Welcome to Redfern Sydney by Reko Rennie

Redfern: Take a Walk in this Sydney Suburb

How has Redfern Changed?

Surprisingly, people are still asking “Is Redfern Safe?” When I worked in Redfern many years ago, I never felt unsafe.

About three years ago, I returned to see how Redfern had changed. I discovered gentrification and a bigger police presence than I’d seen in other suburbs. Things have changed even more since then, and I’ve returned to see what’s different.

Getting to Redfern

As I stayed at the Railway Square YHA last night, I start my walk through the Devonshire Street Tunnel where COVID restrictions means the foot traffic is light and the usual buskers nowhere to be seen.

Emerging from the tunnel, I wrap my coat around me a bit more firmly. It’s a crisp winter morning with blue skies. The cloud building in the east looks slightly ominous.  

Prince Alfred Park Sydney
Walking through the park

Tennis courts at Prince Alfred Park
Wet Courts

Prince Alfred Park

Autumn leaves are scattered on the walkway through Prince Alfred Park to where Redfern officially begins. Despite the chill people swim laps in the outdoor pool. A staff member ensures the number of swimmers meets the COVID restrictions.

Having crossed Cleveland Street, I’m now in Redfern. The Victorian terraces on my left contrast with the newer (but not new) bright blue unit block opposite.

Terraces in Redfern
Victorian Terraces

Modern Units in Redfern
Opposite newer Unit Block

A white building hoarding decorated with naïve children’s drawings catches my eye. Entitled ‘I want to be a unicorn” the work is by Alphabet Studio and children from Crown Street Public School.   

A sound from above attracts my attention. The loud honking comes from a group of Ibises nesting in the fronds of an old palm tree growing in a small backyard.

I want to be a Unicorn
By Crown Street Public School Students

Outside the post office, a group of people wait for the doors to open. A woman wearing a red checked dressing gown wrapped tightly around her thin waist waits to the side.

Black Lives Matter

Over the road, words printed in red on a black poster state “I can’t breathe”. The Black Lives Matter protest marched through Sydney’s streets only days ago.

Mission Boy Dreams

A large mural, “Mission Boy Dreams”, decorates the wall beside a car park. A soft shower of rain falls as I read words by the artist, Roy O. Kennedy:

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.

Mission Boy Dreams by Roy Kennedy in Redfern
Mission Boy Dreams
Aboriginal Flag on Car
Proudly Aboriginal

One of the prints of the original etching printed in 2005 by Kennedy, a Wiradjuri man, is in the National Gallery of Victoria.

Aboriginal Presence

An Aboriginal flag flies proudly on the roof of a shiny black sedan. A ‘Tribal Warrior’ van painted with Aboriginal artwork turns into the street. Tribal Warrior is an organisation that “connects people from all over the world with the ancient culture of Australia and the history of Sydney” through various tour and programs.

Services around here cater to Aboriginal people. A thought flashes through my mind. Gentrification may be moving many of the original residents out of the area, but there’s still a strong Aboriginal presence here in Redfern.  

Anti smoking message for Aboriginal People
Traditional Smoke Heals
Attractive Streetscape Regent Street Redfern
Tilework in Regent Street

Messages and Murals

People here express their strong feelings. A “Free Assange” banner in black and yellow hangs from the balcony railing of a Victorian terrace. A sticker on a letterbox states that “Kids don’t belong in detention”. In the far corner of an oval, an artwork reads “traditional smoke heals tobacco smoke kills”.

I walk through a graffiti lined lane to Regent Street where I used to work. Some shops are familiar, but many are new. The florist has had a face lift, and The Bearded Tit appears to be closed for now (perhaps because of COVID).

I support the Rabbitohs
Rabittohs Supporter
Shoes outside
Drying or up for grabs?

The Redfern Fruit Market is still hanging in there but Finishing Touches Restorations seems to have gone. While people sit at a table at the back of Ciccioni Gelato, a sign indicates it’s closed for the winter break. Wild Cockatoo Bakery is still baking its delicious sourdough.

On the corner of Botany Road and Raglan Street, a whole block has made way for the Sydney Metro.

Public Housing buildings loom above me. What are the lives of those who live here like? Certainly, very different from mine. A billboard encourages people to ask “RUOK?” How many of the folk who live here actually are OK.

Redfern Oval

Redfern Oval, once home to the South Sydney Rabbitohs, is quiet today. Very popular with locals, the Rabbitohs emblem graces many a house window or letterbox.

Home of the Rabbitohs
Redfern Oval
Man in orange fleece
Gary

An older man wearing a bright orange fleece watches me through the white bars of his security gate. He asks about my camera and we chat for a while about how the area has changed, in his mind for the better. His cats have kept him company while isolating during COVID.

Ghost Sign

The “Siren Soap” ghost sign on what was once a corner store remains, carefully painted around. “B M Bann” – the rest mostly illegible – in black lettering on the glass window above the door hints at an earlier use for this home.  

Siren Soap ghost mural in Redfern
Siren Soap
Once was a grocer in Redfern Albert Street Redfern
Registered Grocer

Mum Shirl

Mum Shirl was an Aboriginal Activist who helped to establish the Aboriginal Medical and Legal Services in 1971. Her statue in the entrance to Jarjum College draws me in to read the front inscription:

All the years that I had been visiting prisons
really bad things had been happening in them…
I also saw the prisoners’ eyes, the pain, the fear,
the shock and other things that one should
never see in another human`s eyes.

Shirley Colleen Smith ‘Mum Shirl’ 1981

On my way to Redfern Station I pass a woman sitting on her haunches against a wall in the sun. She asks a passing acquaintance for two dollars. The reply is “Naaa, we’re trying to get some ourselves.” 

Locals of Redfern

Be Deadly
Be Deadly (Be excellent)
Bollards at Redfern Station
Redfern Station

In the newsagent, there are titles of newspapers in a range of languages. La Famiglia, Koori, and Greek titles, reflect the range of nationalities living in the area.

The Other Side of Redfern

Redfern Station has been upgraded since I was last here. Panels in Red, Black and Yellow and bollards decorated with Aboriginal symbols feature strongly. Two murals with strong messages line the railway bridge. The now vibrant 40 000 years mural opposite the station was restored in 2018.

Say no to drugs mural redfern
Station Side
Restored 40 000 years mural Redfern Station
40 000 Years

The Block has Gone

The Block is unrecognisable. Gone is the large grassed area with the huge Aboriginal Flag painted on the building at the far end. Gone is the Aboriginal Tent Embassy protesting development of the land and gone is the Tony Mundine Boxing Gym.  

Instead scaffolding encloses three large building projects which tower over the area. Called Pemulwuy Precinct 1,2 and 3, this huge development project by The Aboriginal Housing Company has caused much division in the community.

Hugo Reserve

In Hugo Street Reserve, things are pretty much as they were three years ago. The mural ‘United we stand divided we fail the future” by Bronwen Bancroft is as eye-catching as ever. The brightly coloured human shapes lining the fence represent the past, present and future of Aboriginal People.

Bronwen Bancroft United we stand divided we fail the future
Hugo Reserve
Community Centre in Redfern
Redfern Community Centre

In the 1970s a development company bought several houses in Louis St and began evicting Aboriginal Tenants. The resulting protests and union ban on development eventually led to the formation of the Aboriginal Housing Company and The Block. 

Over the fence I can hear someone practicing piano scales.

Welcome to Redfern by Reko Rennie with Pemulwuy
Pemulway on the Side Wall
The Block Redfern
The Other Side

The community centre is quiet, and I am content to reacquaint myself with the “Welcome to Redfern” mural by Reko Rennie, and look more closely at the murals on the other side of the building.

Abercrombie Street

The Shortlist in Abercrombie Street looks welcoming and I drop in for a quick coffee and bite to eat. A young labourer asks for a buttered roll. He is 50c short of the $1.50, and makes do with an unbuttered roll for his dollar. I wish I’d been quicker off the mark and shouted him lunch.

Next door, at a take away shop, the man behind the counter asks a woman “Hello are you hungry?” She’s a short plump woman wearing a vest decorated with Aboriginal artwork. Her reply “Yes I am starving.”

Shepherd Lane

Shepherd Lane has hardly changed. There are a few more artworks and a colourful mural now decorates the wall beneath a row of cactus pots.

Artworks in Shepherd Lane Darlington
Shepherd Lane
Mural in Shepherd Lane
New Mural

Back in Abercrombie Street, I look through the window of a Legal office to an open birdcage. The bird is perched on the head of the person hunched over their computer. It’s pecking at the fibre of the striped beanie warming her head.

Carriageworks

Carriageworks is next. Affected by COVID, it will be interesting to see how this once vibrant and exciting art space changes in the post-pandemic era. On ground level, reflections from Rebecca Baumann’s “Radiant Flux” colour rain puddles from the earlier shower.

Remember Me by Reko Rennie
Another by Reko Rennie
Radiant Flux by Rebecca Baumann
Coloured Reflections

Walking back to Redfern Station, I pass Skipping Girls and some of Will Coles’ concrete graffiti. The balaclava that I’ve seen in many places and a pair of concrete gloves

Federation tiles and autumn leaves
Autumn Leaves
Skipping Girls near Carriageworks
Updated Skippy Girls by Rosemary Strachen

Redfern has subtly changed since I last wrote about the suburb. Gentrification marches on with new hip cafés and unit blocks around the station. However, this time, and it could have been the different route I took, I observed a strong Aboriginal presence.

Enjoyed your walk through Redfern? Then you will enjoy walking through Newtown and Woolloomooloo, two other inner city suburbs of Sydney

Next Stop: Parramatta

Useful Information

Walking Map and Notes

  • I used the map below for my walk through Redfern. You can download it here.
  • Use the map together with these Redfern Day Notes. Please note that the time indicated on my map doesn’t allow for stopping and looking around.

Map of Redfern Walk

Walk Map through Redfern
Map of Walk through Redfern

Comments

  1. I used to work in Redfern and it was a very different place back then. It’s transformation in nothing short of genius. Will have to be revisit soon

    1. Author

      It is certainly worth revisiting. And reminiscing when you do. Joanne

  2. Joanne, I used your entry here to guide me around Redfern yesterday and found it very useful. We are certainly attracted by similar things. Did you really do all that in 1 hrs 32 mins? I spent around 4 hrs poking around with an afternoon coffee stop in the carriage works ( delicious brownie).
    Though the ‘private property’ signs would suggest that the Taoist complex on Bourke St was off limits I ventured in to and was warmly welcomed into the actual temple part of the complex.

    Going to continue with my coastal walk on Saturday and fit in a bit more of Vivid. Wasn’t overly impressed with the Botanical Gardens part midweek.

    1. Author

      I am thrilled to hear that you used the blog as a guide and that it works. No, I will need to make it clear that I spend hours on my day walks – looking around, photographing etc. The time on the map is what Google Maps suggests it will take walking from A-B without stopping. Looking forward to reading more of your posts. Joanne

  3. Thanks so much Joanne for your Redfern tour! We’re visiting Sydney from Switzerland for the first time and I was totally shocked at how few Aboriginal people – even mixed – you see here in the capital’s streets, shops, parks, stations, anywhere. As a European this comes as a big uneasy surprise. Your post made me really look into Redfern’s history, we did part of your walk, and visited the Community Centre where I gladly finally saw some brown faces. Thanks for sharing your urban adventures!

    1. Author

      I am so glad you found the post useful and that you did part of my walk. I hope you enjoy the rest of your time in Australia.

  4. This is blog very helpful. I was reading so weird…racially charged…things about Redfern, being that i am an American, Black, and traveling for the first time to the continent, the previous stuff i read was a bit jarring . Thank you for your prospective and insight, i have an apartment i rented in Redfern for 5 days as i visit Sydney in May!!!

    1. Author

      Thanks Elliot. Redfern has changed considerably with many of the earlier inhabitants forced out by rising rents. I hope you enjoy our wonderful city.

    1. Author

      You’re a fan I see. Did you see the Rabbitohs street art in my post on Surry Hills part One? It’s still there.

  5. Hi Joanne
    I am a family history enthusiast with a family past from the BLOCK it seems and going back to the early 1900s – to around 1912. I was just wondering if during your travels you have photos that might be relevant to 164 Eveleigh street. I beleive it is all gone now and been cleared for several years.

    1. Author

      Hi Jeff
      Thanks for contacting me. Unfortunately I cannot help you – from a Google search, there is no longer a 164 Eveleigh Street, but there is a 164 Little Eveleigh which Google will show in a street view. It is on a corner at the end of the street. Good luck with your Family history research. What a fascinating thing to follow up. Another thought is to ask at the City of Sydney library regarding historical photos. They may have something (see my post on Different Street art in Sydney to get an idea of what they have.

  6. Thanks for your piece on Redfern. I’m a Redfe(a)rn from North Carolina/(now) Florida and had heard about roots in Sydney. Your piece gives me a sense of the place.

  7. I grew up in Chippendale, but spenta great deal of time onweekendsplayingaround Redfern, including the Block where y brother and I had a fe Aboriginal friends that we woudl play with. Mind you back then we around there until I was ten, and wedid not consider the differences between us as adults did. We accepted teir skin was different as tey must have done with us as it was not mentioned and I never knew of the ‘history’ of the Block or rascisim till I was older. I feel sad that so many people have been displaced, pushed out, etc. The last time I was in Redfern was to join the 80.000 strong march to get the bunnies back in the game. Tank you for showing ow Redfern looks now. I still miss some of my childhood days there.

    1. Author

      Hello Zoe, thanks for sharing your experience of Redfern. Since I wrote the post, it has changed even more. Much of the artwork has gone or been replaced and there’s a huge development happening on the Block. I really must do an update soon.

Leave a Comment