Overheard in Eveleigh Lore of a Redfern local

Text: Alana Valentine

Here’s how you roll in Redfern
First you prepare to share
Before you leave home
you secrete in your pockets
a couple of weighty gold coins
So when you come out of the station
You’ll see Robert waiting there
Sitting on a battered red milk-crate
His plastic cup proffered
His head down reading a book
Sling in your cash and nod your hello
You’ve gained your admission to Eveleigh

Here’s how you play it on Lawson Street
Give another offering to Alan or Lil
then use what’s left to buy an Abercrombie Street coffee
from Shortlist, Tripod or Café Ella
You’ll have your keep-cup with you of course
Otherwise order a three-quarter coffee with no lid
to reduce your plastic footprint
You’ll find Trevor’s memorial seat in the park
Officially Charles Kernan Reserve
but sit here a moment with our Trevor Davies
founding editor of the South Sydney Herald
staunch Labor Party stalwart and all round Redfern legend

Here’s where to wander on Shepherd Street
Go right at Gate 1 of the University
Breathing deep the wafting aroma
of the Melaleuca Quinquenervia
paperbark trees, all in a higgledy line
and you, suspended now on a wood-slatted walkway
a magic, every-culture carpet of student ambition
and when eyes aren’t fixated on the small screens of their phones
some are drawing political messages in chalk
on the concrete of the path
sweating it out in the sports centre
Or lapping the blue of the pool

And now you’re arrived at the Cadigal Green
Where spread before you is a field of suspended sun chairs
floating on long metal spines
rippling curves of hovering comfort
and the books in your bag are calling out to you to sit and read
That beautiful spired building you can see is not a church
but the Old Darlington school
George Allan Mansfield’s 1877 Gothic Revival beauty
And from the blond and red brick walls
leak the gentle sounds of musicians, rehearsing their notes
translating their spirits into staves and quavers
and flitty, lilting trills

We like to go slow in Redfern
To walk round the streets with a smile
To weave in and out of a bicycle lane
to wander and linger a while
We drink gin at Moya’s Gin Palace
Craft beer at the late open Dock
White wine at Arcadia Liquors
Rocinate at The Noble Hops
Our idea of style is graffiti
Our colours are all red and green
We’re home to the bi-week Big Issue
We like to go out and be seen

We want to dream big for Redfern
We fought for years to get a lift at the station
We fought to save the Locomotive workshop
at the Technology Park
When we look up at night we see possums and foxes
flying across the Waterloo sky
And Matavai and Turanga all lit up in rainbow colours
down below they’re digging up 19th century homes
but much further down
Fourty thousand years of sovereignty sits solid in our minds
and in our hearts
and we say it aloud and thank the elders loud and loud and long.

This place is ripe, old school Sydney
My grandparents grew up right here
They met and they married on Redfern Street
And daily I sense that they’re near
This is the home of the first registered female builder in Australia
Ann Glover was her name
And she shared the suburb with Alfred Flack, who had a dye-making business from 1858
Joseph Sawyer took up with a showgirl
but he had to maintain his wife Catherine’s back
the first of a very long line to be forced to cough up support
she inaugurated the Destitute Wives and Children’s Act

So walk round the history of Redfern
And listen for the ghost coaches that stopped at the Tudor Hotel
Or out of the corner of your eye, watch for the
late burning fires at the Eveleigh railway yards
you may see cold, hungry faces reflected in the firelight
or red, chilblain hands rubbed together for warmth
the face of Mum Shirl on a memorial plaque
The broken heart of Ted Kennedy, Catholic priest
still weeping and lowering coffins into the ground
Wander down Regent Street and get a dress made or adjusted by Santina Collezione or buy gelato from Ciccone and Sons
And welcome to Redfern, we’re proud of our Bearded Tit.

Alana Valentine’s Bowerbird: The Art of Making Theatre Drawn From Life has just been published by Currency Press. Her stage play The Sugar House, set in the Sydney suburb of Pymont, is running at Belvoir Theatre till June 3.


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