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

Aunty leaves the Block

By Connie Levett
March 19, 2004

"I feel it's time to go. The great grandchildren need a fresh start"
81-year-old Joyce Ingram outside her home in Eveleigh Street, Redfern. Photo: Robert Pearce

And then there were none. Almost a decade after the redevelopment of The Block was first proposed, Joyce Ingram, Aboriginal elder and rusted-on Eveleigh Street resident, is finally packing her bags so they can "put a dress" on her beloved Redfern.

The tiny matriarch, now 81, is head of a family that includes four children, 23 grandchildren and "close enough" to 70 great grandchildren.

As a young woman, she held the Aboriginal Protection Board at bay when they tried to take her children. For the past 10 years, local authorities have been equally impotent.

"At my age, I expect people to be respectful, you can't just say 'You gotta go'. If you want me to go, you're going to have to push a bit harder," she said yesterday, as she sorted through everyday treasures accumulated over 25 years in her Eveleigh Street home.

In a street whose name has become synonymous with crime and social tension, the door to No. 78 is open wide from early morning until 9.30 at night. Her front wall is covered with community notices including a flyer asking for funeral contributions to help Thomas "TJ" Hickey's mother, Gail.

Looking in from the street, you can see Aunty Joyce, as locals know her, on the phone at the end of her hall. "It never stops, it's like a public exchange," she says, taking it off the hook during this interview.

People call for neighbours and she will send one of the great grandchildren out to find them.

In the end, it was for the four great grandchildren who live with her that she agreed to move the few blocks to Pitt Street, Waterloo, into a four-bedroom house with a backyard and clothes line.

"I feel it's time to go. The great grandchildren need a fresh start . . . there is nothing here, Redfern is dying, it's a great shame," she said.

However, she wouldn't rule out returning to Eveleigh Street.

As early as Monday, her narrow decaying terrace, buttressed by two abandoned dwellings that double as occasional shooting galleries for drug users, may be bulldozed. The City of Sydney said the Aboriginal Housing Company already has the option to demolish the buildings.

"Everyone thinks she is a thorn in the side of the [Redfern] development but she's not even part of stage one," Mick Mundine, manager of the Aboriginal Housing Company has said. The development is at the concept drawing stage and there is no clear indication who will fund the project.

Funding and potential loss of Aboriginal control is at the heart of Ms Ingram's fears. She was there the day prime minister Gough Whitlam made the first return of land to Aborigines in Redfern in the early 1970s. She does not want to see it fall prey to the Captain Cook syndrome.

"Captain Cook landed, he shot a few Aborigines . . . and automatically took over. Dad and Dave and their sheep and cattle were right behind him . . . This was the first piece of land we were ever given back and now Captain Cook is coming back to get it," she said.