Photographs by

Patricia Baillie

Photo 1

A brother and sister with the much-loved "Welcome to the Block" mural.

Since 2002 I have spent time with the aboriginal community in Redfern, an inner sydney suburb. Groups sit in an open area near the station, watching the coming and going, and greeting friends arriving from other areas. This public space plays an important role in the local aboriginal community. In winter they light campfires, and they generally sit quietly drinking VB. They have asked me to say that I was never molested or bothered in any way. There have, howver been ongoing problems with drugs, and in February 2002 there were serious riots. It has been said that groups from outside the area were responsible. The response was to raze the buildings which were alleged to be centres of drug dealing (see the the 1st and 2nd photos, before and after.) The graffitti on the wall seen in the last photo was painted over with a plain grey.


photo 2

Police make regular routine patrols. This photo was taken before the "drug houses" were bulldozed.

photo 3

Aboriginal flag mural, now clearly visible after the demolitions.

Photo 4

Thomas Roberts asked to be photographed in front of the flag mural.

Photo 5

Another patrol.

photo 8

Two local small children. Demolition is in progress behind them.

  Photo 9

A police operation begins.

Photo 10  

Shortly after this photo was taken, the two boys made a run for it. The Police pursued. The area filled immediately with people cheering on the boys, one of whom made it over the fence to the railway tracks. The other was arrested

photo 11

Ningenah is a dancer, and he agreed to dance for my camera.

photo 12

A regular group in the place in front of the train station. Note the words "Eora Country" on the mural behind. The word Eora means "from this place". Local Aboriginal people used the word to describe to the British where they came from. Central Sydney is therefore often referred to as "Eora Country".

  Photo 13

A different group usually gathers a little further down.The new community centre (March 2004) can be seen behind.

Photo 15

I could not find out where he got the flowers.

  Photo 16

Redfern railway station, in the background, was the scene of the 2002 riots.The "Welcome to the Block" mural is on the left.

Photo 17

Out of it.

  Photo 19

Andrew Blacklock told me no-one had ever wanted to take his photo except when he was in prison.

Photo 20

I believe he is from ouside the area, but his father is a resident of The Block.

  Photo 21

The young mother with the lovely smile is Paula, her baby is Jackahl.

  Photo 23

  Photo 24

Under the mulberry tree. This tree was cut down.

  Photo 25

No maintenance has been on these houses for a long time.

  Photo 26

Families live in the houses left without maintenance. The landlord is the Aboriginal Housing Company.

  Photo 27

A protest.

  Photo 28

The Sovereignty Fire.

  Photo 29

  Photo 30

The mural will go.

  Photo 31

Renewed by locals one last time before it disappears. The site is cleared for redevelopment.

Early 2014

The community at The Block is no more. I have watched it being gradually destroyed. The quiet groups, sitting drinking, often by a camp fire , were moved from one place to another. Originally they were near the train station; people coming and going from the country would pass and be greeted. When the Community centre was built this group still came on Tuesday and Wednesday and had the free meal. Afterwards they would sit peacefully under a big spreading mulberry tree, and chat. The mulberry tree was cut down.

The houses behind the ex-mulberry tree were gradually deteriorating (see photos ), but families still lived in them. They were allowed by the Aboriginal Housing Company to deteriorate until it was not worthwhile to renovate. Then these last residents were moved and the houses demolished. This very valuable inner city land can now be redeveloped (though not for aboriginal families).

Final act of a community, The Black Heart of Australia destroyed. Last insult - the Aboriginal Flag mural is to go.

To read more on the block, click here.

Below are somenewspaper reports of the end of The Block, that vibrant " Black Heart of the country".

These articles appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald in September and November 2010.

They chronicle the destruction of a community by its own people.


Forty years after its inception The Block - the Aboriginal housing development in Redfern - will be bulldozed. The last 75 residents of the precinct, which has been the scene at times of violence, crime and unrest, have been receiving eviction notices from the Aboriginal Housing Company, with a final deadline to quit being November 19. Demolition will begin in January and work on the replacement $60 million Pemulwuy Project will begin in April. "The Block has played an integral role in the local community for many years and renewing the area with new housing and improved cultural and educational facilities will be a significant boost for the Redfern community,'' a spokesman for Premier Kristina Keneally said yesterday.

Friday deadline on the Block, but last residents are refusing to go More than a decade on, the demolition is almost complete. Row by row, terraces have given way to a patch of green grass. Graffiti, cracked paint and rusting iron on last-standing houses symbolise an Aboriginal dream lost. Eviction notices served to 15 remaining tenants expire on Friday, but some have vowed to stay on, and not let go.

The chief executive of the Aboriginal Housing Company, Mick Mundine, has stared down onto the Block's makeshift shooting galleries and drinking circles from his Eveleigh Street office since the '90s. After the company's concept development application was approved this year by the Premier, Kristina Keneally, his vision of having to destroy to re-create is close to realisation. ''You have to be cruel to be kind,'' Mr Mundine said. ''It's time for tough love, and to let go of this vicious cycle. We can't be suffering no more - we're doing this for our children Some tenants don't like the changes, but they'll have to move, or we'll take 'em to the Tenancy Tribunal to get 'em out.''

The Aboriginal Housing Company - which owns and manages the Block - has signed a contract with the developer Deicorp for reconstruction, pending final DA approval. The $60 million-plus project for a cultural centrepiece includes commercial spaces, non-Aboriginal student accommodation, and a reduction to 60 homes for Aborigines. Rents will double, and an annual profit of $4 million is expected. Mr Mundine has promised a tough approach to any new tenancy applications, in a bid to keep drugs, violence and troublemakers away.

The new Block would be a landlord's selection of the community. A resident, Les Polletti, 57, said the community felt it had lost control of its land and its livelihoods. ''The Block's now finished, and they're giving housing to white students - that's a no-no If people want to work with the system of the white people, do it, but do it in a way that benefits Aboriginal people.'' His wife, Donna, 57, said: ''We've seen this place from the beginning, the middle, and now the end. It used to be such a thriving place, but now we sit on the porch at night and it's like a ghost town. It's very sad.'' They hold on to a dream, and an ethos of self-determination and independence, given birth in an era of idealism when the Whitlam government granted the Redfern patch to Aborigines. ''It used to be a meeting place for Aboriginal people,'' said a former tenant, Cec Bowden, 71. ''We'd come from north, south, east and west, and everybody would know everyone.''

Hard drugs hit the Block in the late '80s. Floor boards crumbled, plumbing collapsed, and then houses disappeared, as a community relocated. A tenant, Dennis Weatherall, 63, said: "Nobody wants to move, but we will eventually. I'll probably go bush, but most will go to the western suburbs." Residents are now queuing for public housing and hoping for priority. The Aboriginal Housing Company has said they will not end up on the street. But long-time tenants and founding members are preparing to dig in and make a last-ditch appeal for their land. A former national middleweight champion, and now pastor, Richard Phillips, 73, and his wife, Yevonne, 71, who was born in the area that became the Block, are vowing to stay. Mr Phillips said, ''I've demonstrated and fought to get this place They can bulldoze with me in it. I ain't going nowhere. "It's not Mundine's kingdom, it's the people's kingdom. Why can't we live the life we want to live?'' Their son and neighbour, Shane Phillips, 45, says it is now not such a black-and-white issue. He says it is time for a change, and supports the project. "It's about building a sanctuary that helps Aboriginal people thrive and survive. We can't keep our people shackled to welfare dependency, and we need to break that pathetic perception that we can't succeed,'' he said. ''We need to make this place strong again- that's what my dad fought for."

SMH, NSW Date January 25, 2014