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

Big plans for Redfern

Grennan, Harvey
Sydney Morning Herald
17th April 2007

AFTER Pyrmont, Homebush Bay, Green Square and Rhodes, the next big urban consolidation challenge for Sydney is a curly one - Redfern.

Redfern/Waterloo is home to a good slice of Sydney's indigenous population, the Block, high-rise public housing and the Rabbitohs. This is no greenfield or brownfield development site and this time the emphasis is on high-tech commercial as well as residential development.

There are big plans for the area. Applying ministerial planning powers to eight strategic sites is expected to generate more than 400,000 square metres of business space, creating employment, and up to 2000 new homes. Channel Seven has committed to the largest commercial development in Redfern in a decade.

The Redfern Waterloo Authority has put together $300 million in new investment, including direct state funding of $76 million, for a community health centre, a pedestrian and cycle bridge to the Australian Technology Park and affordable housing for Aboriginal residents.

There will be a new town centre around an upgraded railway station and further adaptation and re-use of heritage railway buildings.

"Redfern will be restored to a beautiful and historic inner-city village," says Sydney's Lord Mayor, Clover Moore.

The publicity and celebrity agent Max Markson, who has moved his operation into the clock tower in the old post office, says Redfern is "the next big thing".

Amid all this planning activity City of Sydney is trying to rebuild Redfern's heart and soul. The council is outlaying $42 million for streetscape improvements to the main thoroughfares of Redfern and Regent streets and to Redfern Park. Workmen are busy putting powerlines below ground, removing concrete walls, widening and repaving footpaths, installing new lighting, "smart poles" and street furniture and planting trees.

The council has introduced an Aboriginal employment scheme to involve indigenous apprentices, trainees, labourers and tradesmen in the street upgrade. "We're taking the stigma away from Redfern and giving it a facelift. "You'll see a new Redfern soon with new shops and restaurants. Redfern has really turned a corner," says a local bricklayer, Jack Dunn, who lives at the Block.

On the social front the council is sponsoring a midnight basketball competition at the new Alexandria Park Community Centre to keep young people off the streets, other activities at the new community centre and a public art project.

The midnight basketball is based on a US scheme that had success in diverting young people from crime and anti-social behaviour. Matches are played on a Saturday between 7.30 pm and midnight.

More than 1000 people a week are visiting the new community centre. Programs include health and fitness classes, hospitality training, breakdancing and art workshops, elders' lunches, an IT room and after-school and holiday care. Other offerings include an Aboriginal men's art group, a recording studio and an online talent agency, Lights Camera Action, which has placed more than 250 people in theatre, film and television.

As part of the streetscape works Cope Street Reserve has a new sculpture by Susan Milne and Greg Stonehouse, inspired by the bowerbird, which borrows blue objects during courtship. Earlier this month residents were invited to bring a favourite object for inclusion in a glass cast to be set in the footpath.

The council is also working with the Redfern Chamber of Commerce to get art into shopfronts and schools in time for the completion of the upgrade work