A short documentary history of the Block in Redfern
Material from the Gary Foley Collection

Aborigines riot in anger at boy's death

By Tim Dick
February 16, 2004

A policeman injured in last night's Redfern riot is attended to by fellow officers.
Picture: Edwina Pickles

A railway station in central Sydney was set ablaze and several police were injured last night as Aborigines went on a rampage in a furious response to the death of a teenage boy.

Trains were ordered not to stop at Redfern from 9.30pm as about 30 Aborigines gathered and fire crews and police reinforcements were called and warned that they were entering a hostile environment.

Fires were lit outside the station and at one stage police in riot gear advanced three-deep towards a man at the top of Redfern's notorious Eveleigh Street as flames billowed from the station entrance.

Bottles were hurled at the station wall, leaving a thick carpet of broken glass along the footpath, along with a wrecked shopping trolley and a damaged bicycle left in the wake of the rioters.

The death of 17-year-old Thomas Hickey was the trigger that reignited simmering Aboriginal community anger over policing in the area.

Thomas, TJ to those who knew him, died in hospital early yesterday morning from neck and chest injuries after being impaled on a fence while cycling home on Saturday night.

His family and friends claim the teenager was being chased by police about 11.15pm when the accident happened near one of the Housing Department buildings in the area, a charge the police reject.

The boy's aunt, Virginia said: "If you're black and see a police car, you just run."

She believes Thomas was being chased by police as he rode his bicycle back to her home, where he lived, after visiting his mother.

His grieving mother, Gail, said witnesses had told her that police were chasing him before the accident, and that police had pulled him off the fence and searched his pockets before he was taken to Prince of Wales Hospital.

"He came down here (to Eveleigh Street), I gave him some money to go home with," she said.

Once he had left, "his girlfriend kept ringing me (saying) 'where's TJ? He should be on his way home'."

Redfern police inspector Bob Emery insists that on Saturday Thomas was not "a person of interest" to police, who were "blocks away" when he lost control of the bicycle and impaled himself.

Mr Emery said a member of the public had flagged down passing police and told them where they were needed.

Yesterday the teenager's mother said she wanted a full inquiry.

A family spokesman, Lyall Munro, said "as far as we're concerned, it's an Aboriginal death in custody", because the family said Thomas had died while being chased by police.

While Thomas's family said the witnesses were reluctant to talk to police before seeking legal advice, Mr Emery appealed for anyone with information to come forward.

Any report is unlikely to satisfy the family or the Eveleigh Street community.

Before last night's riots flyers were handed out with a picture of police and reading: "Wanted: child murderers. There is a gang of child killers operating in the Redfern area. They can be easily identified as they all dress the same."