For thousands of years before colonisation, we were bound by family, culture, structure and a continuous connection to the land we now know as Redfern. Since colonisation, many great Koori fighters have paved the way for us to follow…
Jobs at the Eveleigh Railway Workshop and factories on Botany Road, along with the opportunity for a better life free from the control of the Aborigines Protection Board, brought a stream of people migrating from Aboriginal reserves across New South Wales into Redfern. Redfern became a flourishing urban Aboriginal community—a safe and tight-knit place, where commonplace discrimination was less felt. In 1945, Bill Onus co-founded the Redfern All-Blacks Rugby League team, which became a community/political organisation throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The Redfern All-Blacks became the political power base of the legendary Redfern community organiser and activist Ken Brindle.
Redfern is the birthplace of the urban Aboriginal civil rights movement in Australia. The establishment of Aboriginal-founded and controlled services in the 1970s, such as the Aboriginal Medical Service, the Aboriginal Legal Service and the Aboriginal Housing Company, provided inspiration for self-determination for many Aboriginal communities nationwide. 1972: Redfern-based Aboriginal activists establish a protest camp, for justice and land rights, on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra. This 'Aboriginal Tent Embassy' was a critical political action in the Aboriginal struggle. 1973: ‘The Block’ is established and attracts an international reputation as the bedrock of Aboriginal activism in Australia. 1978: Radio Redfern, housed at the Black Theatre (now Gadigal House) provides a voice for Aboriginal people in Redfern. 1992: Keating speech given at Redfern Park. 'Before that, Australians did not know what was going on in their own country. We shaped that speech!' —Redfern elder
The beginning of a vicious cycle. Heroin takes hold in The Block. Redfern becomes synonymous with drugs, crime and violence. Government policies have little effect; community rallies against government 'harm-minimisation' needle vans and short-term police crackdowns that it knows won't work. Redfern reaches a low with images of the 2004 riots broadcast across the nation.
Community leaders come together to say 'enough is enough'. Leaders make brave decisions that they know will make change happen—they institute Family Days with zero tolerance for drugs, they partner with police and lobby the local council strongly for the introduction of alcohol-free zones. They own the change. They are proud of their community.
Still a hub for activism and innovation, Redfern is a safe and strong community. Radio Redfern is now Koori Radio, based out of the same building, but now a voice to more than 100,000 Aboriginal people across greater Sydney. The annual Yabun Festival celebrates Indigenous culture, music and community in a hugely successful drug- and alcohol-free event. Redfern Aboriginal Alliance now has Aboriginal organisations working together—'We are shifting the focus from deficit to strength. This shows a belief that we were always a Strong People who adapted to change and managed to get us to this point. Where we take this is up to us!'