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Redfern Travel Guide

Redfern: History, location and things to do

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Immediately south of Sydney’s CBD is the inner-city suburb of Redfern, NSW. Governor Macquarie granted this tract of land to surgeon William Redfern, who was a freed convict, in 1817. Largely residential in nature, the area attracted settlers who planted gardens and took their produce to the local markets. Small cottages later sprang up to house local railway workers, who gave the area a more working class air.

The community has always been marked by a large migrant population, but it has also been home to a large Aboriginal population throughout the years. The Indigenous people of Redfern suffered greatly during the Depression, which left many of them homeless. After struggling for decades, many who understood the risks associated with illegally squatting in empty buildings throughout the suburb formed the Aboriginal Housing Company in the 1970s. The Aboriginal Housing Company received a grant to purchase several terrace homes, which would later be called The Block.

The Block was considered the first land rights claim of its kind, and it allowed the Indigenous Australians of Redfern the ability to renew and transform their community. The focus was originally on providing low-cost housing to Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people. The activists struggled to maintain consistent government funding, however, and the residents of The Block struggled to keep the criminal element out. After several buildings were demolished, tensions in the community increased.

In 2004, things came to a tragic head when Thomas J. Hickey, a 17-year-old Aboriginal boy, was riding his bicycle home after visiting his mother. The stories about what happened next are conflicting, but the result of the accident was clear: Thomas was impaled on a fence and died in the hospital. Angry, grieved residents rioted in outrage. Many police officers were wounded, but instead of giving up, the suburb marched on and focused their energies on healing and recovering.

Since the tragedy, the neighbourhood has undergone significant gentrification, and the City of Sydney has focused its efforts on an urban renewal project. They are currently redeveloping several parts of the suburb. Redfern today is home to several major sporting teams, including the South Sydney Rabbitohs, which is amongst the oldest Aboriginal rugby teams in the country, the Redfern All Blacks and the Redfern Raiders Soccer Club.

Visitors to Redfern can explore boutique shops that specialize in antiques, retro-chic clothing, home wares, children’s toys, Australiana, surplus goods, seasonal goods and designer and contemporary furniture. There is something here for art lovers, too, with galleries dedicated to contemporary artists, structures, digital arts, video art and photography. These galleries feature installations and promote both emerging and established artists in order to bring a broader variety to their clients. Art extends to the literary here, with poetry broadcast via radio, podcast and other media.

Gardening stores hearken back to the earliest days of Redfern when settlers worked the soil and brought their goods to the markets. Explore these shops and choose from a range of plants, pots and decorations for your urban garden. When you are ready for a snack or a meal, take your pick of restaurants, including seafood, sushi, Thai, Indian, barbecue, pizza, fusion or even quiet coffee houses.

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