Redfern Redux

One of the many ironies about the Redfern Block is the fact that the Block is only just in Redfern. It’s just an LJ Hooker billboard or two away from much more real-estate friendly Darlington. Much of Redfern parts of which are but a 10 minute walk from the southern edge of the CBD – is increasingly indistinguishable from the rest of inner Sydney. Relentlessly renovated terraces pushing the magic million, converted warehouse apartment developments, groovy ethnic fusion restaurants etc, etc. Pockets of deprivation certainly remain. Sydney’s sole flirtation with the horror of British post-war tower block public housing looms large on the Redfern horizon and tellingly, most shopfronts in the commercial hub still have Beirut Blinds. Then there’s The Block.

It’s actually only about 4 streets forming a rough rectangle in the area between Redfern railway station and – irony of ironies – the eastern edge of the prestigious, sandstone seat of learning. Thousands of Sydney Uni students trek along Lawson St between the station and the Darlington campus skirting the web of blasted, burned out terraces and the interconnecting web of dunny lanes – perfect for drug deals – that surround Eveleigh, Caroline, Louis and Vine Streets. To most of the transiting scholars, it must be another country or planet, maybe.

A few more ironies: Very few Sydney-based aboriginals actually live there. The vast majority have little or nothing to do with the ongoing pathologies of the area and astoundingly the Block is actually in aboriginal ownership. The aboriginal housing co-op has been about to do great things with it for about 30 years. It hasn’t happened.

The Block is far from being a service delivery desert. It’s arguably the epicentre of the most concentrated on-the-ground welfare effort in Australia. An angry Rev Bill Crews observed to the ABC’s Sally Loane, on the Monday after the riot, that ‘over 80 welfare agencies’ are working in the Redfern community. His message was clear: they’re not very effective. I’d argue that they are, but only in the sense of supporting people in their current deprivation. Against any positive and sustained improvement measurement, their failure is embarrassingly, total. The police have copped some flak in addition to the Molotov cocktail stuff chucked at them last weekend but in general the police presence in Redfern seems determinedly low-key; conciliatory wherever possible rather than deliberately confrontational. You get the distinct impression that the cops are as baffled by the intractability of it all as everyone else.

So, what to do? State opposition leader, John Brogden offered a bulldozing of the Block. It’s not a bad idea downstream but as an immediate response it’ll only work in the leafy Liberal electorates north of the Bridge – to whom, of course, his soundbite was aimed. Bulldozing won’t do anything to change the immediate circumstances of the people who actually live round Eveleigh St. You can be drunk, desperate, hopeless, drug-fucked and a permanent victim wherever. It’s not the Block that’s the problem ultimately. It’s the blighted lives that coalesce around it.

Kerry Nettle called for more “resources” (like 80 agencies aren’t enough?) and recognition of the need for aboriginal self-determination. Maybe. The fact is that aboriginals are “self-determining” in Redfern and the results of that didn’t do much for the life prospects of TJ Hickey and lots of kids like him. I know what she means it’s a laudable aspiration but the most liberating act that could be struck for the people of the Block is to remove the crushing burden of perpetual victimhood that chokes the life out of them. A burden that, seemingly, condemns them to an endless cycle of dysfunction and despair.

Given this scenario, it seems to me that we could quadruple the resources currently available and still wind up in the same place. At some point, aboriginals are going to have to start doing it for themselves. It can’t ultimately be done for them. That approach no matter how well meant has failed dismally. It’s classically the sort of moment that calls forth the man and woman. And therein lies the core problem:
Where apart from a handful of notable exceptions – are they? And if they exist, how will they ever have the fortitude to stay the distance in terms of the scale of challenge they have to undertake?

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Al Bundy
Al Bundy
2022 years ago

Ken,

I think a lot of people are thinking this way. But what to do next? Flatten the Block? Send them on their way back to the communities? I think the only result from this approach would be to even further remove the reality of welfare driven victimhood from its advocates in the leafy ‘burbs.

I’m leaning towards looking at the ‘elders’ involved here. People like Clark, Robinson, Quartermaine and company all occupy well remunerated and, at least in some sectors, highly respected positions. Their sinecures are built on the foundation of indigenous despair, and it kind of figures that ‘reconciliation’ (whatever that’s actually supposed to mean) is the very last thing they need for job security. Until these ‘leaders’ stop telling their people that they are all irredeemable victims for whom aspiration is pointless under the yoke of white oppression”

observa
observa
2022 years ago

One of major causes of dysfunctional and abused children, in aboriginal areas like Redfern as well as more generally in low socio-economic areas, is drug and alchohol abuse. Drugged and drunken parents currently suffer little penalty, for failing to modestly care for children, or even ensure compulsory school attendance, where these children can at least mix with mainstream children and values. IMO the right to chemically alter adult conciousness, should be overridden by the right to life of their offspring. Drugs and alchohol should definitely not be available to children. However an illicit drug industry, ensures that they will be, in the case of these vulnerable adolescents, as they will also be to mainstream children. Could we devise a system where they not be available to the young?

Firstly, we have to look seriously at the current state of affairs. The concept of legal and illegal drugs, is ludicrous and hypocritic in a rational, liberal society. We only have to compare the treatment of alchohol, tobacco and marijhuana to see that. The different treatment of these drugs should be as stupid to adults, as it is to our adolescent offspring. As well, the right of an adult to chemically alter their consciousness, by their drug of choice, should be agreed, providing it does not infringe upon the rights of others. This right should not apply to children, particularly for the reason that their bodies and minds are in a formative state(most vulnerable) and they are not capable of weighing up the consequences of their actions(similar to sexual age of consent) To recognise and achieve these better outcomes, some of us (drinkers and tobacco smokers)would have to be prepared to pay a higher administrative price, than we currently do.

Adults should be required to hold a ‘Proscribed Substances Licence’ to purchase and consume the legal, dose-controlled, drug of their choice, from aspirin to heroin. Common substances like petrol, glues and solvents would automatically be included on this licence. Other particular pharmacological endorsements could also be applied for. Basically, name your poison. Each endorsement would require user pays education on all aspects of the particular drugs use. An ongoing licence fee, would include updates of latest research findings, etc. A more controversial addition, could be the monitoring of consumption for medical research(your doctor could read your card’s record of consumption), as well as providing you with such information to compare with recommended safe consumption levels. The normal requirements not to drive motor vehicles and operate machinery, etc would apply, with loss of this licence(note, not your drivers licence) You could share drugs only among like endorsed adults, with automatic licence loss for transgressors. Supplying drugs to minors would be treated like paedophilia. Gaol as well as loss of licence.

IMO such a system may produce some other positive spinoffs. Firstly it would destroy the profitability of the illicit drug trade and reduce organised crime and property crime to support illegal drug use. Secondly the loss of licence could be used to punish adults, whose drug taking affects the rights of their offspring (not providing minimum care, controlling truancy and the like)

I would appreciate the thoughts of others on this. You might also like to consider how such a licence system could also be used beneficially for people wishing to gamble electronically(particularly pokies)Some of the ramifications are very similar. Are all you responsible druggies/gamblers prepared to pay my price?

Scott Wickstein
2022 years ago

If you are talking about alcohol, no, I’m not. I don’t see why the state should be able to keep track of my alcohol consumption because other people have problems being parents.

And petrol? Imagine having to fill out a form every time you top up your car with go-go juice!

Paul Watson
2022 years ago

The solution – or at least a large part of it – is blindingly obvious. The Aboriginal Housing Co-op (owners of The Block) should expropriate the
dunny lanes (notionally Crown-owned).

This would rid the area of much crime, certainly that of the “imported” variety. Further, Indigenous seizure of white man’s land (even if just a few measly square meters) does have a nice ring to it, if you ask me.

Most of all, though, seizing dunny lanes in Sydney (usually on the quiet, by moving one’s fences) has long and proud history. No less a
personage than Phillip Adams (or, alternatively a prior owner of Adams’s Paddington residence) has done the dunny lane takeover.*

Finally (and mainly for boffins only), the AHC would also seem to have the benefit of a new-ish law on its side here; see s. 45D 2A of the Land Titles Amendment Bill 2001 (NSW).

* Graeme Leech “Angry Adams tries to kick down the dunny lane door” The Australian 8/3/01.

observa
observa
2022 years ago

Scott,
You’d just swipe your card for petrol as you mostly do now. The govt would only furnish you with a nice graph and comparisons of your drug habit cf the general community, for your info. General consumption statistics would be published, but your personal info would be confidential, a la ABS info now. Whether life insurance companies should have access to your prediiliction for a particular poison, in order to assess your risk profile properly, is another question.

Can I ask what your stance on the different treatment of alchohol, marijhuana and prescription drugs is currently? Also the availability of solvents and petrol to minors, particularly remote aboriginal kids? You should see for yourself, primary school children walking about openly with cans of petrol around their necks.

Al Bundy
Al Bundy
2022 years ago

Whoops,

Sorry, Geoff. With regards to my first comment above, I read Ken’s plaintive post about nobody else publishing on the site, and didn’t check the byline. Oh well, a fairly benign screw up, and, like I said, your points are good.

Observa, I agree that drug laws are neither logical, nor are they helpful in this case. But my observation is that happy, well adjusted people are far less likely to be involved in drug addiction than unhappy people. And it would seem to me that the serial substance abuse so prevalent in aboriginal communities shows their condition to be a desperately unhappy one.

Drug abuse (legal and otherwise) is a sympton, not a cause. I don’t see how your suggestions would lead to breaking the cycle of hostility and negativity which have become the defining characteristics of indigenous affairs in this country.

Al

observa
observa
2022 years ago

Al, I agree with your premise that happy, well adjusted citizens are much less likely to have drug abuse problems. Consequently I don’t think a PSL is the panacea to all aboriginal drug abuse, nor for the broader community.

I simply point out that digital technology has dramatically reduced the cost of such licensing. A PSL and legally produced and distributed drugs, may substantially reduce the crime element and also the availability to minors. The threat of withdrawal of licence for antisocial and criminal behaviour, may be enough to curb the excesses of many, other than a hard-core minority. Also, because of the strong educative role of licensing, the ‘under the influence of drugs’ defence of antisocial and criminal behaviour would be totally removed from individuals. The question is really one of- Are the foreseeable benefits of a PSL, worth the loss of freedom, the majority of drinkers and smokers currently enjoy, albeit with much social hypocrisy attached. We should also be much tougher in protecting minors from drug use, while allowing adults the freedom to choose.

zoot
zoot
2022 years ago

Observa, I like your PSL idea and I believe that eventually it, or something like it, will be the way we tackle drugs in our society. Sadly, I can’t imagine it being implemented in my lifetime.
And it would only be part of the answer for the people trapped in dependency. At every opportunity I quote “Postcards From the Edge” where someone said, “Drugs aren’t the problem, they’re the solution.”

Norman
Norman
2022 years ago

There was a time when Redfern kids [including an indigenous lad who, without any fuss or concessions, went to Sydney Uni well before Perkins, and graduated on his own merits as a doctor] were able to succeed. Then the well intentioned “do-gooders” got to work, and began our new growth industry of creating an ineffectual underclass.
Putting Humpty Dumpty together again is a useful analogy.

Graham
2022 years ago

Boy, talk about roads to hell…

It would be hard to see libertarians going for Observa’s idea, which sounds like Panopticon State batshittery, because you’re basically taking away with one hand what you’re giving with the other. It’s a nice idea, but doomed to abject failure. As anyone who’s had to deal with an severe drug user, they don’t care about anything but their next hit, and they will do whatever they are capable of to get it, Computer God Frankenstein Controls or no Computer God Frankenstein Controls.

Besides, anyone who hasn’t figured out by now that smoking is dumb with all the blanket awareness campaigns and the big scary warnings on cigarette packets is beyond help. Alcohol is more problematic, because it has a different effect on everyone – if you think it’s a problem, you can either ban it, tax it to buggery like the Swedes do, or, just deal with the aftermath.

(Never mind that second-hand smoke might cause cancer, it stinks! Yes, you can smoke around me in public, as long as you don’t mind me throttling you until you stop.)

Oh, and Norman, was this enlightened PC attitude before or after the government stopped stealing Aboriginal children? (Though that seemed to be a “do-gooder” initiative, too…) That seems to be as much a root cause of the Redfern troubles as alcoholism.

However, I kind of agree with you in so far that I think it would more positive to get people to “deal with it” rather than letting them cop-out, and I think they’re certainly resilient enough to do so. But there has to be something positive in it for them, rather than sweeping the problem under the carpet – which is all this bulldozing nonsense would do.

My mother organised Meals-on-Wheels locally for years, (bugger me, if you want to talk about escalating bureaucratisation in the community service arena … but that’s another rant) and there was one client who was often not there to collect the meal. She consulted with the local Koori worker, who told Mum she didn’t have to put up with it.

It’s certainly what a lot of Aboriginal organisations have been doing behind the scenes, often in spite of the clowns heading ATSIC. Still, hope is an important thing, and it’s important not to stamp it out whilst we’re dispensing all this justice.

zoot
zoot
2022 years ago

Graham, you apparently haven’t had to deal with a severe alcohol user. Alcohol is a drug and a severe user will do “whatever they are capable of to get it”.

Norman
Norman
2022 years ago

Coming from a family which had been campaigning with and and on behalf of aborigines since the 19th Century, Graham, I’m well aware of the existence of problems prior to “P.C.” do-gooders began their new approach to “helping” the indigenous communities.
My awareness includes a knowledge of the tragic situation of Lois O’Donoghue’s sisters, who were left behind and NOT taken to Adelaide. And the fact that Charlie Perkins’ mother actually ASKED that he be “taken away” so that he could have a better life than she could provide him. And the fact that the findings of the initial “Deaths in Custody” enquiry actually found that a slightly higher %age of non indigenous prisoners had died in custody than was the case with indigenous prisoners.
Mind you, in light of the intellectually blinkered Tooth fairy Brigade’s repeated efforts to TELL the indigenous communities that the statistics said otherwise, we shouldn’t be surprised if that has changed now?
Give ANY group a constant message that everyone else is to blame, and the long term effects are disatrous. Perhaps that’s why, when I recently visited a couple of Piliga Scrub timber camps where I worked and lived over four decades ago, no longer were there aboriginal workers who were earning as much as or more than many of their white workmates, and living alongside one another, in similar unpretentious homes.
The aborigines had all moved to near or distant towns. Few were now working, few seemed to have the stable sort of families of the past; but it apparently MUST be an improvement — the P.C. movement couldn’t possibly have had any deleterious impact on their lives, could it?
Then again, Graham possibly knows FAR more about all of this than I could. I should never have listened to people like Jessie Street. They clearly put me on the wrong track.