Divide Redfern? No Way!

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. “

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2 Responses to “Divide Redfern? No Way!”

  • Ex pat redfernite:

    I have to say I find this offensive.
     I have been part of redfern for 44 years.  My parents were immigrants, i lived in ireland as a kid and then redfern. Imigrants like all of us non indigenous folk. 
    The redfern of my youth was not the same place it is today. There were no yuppie tv people moving in, no designer stores or hideously overpriced art galleries and trendy eateries, or folk from the north shore moving in.
     It wasn’t “dangerous “, it was where we lived, and none of us found it dangerous as we were all locals, all the same folk, whether Greek, Lebanese, Turkish, Anglo Australian, Irish ( my family) or aboriginal.
     As kids we all played together and I still have contact with many, though most of us have been pushed out due to the gentrification and the influx of the wealthy. That’s all the way of gentrification, nothing unusual, just very unfortunate and from a certain point of view, very wrong. However that’s not what I find most offensive.
    What I find offensive is your claim that you were robbed by TJ, and your patronizing way of describing the young boy who so gently robbed you, almost a friend ( or so the sound effects of your memory led you to fantasize).
     A young boy in a hood who grabbed your bag and ran would leave you little time to make out his face properly. Granted you may have been able to, so will give you the benefit of doubt, but i do find it dubious that you claim it was TJ.
    Your patronizing way of identifying with the boy is offensive, your attempt to ally yourself with who you wish to identify with as a member of your community. The boy who robbed you did not feel this way. He saw you as someone with money. Maybe as one of the folk moving in to his neighborhood, but I doubt he saw that far.
     My mother was robbed in the same way and she was also shaken, but she was angry at the little shit who did it and did not patronize as you did, as she did not see him as the ” other “. Her reaction was the correct one. 
    If the boy who robbed you was a white Australian I doubt you would have aligned yourself in the same way.
    You may be a lovely person, I don’t doubt that, and I do not mean to be nasty, but I feel that your patronizing is no more beneficial to what community is left in redfern than the idiot you so rightly criticize who wants the name change.
    There is no community left worth talking about, just people who have bought houses and flats. The community started to go with the beginning of gentrification and that process has all but killed it.

  • Thanks for your comments Ex pat, The points you raised are truly interesting and it’s great to get some feedback from a longtime resident. I’m sorry you found my comments offensive, but in way it made me really pay attention and loook again at what I had written.

    That you have called my attitude patronising means you have missed the irony. I referred to myself as naive because the idea that I could do something to ‘save’ this boy from descending into something worse than bag snatching was quite ridiculous. Those who know me personally would testify that my reaction had nothing to do with the colour of his skin. As a writer I am aware that when we observe or read about events and issues we each of us base our interpretation on our own personal experiences. As a long term Redfern resident who obviously loves the place even more than I do after my short 12 years residency, the changes must seem quite disturbing. I like you love it’s multiculturalism which is why we initially chose Redfern as our home.

    You make several judgment calls about my motives without knowing anything about me. Such as implying I didn’t have enough time remember a face that was only a few inches away from mine for several seconds; you imply that I only ally myself with TJ so I can identify myself with my community, when whiter you like it or not I already feel this is my community. The robbery wasn’t gentle. It was shocking and scary for me and he was a little shit. It was only days later when his face and almost childlike features and skinny little hands and arms came back to me that I reacted with sympathy. The first thing I did when I calmed down was to go straight around to the police station and report the theft.

    Not all of us are part of the ‘gentrification’. We are all individuals bringing our own histories and experiences into the life we lead. Change is always hard, but it also inevitable and sometimes we can miss out the benefits if we resist change too much,

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About Eileen Naseby

eileennaseby

In 2006 Murdoch Books published ‘Ursula- A Voyage of Love and Danger’, my mother’s memoir. I am now in the process of completing a work of fiction.

Email me at: en(at)eileennaseby(dot)com

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