For decades Redfern, the epicentre of Sydney’s Aboriginal community, languished under cruel perceptions as a place of crime and poverty, spoken about by the rest of greater Sydney only in terms of derision.
In recent years that has all been changing. Partly due to natural social change and partly due to significant work put in by the local community, City of Sydney Council and the Redfern Waterloo Authority (now part of the Sydney Metropolitan Development Authority – SMDA) Redfern is becoming a vibrant, exciting place that people want to live in and visit. The area’s unique culture, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, is now seen as a cause for celebration.
One of the most noticeable signs of the suburb’s chequered past is the roller shutters that cover the front of many shops in the main streets. At night and on weekends these security measures of a bygone age close the shops off from the street and present a message of danger, giving visitors the feeling that they take risks by being there and should probably leave.
I was therefore thrilled to be able to witness this week the removal of nine roller shutters from the corner of Regent and Redfern Streets, one of the main gateways to the suburb. This was done as part of the Roll Up Redfern initiative and shop owners have been bristling with anticipation, ordering new stock and shop fittings and bringing student designers onboard to revamp the look of their shops. Things are looking up for Redfern!
Sadly not everyone has gotten behind the new look, new reality of Redfern. The local police continue to patrol Redfern station with sniffer dogs at an all too frequent rate, occasionally catching young people for minor drug possession offences but mostly just humiliating innocent commuters who are far too often dragged off trains, forced up against walls and publicly searched just because one of the dogs (which give false leads 73% of the time) looked at or sniffed them.
The local community, Council and the RWA/SMDA have done a great job of changing public perception of Redfern, and in doing so changed what life and business are like in the suburb. However it’s hard to feel that a place is safe and inviting if you’re harassed by a sniffer dog and accused of being a drug dealer the moment the step off the train, so we wont see Redfern live up to it’s full potential until the Police join the party and stop labelling the place, for all the world to see, as a hive of drugs and crime, a label that belies the changing face of the area.