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The Block, Redfern, NSW, Australia

Photographs None
List Register of the National Estate (Non-statutory archive)
Class Indigenous
Legal Status Registered (01/11/1983)
Place ID 101630
Place File No 1/12/033/0015
Statement of Significance
The Redfern Block lies within the lands of the Gadigal (Cadigal) people, part of the Dharug Nation. It falls within the larger Darlington Conservation Area, which is historically significant as an area of late nineteenth century (1880s) housing constructed largely to provide housing for those employed at the Eveleigh Railway Workshops. The railway workshops provided a unique and powerful influence in the development of the surrounding area.

Since the 1940's Redfern and the Block has been seen by many as one of the bases for Aboriginal people in Sydney. It was one of the first pieces of land in urban Australia owned by Indigenous people when it was purchased for Indigenous housing in 1973.

The Block has provided Indigenous people moving to Sydney with the opportunity to remain living in a community environment with the extended family, living together, providing a support network. The sense of community is partially maintained by the time residents spend in the public spaces of the verandahs and Eveleigh street. The layout of the houses and the streets facilitates this community atmosphere.

The Block community is important for Indigenous people who spend short periods in Redfern visiting relatives in prison or hospital. Several generations of Indigenous people have been brought up in the Block and it is of social and cultural significance to these long-term residents. This is demonstrated by their efforts to remain in the area and the return of many of those who have moved away from the area. The media attention and visibility of the Block has helped in the national acknowledgment that it is a significant Indigenous place. The Block is important to all Australia as a symbol of the ability of Indigenous people to maintain their identity in an urban situation.

The struggle to gain ownership and control of the Block by the Indigenous community was part of the movement by Indigenous people during the 1970's towards self-determination. Indigenous control of Indigenous affairs was a major issue and it was for the Indigenous residents of Redfern and the Block that many of the first Indigenous controlled services in Australia were developed.

Many famous Indigenous people have been residents or associated with the Block. Shirley Smith (Mum Shirl), a resident of the Block, was one of the founding members of the Aboriginal Medical Service, the Black Theatre Group, the Aboriginal Breakfast Program and the Detoxification Unit at Wiseman's Ferry. Kevin Gilbert, an Aboriginal poet and activist, was one of the founding members of the Redfern Legal Service, the Black Theatre and the beginnings of the Land Rights Movement. He also initiated and developed many of the original plans for the Aboriginal Housing Committee, outlining the initial ideals and intentions.
Official Values Not Available
The Redfern Block lies within the lands of the Gadigal (Cadigal) people, part of the Dharug Nation. Gadigal's land extended from South Head to the Bay of Gadi out to Petersham taking in the suburbs now known as Redfern, Erskineville, Surry Hills Darlinghurst and Paddington. With the arrival of Europeans smallpox devastated the Gadigal population and those that had survived move out of their traditional area and joined neighbouring groups.

Early land grants in what is now the suburb of Darlington were largely to Hutchinson, Chippendale and Chisholm. William Chippendale's grant of 1819 extended on both sides of the present Cleveland Street, and was bounded on the east by the line of Botany Road and on the west in part by the Black Wattle Swamp Creek. Chippendale sold his grant in 1821 to Solomon Levey. Levey's heirs in their turn sold a large part of it, over 62 acres, to William Hutchinson.

Hutchinson also received a grant of 52 acres in 1819 (largely what is the Golden Grove estate). William Hutchinson (1772-1846) public servant and landowner was appointed in 1814 by Governor Macquarie as principal superintendent of convicts and public works. Hutchinson owned real estate in the centre of Sydney, Chippendale, Liverpool, Waterloo, Parramatta and Melbourne.

In 1844 Hutchinson purchased land in the southern part of the original Chippendale grant, bounded on the north by Vine Street and extending to the south to the boundary of his own grant. The area acquired the name of Hutchinson's paddock. Hutchinson's land is believed to have been leased for market gardens including Chandlers, McAuley's and Warrens.

It was on Hutchinson's land that one of his sons-in-law, John Rose Holden built Eveleigh House. John Rose Holden (1810-1860) soldier and settler, was born in England, the son of Rev. William Rose Holden and his wife Betty, nee Everleigh. Holden married Mary, the third daughter of William Hutchinson in 1834 and became the executor of his estate after his death in 1846. Eveleigh House is believed to have been built in the late 1840s it is shown in various maps from 1850 onwards. It was named after Holden's mothers maiden name, Everleigh (later known as Eveleigh). Eveleigh House (demolished) was located in the vicinity of Louis Street just south of Vine Street, east of Abercrombie, west of Eveleigh Street and north of Caroline Street, in the area now referred to as 'The Block'. The names of many early settlers are continued in street names in the area today, including Eveleigh.

The area known as Hutchinson's paddock was considerably affected by the construction of the railway which cut right through it, when the line opened in 1855. The site for the Eveleigh Railway Workshops (ERW) (Chisolm's Grant) was chosen in 1875, resumed in 1878 and the compensation price settled on in 1880. Clearance began two years later and development continued into the 1890s. Eveleigh Station was opened in 1878 and was renamed Redfern Station in 1906. The Railway workshops were one of the largest employers in Sydney at the turn of the century, declining only in the latter half of the 20th century. Those working at the Workshops largely lived in the surrounding suburbs including in Darlington, often a large number of family members worked at the Workshops and lived in the surrounding suburbs. This type of family grouping was representative of the make up of the area.

Darlington was incorporated in 1864. The 1880s saw the major residential construction of working class houses in Darlington, including 'The Block', development having been stimulated by the need for housing for workers at the Eveleigh Railway Workshops. The buildings constructed where largely brick rendered with iron roofs and timber verandahs. By 1889 most of the Darlington area was subdivided and most buildings were constructed.

The railway dominated the industrial and employment scene but there was also a number of other employers in the area, including brick making, Henry Jones (originally the Sydney Jam Co.), McMurtrie's bootmakers, and Hudson Bros. (steam joinery workshop/construction of railway rolling stock). The Railway industry tended to move westwards, the ERW remained large but became assembly and holding areas.

Indigenous people from rural areas started moving into Redfern during the 1920's. Not only was it the first stop before the Central City station, but the rents were cheap and the workshops in Redfern and nearby Chippendale offered the possibility of regular work. During the Great Depression of the 1930's,many Aboriginal people sought refuge with relatives in Redfern as work in rural areas became scarce.

During the 1940's Redfern, with its large Indigenous population, was the location of a number of protest meetings and rallies. Bill Ferguson held a public meeting in the Redfern Town Hall to get endorsement for his place on the Aboriginal Welfare Board. The Aboriginal Progressive Association also held a protest meeting in the Redfern Boot Trades Hall over the chaining of Aboriginal workers on a station in Oodnadatta. Around this time the first Aboriginal Football Club was developed. This provided support to the All Blacks, probably the most famous Aboriginal Rugby League team.

The 1967 National Referendum, which gave Citizenship Rights to Indigenous people, was important in the development of the Redfern Indigenous community. The new sense of freedom following the referendum brought many people, from mainly the rural areas of NSW and Queensland, to Sydney where there were greater opportunities for jobs, education and housing. In 1966 there were 4,000 Kooris living in Redfern and neighbouring suburbs. By 1968 the Aboriginal population had increased to 35,000. This caused problems of overcrowding, squatting and destitution as many Aborigines faced discrimination when seeking accommodation.

In 1968, the local South Sydney Council and the State Government were keen to relocate the Indigenous population that had congregated in the inner city area of Sydney. The NSW Department of Housing began a resettlement project moving inner city populations to estates in Green Valley, Mt Druitt and Campbelltown.

The Redfern Indigenous community was involved in the conception and development of Indigenous community controlled services. Many of these began in the early 1970's and were among the first Aboriginal controlled organisations in Australia. This included the first Aboriginal Legal Service, Aboriginal Medical Service, Community Housing Cooperative, Aboriginal Children's Service, an Indigenous Radio Station, and the National Black Theatre. These developments provided a model for the move towards self determination for many Indigenous communities and these types of services spread across Australia.

The lack of affordable housing for Redfern's increasing population resulted in the 'Black Theatre' Community House becoming a haven for homeless people. After the theatre's closure residents began squatting in the empty terrace houses in the Block. In October 1972 police arrested and charged fifteen Aboriginal squatters, who had been living in a house in Louis St, with trespassing. They where placed in the care of three Catholic priests, who allowed them to stay in the Church Hall. The number of people staying in the Hall increased rapidly, and it was soon shut down by the South Sydney Council on grounds that it was a "danger to children and community health".

After the closure of the Hall arrangements where made with IBK Construction, the owner of the row of terrace houses in Louis St, for residents to stay in two of houses until development of the buildings began. With the assistance of the Builders Labourers Federation and the Plumbers Union, residents brought houses up to bylaw standard so those people who had been residing in the Hall could move back in. This resulted in 45 Indigenous people residing in three houses in the Block.

With IBK Construction ready to begin development of the houses in the Block, the residents where again required to move. The State Builders' and Labourer' Union placed a ban on all development in the area and any other work that IBK Construction was doing. Long term solutions to the housing problem were sought with the election of the Federal Labor Government in 1972 and their promise to properly house all Aboriginal families in Australia.

In 1973 after much publicity, and despite protest from non-Indigenous residents and the South Sydney Council the houses within the Block where bought by the Commonwealth Government and given to the Aboriginal Housing Company. The aim of the Redfern Housing project was to provide a communal living environment run by Indigenous people, for Indigenous residents, with affordable rent. The Indigenous population of Redfern tripled between 1976-1981 primarily as a result of this project.

Redfern has and continues to be the location of national protests and other events important to Indigenous people. Residents of the Block were closely associated with the founding of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy on the lawns of Old Parliament House. Many of the Aboriginal protesters at the Embassy were residents of the Block, while other residents spent brief periods there. The Block residents were also involved in a demonstration held at Redfern Park to launch the National Land Rights March in 1972.The 1988 bicentennial protests by Indigenous people were the largest protest in Australia since the Vietnam War. Approximately 40,000 people took part in protest marches from Redfern Oval to Hyde Park in the City. There was also an earlier march from the Aboriginal Legal Service to Mrs Macquarie's Chair where a temporary Aboriginal Tent Embassy had been set up to mourn the arrival of the re-enactment of the First Fleet. Redfern oval was also chosen as the location for the launch of Australia's celebration of the 1992 International Year of the World's Indigenous People by the then Prime Minister Paul Keating.

In January 1997 Redfern again became the focus of media attention with large numbers of police conducting a series of raids on houses in the Block. This was an attempt to reduce the number of drug related crimes occurring in the area. A police shop front was set up on the Block so that twenty-four hour a day police presence could be maintained.

Recent moves to relocate residents so the Block can be redeveloped have met resistance. Some residents fought this through the Residents Tenancy Tribunal. From 1994 to 1999 23 houses were demolished in Eveleigh St. Many of the evicted families have however subsequently returned to the Redfern area. Residents have described the Block as the Black heart of Australia, and the destruction of their connection with the Block seen as aiding and abetting genocide.
History Not Available
Condition and Integrity
In 2000, the fabric of most of the buildings externally and internally is in poor condition. Little has been done to maintain and preserve the fabric of the properties, which are in various states of disrepair. Many of the houses have graffiti in the verandah area. The details inside and outside including verandah detailing, windows, moulding, fireplaces have largely been removed/destroyed. Houses vary in condition most retain their external shell and chimney pieces.
About 1ha, bounded by Eveleigh, Vine, Louis and Caroline Streets, Redfern
Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 1996 The Battle for the Block, 30/3/1996 Background Briefing, Radion National.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation 1997 The Block, 12/05/2000, Four Corners.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation 2000, Father Ted Kennedy, 24/5/2000, The Religion Report, Radio National.

Anderson, K. 1993 Constructing geographies: "race", place and the making of Sydney's Aboriginal Redfern. In Constructions of Race, Place and Nation, P. Jackson and J. Penrose, 81-95. London: UCL Press.

Catalogue for Museum of Sydney 1997 Guwanyi, Stories of Redfern. Photographic Exhibition. 21 December 1996- 4 May 1997

Foley, G. 1999, Whiteness and Blackness in the Koori Struggle for Self-Determination. Paper for Winter School on Advocacy and Social Action 16-18 July 1999, Trades Hall, Melbourne.

Gilbert, K, 1994, Because a White Man'll Never do it. Pymble: Angus & Robertson

Healy 1997, Eveleigh Street Aborigines Under Attack. Green Left Weekly 260.

Horton, D. (general editor) 1994 The Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia. Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra.

Hulsker, J. 1997, Fieldwork Report: Aboriginal Community-Based Organisations and the Construction of Aboriginality in Redfern, Sydney. In Oceania Newsletter 19: 9-11.

Lesser, D. 1990, Our place/story. In G.H Magazine, June 1990: 50-56/

Maguire, T. 1984, Aboriginaland. In Australian Penthouse, 5 (7) ;88-95.

Mathews, G. 1996, Aboriginal Rally to Save the Block. Green Left Weekly 224.

Noffs, T. 1965 Our Aboriginal Problem Shifts to the City (video) Social Services.

Spindler, C. 199,7 Eviction Threatened on Eveleigh Street. Green Left Weekly 295.

Tropman & Tropman Architects 1995 South Sydney Heritage Study, for the South Sydney City Council.

The Block Community Speakout

Report Produced  Sat Aug 30 08:24:46 2014