I've given you a plug on my blog. Just because I can't get enough of your suburbs. I had to share.

  4. Redfern has such a stigma attached to it as being unsafe etc. I think you did a wonderful job capturing its unique beauty.

  5. This is all excellent work Louise - we lived in Redfern when we first got married and enjoyed your pictures and story. My wife is currently studying at the ACU in Strathfield so we were thrilled to see last week's focus on that. This is one of the most inspiring blogging projects I've come across.

    I stumbled upon another interesting one, "50 in 50" which is Sydney blogger Stilgherrian sharing memories of his life over the next 50 days, as he approaches the age of 50. See http://stilgherrian.com/50-to-50/01/


  6. Great photos! As a African American. I appreciate the diversity. Great architecture,and the faces of the proud black people, and clean streets. Unfortunately, America is quite harsh these days.

  7. Amazing yet again. Can't wait for the book. It is going to be birthday/ xmas presents for everyone (but only if you include my suburb- hint hint)

    Keep up the good work.

  8. I was at Redfern last week and was amazed to find, in my wanderings to the place I had an appointment at, to find a little cafe, selling French breads, sweets, cakes and servicing fair trade coffee. So totally unexpected.

  9. Thanks all. Redfern was/is an amazing place. Glad you enjoyed your wander through it.

  10. There a real rough integrity to the pictures of Redfern , again you captured its essence beautifully. Dont forget Annandale:)

  11. So many great photos and pairings, as usual Louise. I kept staring at the heart tattoo and wish I knew what the words actually are about.

  12. Helen - The tattoo owner told me it's mirror writing - you can only read the writing using a mirror. How cool is that?

  13. Another amazing post Louise! Glad you paid a visit to the horses, I love hearing them clop around the neighbourhood!

    Is the Greek Orthodox Church the one up near the train lines and the big intersection?

  14. Love the seeing you do...such a brilliant photo essay Louise!

  15. So good. Thanks for such beautiful images. Makes me feel proud to live in the 2016.

  16. Ms Unreliable - Yes, the Greek Orthodox Church is there on the main road.
    Sophie Munns - Many thanks.
    confusedmachine - There's a lot to feel proud about living there.


  17. Another suburb I used to know. I nursed at the Rachel Forster Hospital in the mid 1960's when it was a 'women only' hospital! I wonder what it is with the two Sydney Hospitals I nursed in RFH & Prince Henry - both have been pulled down! Love all the colour you found for this post and was fascinated to learn that the Lebanese had been here for so long. cheers Pennie

  18. Just stumbled across this by accident. You have done us proud, Redfern gets a bad rap but for those of us who live here, you have captured some of the things which make the area so unique and so wonderful to live in. Thankyou very much, thoroughly enjoyable. Andrew

  19. Cool site, love your photography
    From a redfern resident, and loving it!

  20. looking for beauty in 52 suburbs? The pairing of images makes me feel this is yet another coffee table 'arty' book. There is so much more depth to these suburbs, but I suppose with your time limits you can only do a snapshot/show the surface...