Today’s Telegraph reports ‘SBS newsreader leads push to divide Redfern into bad and good halves.’ Ricardo Goncalves, from ”east” Redfern’ on Friday, wants his half of the suburb renamed South Dowling to reflect its “feel”
I think this idea is appalling. Mr Goncalves should have bought in Paddington or Double Bay if he was too embarrassed to lived in Redfern, but he didn’t he bought here for less money. Now he wants to change the name to add value to his property. I have lived in South Dowling Street Redfern for ten years and I am proud to call myself a Redfern resident. In fact I would be embarrassed to claim I lived in a suburb so-called South Dowling by group of racist snobs.
All my reasons are contained in a copy of an article I wrote that was published in the Wentworth Courier in March 2004, a few days after the death of ‘TJ’ Hickey, another Redfern resident.
The Trouble with TJ
I stopped at the red light on the corner of Phillip and Elizabeth Streets. The passenger door clicked open. The gentleness of the sound made me think it was a friend about to say hello, but the boy who was leaning across the passenger seat was not anyone I knew. Under his hood, his dark eyes were wide and nervous. I looked down. He was holding my handbag. I could see his long eyelashes. His shoulders were narrow and his wrists and fingers slim and elegant. He was very young, and almost as terrified as me. Then suddenly he was jumped back, straightening up briefly before he raced away clutching my bag. When I got out of the car, my legs were so wobbly with fright, I could hardly stand up. This boy’s face did not match any of the images of the “Waterloo” boys I was shown at the Police Station. For months since I have kept a watch out for him. I wanted to talk to him. I had a naive idea I could retrieve something from this ugly incident perhaps find a way to stop his descent into something even worse. I thought I saw him once or twice at a distance, and it was more than a year before I found out the identity of my thief. I recognised from his picture, which was in all the papers. His nickname was TJ.
After the bag snatch some friends and relatives expected I might want to move back to the North Shore, but this was never been a consideration. Redfern was still the place I wanted to live. When people describe Redfern it is usually for its proximity to everywhere else. It sits just under the lip of the city, close to beautiful Centennial Park and not far from Bondi Beach. Redfern straddles every major Sydney artery to anywhere in Australia, north, south, or west, but it is much more than its location. It is also more than its fantastic variety of cheap Middle Eastern, Asian, and European eateries and take-aways.
Redfern is a community like no other. It is not as dangerous as the media would lead us to believe, nor is it a paradise. It is not a single demographic, but a cross-section of all aspects of Australian society, living cheek by jowl. It is rich and very poor, old and young, pensioner and yuppy, incapacitated and healthy. Australia’s original occupants live here alongside city workers and our newest immigrants. Redfern is the NSW Mounted Police Force division sharing a building with a Taoist Monastery. It is artists and plumbers, designer furniture and op shops. It is the place where the local newsagent patiently helps an old Russian pensioner to sort out her mail while the lotto queue grows. It is the place the gay community can call home.
In Redfern the signs of life’s struggle are all around us, reminding us of our own vulnerabilities. This awareness has contributed to the wealth of tolerance which is such a rich feature of this special place.
The problems of Eveleigh Street are part of this struggle. They are an intense reflection of Australia’s battle to come to terms with its past, as well as the broader issues affecting black-white relationships and the endemic spiral of poverty and despair. Maybe future historians will view TJ’s death as turning point for all of us.
In 1993 Paul Keating said
“It is a test of our self-knowledge. Of how well we know the land we live in. How well we know our history. How well we recognise the fact that, complex as our contemporary identity is, it cannot be separated from Aboriginal Australia. How well we know what Aboriginal Australians know about Australia.
Redfern is a good place to contemplate these things. “
Don’t you love it when you come across something or someone you should have known all your life, and this discovery starts opening all sorts of doors? Yesterday this happened when one of my sisters asked me if I had ever heard of a writer called Brenda Ueland. Apparently Ueland wrote a wonderful book called If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit. Ueland was born in 1891 and is said to have written more than six million words before she died at 93. I ended up downloading a kindle copy of her book (it’s on special at Amazon at the moment for $3.99) Amazon Brenda Ueland
Let me tell you I loved it, and I’m going to recommend it to all the students at my Sydney Writers Festival Workshop Skeletons & Dirty Linen Workshop and my six week Newtown Workshop (see previous post)
This is my favourite quote so far:
Here also is her summary of the most important ideas in her book.
Brenda Ueland’s 12 points to keep in mind while writing
- Know that you have talent, are original and have something important to say.
- Know that it is good to work. Work with love and think of liking it when you do it. It is easy and interesting. It is a privilege. There is nothing hard about it but your anxious vanity and fear of failure.
- Write freely, recklessly, in first drafts.
- Tackle anything you want to- novels, plays, anything. Only remember Blake’s admonition: “Better to strangle an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.”
- Don’t be afraid of writing bad stories. To discover what is wrong with a story write two new ones and then go back to it.
- Don’t fret or be ashamed of what you have written in the past. How I always suffered from this! How I would regurgitate out of my memory (and still do) some nauseous little lumps of things I had written! But don’t do this. Go on to the next. And fight against this tendency, which is much of it due not to splendid modesty, but a lack of self-respect. We are too ready (women especially) not to stand by what we have said or done. Often it is a way of forestalling criticism, saying hurriedly: “I know it is awful!” before anyone else does. Very bad and cowardly. It is so conceited and timid to be ashamed of one’s mistakes. Of course they are mistakes. Go on to the next.
- Try to discover your true, honest, untheoretical self.
- Don’t think of yourself as an intestinal tract and tangle of nerves in the skull, that will not work unless you drink coffee. Think of yourself as incandescent power, illuminated perhaps and forever talked to by God and His messengers. Remember how wonderful you are, what a miracle! Think if Tiffany’s made a mosquito, how wonderful we would think it was!
- If you are satisfied with what you write, that is a good sign. It means your vision can see so far that it is hard to come up to it. Again I say, the only unfortunate people are the glib ones, immediately satisfied with their work. To them the ocean is only knee-deep.
- When discouraged, remember what van Gogh said: “If you hear a voice within you saying: you are no painter, then paint by all means, lad, and that voice will be silenced, but only by working.”
- Don’t be afraid of yourself when you write. Don’t check-rein yourself. If you are afraid of being sentimental, say, for heaven’s sake be as sentimental as you can or feel like being! Then you’ll probably pass through to the other side and slough off sentimentality because you understand it at last and really don’t care about it.
- Don’t always be appraising yourself, wondering if you are better or worse than other writers. “I will not Reason & Compare,” said Blake; “my business is to Create.” Besides, since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of Time, you are incomparable.
I asked twitter this morning to recommend some interesting memoirs, and I’ve already had some great suggestions. Here are three. More to come
Oscar and Friends recommended ’Rules of Inheritance’ by Claire Bidwell Smith. Here’s a review I found, sounds great.
“Forget everything you think you know about grief. Smith’s memoir is the most honest book I’ve ever read about how loss unmoors, challenges and changes you, written in prose so exquisite, it could be poetry. Dazzlingly brave and absolutely true.”?–Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You
@miss_crikey recommended ’Chronology of Water’ by Lydia Yuknavitch No less a writer than Chuck Palahniuk wrote the following:
“I’ve read this book cover to cover a dozen times. I am still reading it. And will, most likely, return to it for inspiration and ideas, and out of sheer admiration, for the rest of my life.”
And for something completely different @LachlanJobbins recommended a boy’s read, Chris Kyle’s ’American Sniper’. Kirkus Review describes this book as:
‘Memoir of America’s most prolific sniper, with an emphasis on the grisly, unpredictable nature of contemporary warfare.’ Not sure it’s my cup of tea though.
Skeletons and Dirty Linen
Writing From Life Memoir Workshop
Sydney Writers Festival
May 14, 2012
In 2006 Murdoch Books published ‘Ursula- A Voyage of Love and Danger’, my mother’s story. Many readers have asked me about the difficulties of writing so close to the bone, especially because my mother and I had such a difficult relationship.
Westpac Bank at Surry Hills is showing of a small selection of my talented partner, David Naseby’s latest series of paintings – Desert Dancing .
We did this amazing trip into Central Australia last year, travelling more than 8,000 kilometres, criss-crossing desert tracks that took us to some of Australia’s most remote areas. We eventually ended up at Titjikala, a tiny community two hours south of Alice Springs where David did some volunteer work in the Art Centre for a short time. Along the way he discovered a painting element that would change the appearance of his next series of paintings.