me, the road to Redfern was uphill. Baptised Catholic
in infancy, I was at four years of age, handed over
to the nuns, or as Ted more accurately names them, the
“consecrated coolies” so that they, the “token torturers”,
might do their worst with me in the following 13 years
of “mind binding” and un-Christian (but never non-Catholic)
was a spectacular disappointment and subjected to hour
upon hour of banishment from religious education classes
for daring to ask questions. During these times my classmates,
I was reliably informed, had been exhorted to “pray
for that girl”. Their prayers, obviously of the lacklustre
variety, failed to penetrate the walls of heaven. I
left school without becoming a child of Mary because
Reverend Mother had decreed that I would “lose the faith”.
I can see now that she had judged that my baptism was,
as Ted would say “like an inoculation that didn’t take”.
the years went by, I could neither recognize nor reconcile
my understanding of the message of Christianity in and
with the institutional Church, its patriarchal and therefore
exclusionary practices, its hypocrisy and its self serving
clericalism. I decided to leave the Church and told
a friend of my decision. She invited me to come to Redfern
the following Sunday. I went. Seek and ye shall find!
It was there! The Spirit! A blessing without disguise!
It was a wonderful and peaceful place to have come to.
Over the years I have often noticed the emotional reactions
of many people as they are enveloped in the peacefulness
of that place.
outside the Church in Redfern Street, one could not
but be struck by the single word, painted with pertinence
in white, across the outer wall of the Church: “SHAME”.
The somewhat dilapidated building symbolizes the dispossession
and continued marginalization of the indigenous inhabitants
of our land. Whilst their exclusion continues it would
be blasphemous to have our building stand in the midst
of Redfern in any but its present mournful condition.
word “SHAME” has long since been painted out and many
urban Aboriginal people have been driven out to the
metropolitan fringe as the suburb of Redfern has been
gradually gentrified, becoming concomitantly alienating
and the Redfern community have, to me, been the antithesis
of all the orthodoxy and un-wisdom that have so conclusively
alienated many women from the Church. It is here that
orthodoxy is truly tested and challenged by orthopraxis.
Ted asserts that the gospel is in urgent need of liberation.
One could hear a pin drop on any Sunday as he set about
doing just that. He has led and served a dynamic community
that expresses its faith by its commitment to justice
and to resisting the structures and the values that
have served to maintain a status quo that sees the world
catapulting to its destruction.
has been a magnet for many wonderful human beings. How
could it be otherwise with the magnetic Ted at its heart?
Here, I soon found, people are respected because they
are: black, white, young, old, powerful, powerless.
It is a place where one is welcomed in one’s own right
rather than for how one fits in relationship with others.
It is a place where one also experiences the freedom
to be and where all have a voice. On innumerable occasions
I have seen Ted sit down quietly, deferring to those
who have something they wish to say, no matter when
or how they wish to say it. Some years ago, he became
increasingly concerned that the cost of his homilies
was the silencing of the voices of the women of the
community. Thus did some of us women become instant
biblical scholars! My homily may have been delivered
without much acumen (but then again I have heard worse
in places that were not Redfern) but it was nevertheless
imbued with a fervent desire to honour my ancestors
who had throughout their lives been forced to bow their
heads and remain silent in both the public and the private
the years I have shared happy and sad times with Redfern
friends and with them have been able to express faith
and hope through political activities. The “Church picnics”
or pickets outside Richmond Airbase on the first Sunday
of so many months, together with a memorable trip to
Nurungar, despite their serious purpose, had many light
moments and remain amongst my most treasured Redfern
memories. Some of the friends involved in these activities
have moved far away whilst others, both black and white,
have been claimed by death. We were bereft at the illness
and subsequent death in 1998 of Shirley Smith, “Mum
Shirl”, our beloved “Roamin” Catholic”. As she was not
one to commit words to paper, this was the way I preferred
to interpret her self description! Despite the accumulated
grief she bore, there was never a twinkle far from her
eye. Her tireless commitment to the cause of peace and
justice, her big heart and her steadfastness as a friend,
were truly awesome.
Redfern, it hasn’t always been easy to remain Catholic!
During the papal visit of 1986, I was aghast at the
shallow showmanship surrounding the event. I remarked
to Ted that I was nearly not a Catholic. “Oh!” he replied:
“Is it something that drains out of you drop by drop?”
years ago Ted complained that he had forgotten a phone
number that had recently been given to him. He had never
kept a diary or written down a telephone number, instead
committing all to memory. I commiserated with him on
his imminent relegation to the status of mere mortal!
This facetious remark of course belied the reality:
mortal, human, humane, wit, intellect, faithful friend,
bon viveur, railer against injustice, anarchist, liberator,
voice of the voiceless, hater of the “uncharitable works
fund”, St Vincent de Paul “runners”, clericalism and
the Catholic Weekly, empowerer of the powerless, funny,
sad, happy, angry, peaceful, unfit, overweight, loveable,
loving and much loved May Day comrade. How much more
mortal can one be?
has been the place that I go to so that I may be energized
to go from it.
by Anne Webb