Deborah Mailman and Ryan Corr in a scene from the ABC series Redfern Now.


The ABC’s brilliant new drama, Redfern Now, has prompted Zoe Ferguson to ask locals if Redfern is undergoing a transformation.

As one of Sydney’s oldest suburbs, Redfern has a rich and often dark history.  Named after the surgeon William Redfern, the suburb has experienced multiple transformations since its beginnings in 1817.

Surprisingly, only 2.4 per cent of Redfern’s population of just over 12,000 people are Aboriginal, according to the 2011 census.  However,  it is this 2.4 per cent of people that have largely defined and sculpted Redfern to what it is today.

While Redfern has a history marred by racial tensions and crime, it has slowly been undergoing a transformation in recent years and is moving towards a brighter future.

Tim Gray, who is 35 and a public officer from Redfern’s Aboriginal  association Tribal Warrior,, says that Redfern has changed over the years but has stayed the same at its core. “Redfern is a place of healing and recovery, it’s a meeting place, and it’s the heartbeat of Sydney,” Mr Gray said.

Now demolished, one of the hot spots  in Redfern used to be a public housing development commonly known as The Block. Mr Gray spent his early childhood on The Block, being looked after by his grandparents before foster care arrived.

But back then The Block didn’t mean to Mr Gray what it does today.  He ran away from his foster parents when he was 12, lived on the streets in the grips of addiction, and until just five years ago, slept in a dumped car.

But today he’s on the board of Tribal Warrior and has turned his life around. “Being sober and returning to Redfern, I’ve been more of a part of the community. It’s always been a refuge and a meeting place for us though,” he said.

Mr Gray said  he’s keen to be a part of the community in any way possible. From being looked after by Tribal Warrior and now helping others, he also worked as an  extra  in ABC1’s new six-part drama Redfern Now.

“Some production people came into Tribal Warrior and asked for any local Aboriginals to act, or be an extra in, this show Redfern Now. I said yes because I want to be a part of anything to do with Redfern,” said Mr Gray.

Redfern Now features stories about the lives of six Aboriginal families living in one street in Redfern.

Asked how he thinks the series reflects Redfern as it is today and whether its issues resonate with him, Mr Gray said: “Absolutely, it’s showing that it’s not just about Aboriginal housing. It’s a place of unification, of healing, of moving on, and not living in the past. Forgiveness is more powerful than fear.”

Redfern Now producer Darren Dale, from Blackfella Films, said that audiences have become “more accepting, receptive and willing to hear and see indigenous stories in film and television.”

Mr Dale says that the series is an “honest conversation between indigenous Australians, and one that explores issues relatable for white Australians as well.”

Redfern is an iconic Sydney suburb and one that is at the forefront of social change. With the launch of the first Aboriginal community controlled health service in Australia, The Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS) in 1971, and the redevelopment of The Block, there’s strong community support and facilities to fuel a strong future.

Two local residents, Chloe Watson and Georgia Booth, have been living in Redfern for a year.  The two are university students living in a terrace and enjoying inner-city living, they say Redfern feels safe and friendly.

“I’ve lived in the same place my whole life until I moved to Redfern last year and  this is the first time I’ve felt I actually live in the community,” says Georgia, “even though there’s different groups of people living here like families and uni students, we all co-exist well, and look out for each other.”

Chloe adds, “It’s quite a comforting, safe feeling in a suburb that has been known for being dangerous.”

But it looks like that dangerous history is staying as history. There was a buzzing atmosphere at the Redfern Now premiere on Wednesday 31st October, held at the site formerly known as The Block.

With an impressive turnout of 2,500 people, the night produced a positive ambience that soared above the series’ preview screening.

Georgia said that it felt like the night represented “looking forward to the future while remembering the past at the same time, giving the kids of the indigenous community the best future possible.”

Community leadership is booming in Redfern, with leaders “taking the bull by the horns,” says Darren Dale.

With people like Shane Phillips, Tribal Warrior CEO and Chairman, and Murray Mundine, member of Tribal Warrior and CEO of Aboriginal Housing Company, there’s increasing positivity and support in the community.

At the heart of Redfern, the series and the lives of indigenous Australians, is the importance of shared humanity, and the significance of Australian culture unified as a whole.

Redfern Now screens on Thursdays on ABC1 at 8.30pm during November and December 2012.

Redfern Now producer Darren Dale. Photo courtesy: ABC