Aunty Donna Ingram, a Wiradjuri woman who calls Redfern her cultural home takes interested people on tours of Redfern. She tells them about the Aboriginal history of the area and Aboriginal people’s continued connection to the area.
Starting just outside the Block (an area that used to be Aboriginal housing), Ms Ingram tells the eclectic group of women and men, who are taking part in the Sydney Development Circle’s tour of Redfern about the history behind the Aboriginal Housing Corporation and the internal disagreements between the Aboriginal people in the area about housing on the Block, and the current status of the Block before moving on to look at the “40,000 years is a long time…” mural designed by artist Carol Ruff in 1983, on the wall across the street from Redfern station.
She tells the group how important that mural was to her as a young person who did not live in Redfern and who was one of only two Aboriginal children at her primary school, the other being her brother. And again at high school, she was the only Aboriginal child there till her brother joined her. It gave her such a sense of pride to see that Aboriginal connection of 40,000 years as she stepped out of Redfern station. The mural has weathered over time and there are plans to restore it.
I’m not sure how many of you have walked out of Redfern Station at the Gibbons St Exit, and walked past the spikey metal sculpture on the corner of Redfern St and Regent St. Did you ever wonder what it was? Any idea?
Look at the ground around the sculpture and you will see the blue objects that the male bowerbird collects, in this case, Ms Ingram, says that the objects were suggested by the community. What do you see? A mother and child? A boomerang? A key? And these objects are screwed to the ground so that they don’t walk away.
Ms Ingram tells the group that the sculpture also brought back a lot of painful memories for the community as the spikes reminded people of the death of young T. J. Hickey in February 2004. He had been riding his bike when he was impaled on a fence near Waterloo, after a police chase.
This stretch of road has also seen many Aboriginal marches, including Aborigines Day marches which started in 1940. Originally seen as a day of mourning and held on the first Sunday before Australia day, it was switched to July 2 in 1955 and became a day to celebrate Aboriginal culture, it eventually became NAIDOC week. Ms Ingram said that as a child these marches showed her the strength of her own community.
We walk past the site of the National Black Theatre, the exterior of the new building on the site has an art work by Aboriginal artist, Adam Hills that references the Cherry Pickers, a play by Aboriginal writer, playwright and poet, Kevin Gilbert, one of the plays performed at the theatre in the ‘70s. Koori Radio is based upstairs. We walk past Wyanga, the Aboriginal Community Aged Care Program and have a look at the mural Mission Boy Dreams painted by Roy Kennedy.
Ms Ingram said Mr Kennedy painted the mural when he was in his 70s with the words: “From far back I can remember I’ve always been wondering when we would have our own homes and 70 years on I’m still wondering.” She said he’s now 83 and living in Waterloo and still waiting.
We make our way to ‘Jarjums’, the Jesuit run primary school for Aboriginal children. Jarjums is a word from the North Coast of NSW meaning ‘children’. Ms Ingram points out that Redfern was a melting pot for Aboriginal people from all over New South Wales and Australia and words from other parts of the country became a part of the language in Redfern.
A concentrated little space houses Jarjums located in the old St Vincent’s Presbytery, next door to St Vincent’s Catholic Church, the Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS) and the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS). Between the church and the presbytery, there’s a statue of Mum Shirl, who helped set up the Legal Centre and the Medical Centre.
As Ms Ingram tells the story, in the 1930s Mum Shirl started visiting her brother in jail and saw young men in prison whose parents did not know where they were. She continued visiting and when she was asked who she was, she replied, “his mum”, hence the moniker, “Mum Shirl”. As the importance of her visits to the Aboriginal men in jail came to be recognised she was given an official visitors card, which allowed her into any prison in the state.
On Jarjum’s wall opposite the statue, is a triptych of Father Ted Kennedy, who lived and worked in Redfern for 30 years. He opened the Presbytery to Aboriginal people as a refuge, he’s also the person who gave the AMS access to the Catholic Primary School in which it is now located.
The tour ends with those who want to, returning to the Redfern Community Centre to take part in the Indigenous Science Experience Fun Day, where they can try out bush foods, or even watch elephant toothpaste being made out of food dye, hydrogen peroxide, yeast and washing up liquid.
Scenes from Redfern