Saturday, October 18, 2008


I am guessing that the Redfern suburb in Sydney is named after William Redfern, a guy I read about in The Fatal Shore. He seems pretty awesome. He was a convict turned surgeon who ended up being a doctor to Governor Macquarie. Why was he good? He fought for changes in how the convicts were treated on the ships--helped introduce luxuries such as ventilation, fumigation, disinfection, and exercise.

Now I'm consulting the wisdom of Lord Wiki. He says: Redfern is subject to extensive redevelopment plans by state government to increase the population and reduce the concentration of poverty in the suburb and neighboring Waterloo.

 I translate that to say: Come in the day instead of the night.

Okay. Yes. Lord Wiki confirms my suspicions about its name origins. He does fail to talk about the heroic efforts of Redfern. Instead it just says that Macquarie granted him some land in the area and that He built a country house on his property surrounded by flower and kitchen gardens. Yes, I'm sure these kitchen gardens are more important than what he did for the convicts.

Sorry. That just cracks me up.

Here's something exciting. There was some problem with a mail machine. I think in the 1960's? Some machine at the post office destroyed a bunch of letters.

On February 14, 2004 a young Aboriginal man named Thomas TJ Hickey thought he was being chased by a police car that seemed to be following him. He had a bike accident and got killed on a fence. There was controversy over whether proper medical help was called in time by the police or not. The incident led to anger and riots over the relationship between police and the Aboriginal community.

This news article has a photo of Hickey and a quote from one of his aunts. If you're black and you see a police car, you just run.

I think that's a feeling common in America too for African-Americans. Heck, I'm a white female and I get incredibly nervous when I see a police car. I can imagine it's a million times worse if you're a black male.

What seems to be the story is that Hickey WAS wanted by the police for various crimes, but the police claim that on the day Hickey died, they weren't chasing him. They were searching for someone else.

I don't know. Does it matter if they WERE chasing him? I guess what would make the police the bad guys in this story is if Hickey was innocent despite his criminal record. If they were chasing an innocent man and he died; then they would be more to blame.

But if police chase a criminal and the criminal flees and gets killed; wouldn't it be the fault of the criminal?

I don't know what to think about the medical bit. The police claim his injuries were so bad that Hickey would have died anyway--even if the ambulance was more prompt.

I definitely feel for Hickey, his family, and his community. I just don't know if I'd blame his death on the police. Maybe I'm just not understanding the full story.

Redfern has some interesting demographics. One out of four residents is classified as having no religion and/or being atheist. Lord Wiki says that's higher than the national average. I personally don't think they should lump atheists and no-religion together. You can have no religion and still be very spiritual. And you can belong to a religious group and not truly believe in God.

41.6% of Redfern residents live in public housing. That seems fairly high to me.

One of the most significant areas in Redfern is The Block. It was purchased by The Aboriginal Housing Company; but prior to 1972 it was not owned by the Aborigines and the white landlords tried to evict all the Indigenous Australians.

An Indigenous man named Bob Bellear led a campaign to get  Whitlam's government to transfer ownership to the Aborigines. For those well tuned in to Australian history, they'll notice that this was the same year that the Aboriginal Tent Embassy popped up in front of Old Parliament House in Canberra.

The Block became a place for Indigenous Australians to find affordable housing.

Unfortunately, the area has a high crime rate and is avoided by taxi drivers. We have areas and problems like that in NYC as well.

Switching gears to a more trivial touristy topic--this website says Redfern is a good place to get Indian Sweets. I used to LOVE those. I mean I still do, but I'm less obsessed than I used to be.

That website also says that Caroline Chisholm was one of it's well-known residents. Like William Redfern, she worked to better the lives of people who got dealt a lousy hand of cards. She upgraded the quality of the immigration barracks and then helped the new female residents gain various skills such as cooking, cleaning, math, etc.

The Redfern-Waterloo Authority follows in the footsteps of Chihsolm and Redfern by working to better the community. It seems one of their primary goals is increasing employment levels of Indigenous Australians. One of their projects is the Yaama Dhiyaan Hospitality Training Center.

My only complaint is that the training course costs $250. That doesn't seem cheap to me--especially if you're unemployed. I'm wondering if they offer any scholarship programs. The classes run from 9-4 Mondays thru Fridays so it would be hard to find a job to support your schooling. It's too bad they don't have a work-study type program. Or maybe they do. I'll keep reading......

Well, I don't see anything about that. It says the program has connections with various restaurants in Sydney for employment possibilities. It seems to me it would be better to train the people for a lower fee and then have them work at the Yaama Dhiyaan's cafe or Function/Catering center.

My husband used to work in retail; and when they hired people, they would train them. You didn't pay to be trained. You learned some stuff on the job by watching and learning; then you also had studying to do at home, and tests for certification. I think those people were actually paid to learn in contrast to my student-teaching days where I paid for the opportunity to work.

Before I started graduate school, when I was not sure if I wanted to be a teacher or not, I volunteered to work at two schools. They got free labor, and I got a free education. It worked out great for both of us. That makes more sense and seems more fair than what happened when I went to graduate school. I paid TONS of money and the schools in which I did my official student-teaching got free labor. Is that fair?

I will say that the cafe sounds pretty cool. I wouldn't mind eating there.

I'm now going to Cityhobo to see what they say about Redfern. I can't wait to see what kind of shoe Redfern is.

Hobo says the cool spot in Redfern is a restaurant called Strangers With Candy. I saw their website a few minutes ago when I was Googling. It looked a little too cool for my taste--which probably translates as too expensive. I'd rather go to the less cool place with the cheap food.
Okay, Redfern is a Puma.

I need to find a suburb that's shoe is overpriced sandals that are over ten years old and no longer made by the company that made them--treasured shoes that you cling to and that you fear will become worn out, broken, or lost. I really love my shoes and I fear I will never find anything good enough to replace them.

Hobo says Redfern has areas that will make some people feel on edge, but other parts such as east Redfern will make you feel less on edge. They have trees and cafes. I guess trees and cafes make people feel less on edge. Gunshots and bars on windows make people MORE on edge.

I'm now going onto Google Maps--that's always fun.

Ah....I found a mistake I made. I thought for some reason that the University of Sydney was IN Redfern, but it's not. It's north from there--in Surrey Hills.


Okay, now I see why I got confused. Redfern has the closest train station to the university, so I guess they get a lot of students trampling through the area.

The Yaama Dhiyaan hospitality House seems to maybe be in The Block. I'm not sure I'd be brave enough to go there. I guess it would depend on what the current reputation is like.

Maybe we'll go onto Baptist Street. It's in east Redfern which Cityhobo labels as being the less frightening part of the suburb.

Another thing I'm thinking (based on the map) is that it LOOKS like Redfern is fairly close to the Farmer's Market in Moore Park. Maybe we can take the train into Redfern--explore the area a bit and then walk over to Moore Park. OR we could do Moore Park on another day and head to the University from Redfern. But would there be anything exciting for us at the University? Would Jack get any joy out if it besides his mother trying to brainwash him into one day becoming a student there?

Timeout Sydney has a fairly good article about The Block. It talks about the basic challenges in gentrification. How do you improve an area and make it more attractive to the people who have money without alienating or kicking out the people who already live there? Can you improve an area without making it impossible for the current residents to afford it?

In ten years, The Block may be a safe pleasant area that is frequented by annoying American tourists like me. But will the current residents be purged from the area?

It's all a bit complicated and sad.

When we were in San Francisco last September there were a lot of homeless people begging for money. It was annoying and uncomfortable for us. We feel better being in a place where there's no homeless people pestering us for money. It's nice to imagine that a place is lacking homeless people because they're all in a lovely shelter eating fresh fruit, getting facials, and watching political debates. But it's more likely that there are no homeless people because they've been chased away to make things more pleasant for tourists and wealthier residents.

I remember talking to my cousin who is a SF resident. We complained about the amount of homeless people--seeing it as a negative. But she then said something like Yeah. San Francisco is a great city for the homeless. It kind of gave me a different perspective.

This guy on Virtualtourist says Eveleigh street (part of The Block) is off limits to non-indigenous people. I'm not sure what off-limits means exactly--not that I'm into testing the definition.

Tim and I were talking about city websites, and we said there should be one where it rates the welcoming aspect for each type of person.

Let's take for example gay/lesbians. If a neighborhood is rated one star, this means that you'll be shot as soon as someone finds out you're homosexual.

Two stars means it's okay if you jog by quickly, but you might be in trouble if stop to buy something or eat in a restaurant.

Three Stars means you're safe. No one is likely to give you grief. You can even buy a house here without the neighbors complaining that you're ruining the neighborhood.

Four Stars means you're welcomed. They might even have some venues specifically geared towards gays and lesbians.

Five Stars means this neighborhood is THE place to be if you're gay.

I'm guessing the Block in Redfern won't be a four or five star for us American white people. But would it be a one star? Two star?

ETA-I have been contacted by someone who has given me further insight into the Hickey case. As we all learned from Elphaba, there's two sides to every story.

I said, above, that if someone is chased by the police for criminal activity, and they die during the chase; they are the ones to be blamed. The factor I didn't consider is what compels them to run. In the eyes of a sheltered white girl, running from the police is about avoiding responsibility. For Hickey, and other people who are not white, it can sometimes be about avoiding police brutality. From the articles given to me, it seems that Hickey was terrified of one of the cops following him because of a previous experience with this particular officer.

Also, according to some witnesses, police removed Hickey from the fence instead of keeping him there and waiting for an ambulance. I think most of us intelligent people know that you do not move an injured person--especially one that seems to be impaled.

For more information on this subject, please email the Indigenous Social Justice Association at
You may also watch this video of an interview with Ray Jackson of the Indigenous Social Justice Association.


  1. Loved your post on Redfern. Has to be among the longest non academic posts, I have ever seen on any one's
    personal blog,
    that I have ever seen :)

    Very Very Informative and Thorough!

  2. Don,

    Thank you! I'm horrible at writing anything short. I ramble on and on.

    I'm looking at your website now. I'm going to bookmart it--looks like it could be helpful : )

  3. Hi Dina

    Great post. I'd like to quickly respond to 2 things:

    1. Walking from Redfern to Moore Park would take about 1 - 2 hours. I live in Surry Hills (in between Redfern and Moore Park) and whilst it is a gorgeous area, it can be difficult to navigate for first-timers. I also don't think that Moore Park is anything special (Centennial Park is much nicer), however Moore Park does have the Entertainment Quarter. For more info:

    2. Redfern is about as ghetto as Sydney gets, however it is nowhere near as dangerous or scary as some parts of NY I've visited. I wouldn't recommend a night visit, but I used to attend Sydney Uni and would often walk through Redfern on my way to the station or just to grab a bite to eat. So I'd say it's 3 stars for you and your family. :)

  4. Hi Anonymous:

    Thank you so much for your comment! VERY helpful.

    We liked Moore park for the farmer's market. Without the farmer's market, I'm not sure if it would be worth going to.

    I'm glad you told me about the 2 hour walk thing. I think if we go to Moore Park it will be another day.

    Maybe we'll do Redfern and head up to the University. That will probably work better.

    And thanks for the three star rating
    info : )

  5. My husband used to go to some big computer gaming event in Redfern. The place they had it was right near the train station. Unfortunately, I've only been through it, but thanks to your post I'm interested in doing the tourist thing!

  6. Tors,

    It does seem to have an interesting history--sad though.

    But I do think there's a lot of hope.

    The information I was sent this morning is very disturbing. It's nothing new for an American though--the stuff we encounter in our own country.

  7. Hi Dina thought you might like to know about the shooting of David Gundy by police in his home at Marrickville a neighbouring suburb of Redfern, heres a good website to look at

    and heres is a song written about the shooting by Kev Carmody

    There's a cold rain on the Autumn wind
    A brother murdered in Sydney Town
    Marrickville brother under supposed legal cover
    In his home they gunned him down
    We say oh oh oh oh oh ooooooh
    Gunned him down
    Sad river of tears
    Two hundred years in the rive of fear
    Gunned him down

    They took him out at point blank range
    In his home with his small young son
    Shot him dead in his Marrickville bed
    With a pump action 12 gauge shotgun
    Fatherless child and a grieving wife
    A black fugitive on the run
    On the run from two centuries
    Of oppressions loaded gun
    We say oh oh oh oh oh oooooh
    Gunned him down
    Sad river of tears
    Two hundred years in the river of fear
    Gunned him down

    Terrorists dressed in uniform
    Under the protection of their law
    Terrorise blacks in dawns of fear
    They come smashin' through your door
    You're not safe out there on freedom street
    You're not safe inside the "can"
    For their shotguns and their stunt gas
    They're licenced to drop you where you stand
    We say oh oh oh oh oooooh
    Gunned him down

    I work at the University of Sydney and catch the train to and walk through Redfern everyday and have never had a problem even at night my only advice is i wouldn't go down the block at night but other then that you should be fine. You might come across the some beggars but they wont harass you if you just say no.

  8. Matt,

    I just downloaded the song. I love Carmody's voice.

    Thanks for the link to the article. I'm going to look at it after this.

    Thanks for the info about Redfern.

  9. I have nothing to add to the Hickey situation, nor do I know anything much about Redfern apart from that everytime the government decides to clean the place up for tourists and moves some of the residents out west that it causes problems with the locals. The government just doesn't seem to learn that mixing the various indiginous tribes doesn't work very well.

    But that's neither here nor there.

    With the training thing, people who have been unemployed for 3 months or more have access to jobnetwork agencies that help them find work and training and also have funding to pay for the training as well as any books, equipment or clothing they might need to do the training.

    There is a bit of a problem in some places about doing work experience for nothing due to insurance cover ie in some places if you aren't actually employed you aren't covered by insurance. That said there are plenty of places crying out for volunteers and who welcome them with open arms.

  10. Bettina,

    The job training thing sounds pretty cool. That makes things sound much better!!

    The insurance thing makes sense.

    My feeling is the best program would be where they hire workers. Have the new people with no experience do very basic/menial work. At the same time, they can be trained....then as their skills increase they get more responsibility and higher pay.

  11. Hi Dina

    I think anonymous must be a slow walker if it takes him/her 1-2 hours to walk from Redfern to Moore Park! Have a look at Google maps.

    He/she is right though in saying that Centennial Park is much better. And you can hire bikes and ride around it.

    And I agree that it is probably best to avoid Redfern at night.

  12. Tony,


    Well, we might be slow walkers too. At least I might be. I have a sore toe. It might take us three hours! That would be sad.

    I don't know what we'll end up doing. We'll probably hang out in Redfern and go from there....see what we're in the mood for.

  13. I have written an article about the Redfern Aboriginal community for which the death of TJ Hickey provides the context.

    It is accessible at: