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Thursday, September 07, 2006

The March into Redfern

I have now been backpacking (‘youth hostelling’ would be far more accurate) for just under five months. I have met a lot of interesting people, but it was not until Monday night that I caught my first real glimpse of the size of Australia that is ‘hidden’ or at very least ‘out of the public view’. My march into Redfern began in the back of a desire to get a bit healthier. I have been eating a lot of rich food and working in a sedentary job for the last few months and have a tummy a 50 year old would be proud of. I am going to ‘make that change’ as Wacko Jacko would say. Plus I want to be able to stride around Darwin with my top off when I go up there, so all in all there are good reasons for doing this.
Julia suggested that I start to walk home from work - a plan that made some sense. So...

Sunday night, Julia and I went and talked to Luke (the nice kiwi who manages the hostel on Sunday evenings) and he suggested a route for us to do. When asked how far the walk was he said ‘oh about 3.5km’ which is reasonable. My route home from work will take me down the long road beside my work, down past Central station, though a little park, through Redfern and then up some wiggly little streets for about half a mile. It’s not all on the flat either, there are hills and dales too.

So on Monday night I set off, and it was fun. Sydney in the evening is very pretty and I was taking photos of this, that and the other and doing some beat box because I was on my own and in a good mood. I went though the park and turned into Redfern. The place is quiet dilapidated. Buildings are not in great shape (but could be with some work – please look up gentrification when you next use Google!) and there was rubbish everywhere. I was snapping off photos of buildings and up ahead I could see people sitting by the side of the road. No worries. I kept walking until I got out into a park area. There were tents up (almost like tepees) and some people sprawled around. Far up ahead I could see some people clustered round each other doing something. I kept walking, admiring the murals on the walls to my left – they were lovely: indigenous art. In the distance I could see the indigenous flag of Australia flying so I took a picture. On a whim I turned round and could seen another flag painted on the size of a house. At this point mental gears started to turn and I began to wish I had not taken photos at all – I was being disrespectful, so the camera went back in the bag.

I kept going towards the other side of the park. As I was getting about two thirds of the way towards the street I saw a piece of tarpaulin tied to two poles which read (NB this is not a quote but the gist only) ‘Corroboree taking place. Please, if you do decide to enter the corroboree ground, be respectful of people and events’. Now I felt bad – I had stumbled in on something religious with my camera. My actions were analogous with turning up at a synagogue with a bacon sandwich! I vowed not to repeat my mistake.

I could see that one or two people had noticed me from their tents. So I kept on walking. No one did anything. No one talked to me or looked at me, but I was very relieved when I got into the main road. There were more murals, and I asked the lady who stopped to see if I was all right if it would be okay to take photos. She shook her head – ‘they don’t like it Love’ she said so I thanked her and walked home. The walk took me an hour and 20 minutes. I’d just had my first proper brush with the indigenous people of Australia – not the Yolngu from Arnhem Land, but the Eora from the Sydney region, a group I had not even considered, even though I have seen language maps of Australia. I guess one lives and learns.
On my return to the Hostel, Haico – another manager (incredibly well informed) listened and gave me a bit of a wake up call and told me a few things about the area I had just walked though. I am very pleased to have come out in one piece, not to mention a bit embarrassed for my lack of research. For those of you not in the know, here is some text about Redfern I got off the Wikipedia website:

  • The 2004 Redfern riots began with a riot on 14 February 2004, at the end of Eveleigh Street outside Redfern station, sparked by the death of Thomas 'TJ' Hickey. The teenager, riding on his bicycle, was allegedly being chased by a police vehicle, which led to his impalement on a fence. Members of his family were then reported to have started grieving for TJ around Eveleigh Street with a crowd gathering commiserating with the family. Fliers were distributed blaming police for TJ's death. The police closed the Eveleigh Street entrance to the railway station, but youths in the crowd became violent, throwing bricks and bottles; this escalated into a riot. A memorial service was held for TJ Hickey in Redfern on 19 February, and in Walgett, New South Wales on 22 February. A subsequent inquest found that although the police were following Hickey, they had not caused the accident, a verdict that has caused controversy in Redfern's Aboriginal community. The riots have sparked fresh debate into the welfare of Australian Aborigines and the response of the police to those living in the Redfern area.
  • The Block - "The Block" is an area in the immediate vicinity of Redfern station and is home to a socially disadvantaged community. Nearby Waterloo is another socially disadvantaged community due to the concentration of large public housing estates. As a result, the crime rate in the area is quite high. Redfern has a large Australian Aboriginal community. Eveleigh Street, which is part of 'The Block', is well-known for its community of Australian Aborigines. In 2004 much of the housing here was demolished with plans for redevelopment, but it is still an area around which much of the Aboriginal population congregates
Needless to say my route home has changed a bit, but my little walk and then being able to discuss with interested parties afterwards as opened my eyes. Even if only for a few minutes.


Anonymous said...

Hi Dan,

I loved your read, you write very well. I hope that you keep safe and that you keep safe and have lots of fun.

Take care, keep updating!

Mary xxx

Anonymous said...

Dan, that was an interesting read indeed...but think my 50k walk yesterday from palm beach to manly beats yours somewhat...although I have now lost the ability to walk! I'll check in time to time to see where the road takes you my friend.
Dean (your billibong buddy!)

David Flynn said...

Dan, that walk you did is a route I have walked and cycled many times. I know what they say about Redfern and it is socially disadvantged and a bit run down. However, I never once felt threatened, even at night.

Ben said...

Don't forget your ninja training Dan. Wax on, wax off. But if all else fails run like buggery. :)

peter loizos said...

Reminds me of a few walks in a few places which started well and then started to cloud over. Half of it is probably in our imaginations, fuelled by the way Hollywood horror movies are set up - everything looks normal, but there is a clue on the sound track - a door creaks, the music shifts, a shadow falls. Did someone move behind that shed?

Imagine the world before electric street lights!