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. “