first knew Ted before he came to Redfern, so I would
like to begin back in Neutral
sometime in the early 1970s, not long before he left
to go to Redfern. My sister and her husband used to
go to the Neutral
church and it sounded interesting. At that time I was
ecclesiastically peripatetic, trying out one church
after another in search of I really didnít know what.
But nothing really prepared me for Neutral
I had grown up in a church where the first half of the
sermon was a sustained beratement on the lousy collection
last week followed by a tedious rehash of the gospel.
When I first went to Neutral
I remember feeling completely stupid as uncontrollable
tears gushed out at the sheer beauty of the sermons.
Tedís capacity to pull together insights from psychology,
sociology, theology (especially liberation theology),
history and, of course, poetry to interpret the gospels
I found to be quite a heady concoction. Added to which
there was art and music. Tedís voice, usually soaring
a few registers above what most of us could do comfortably,
but sonorous and inspiring. And the trumpet. Iíve forgotten
who the trumpet player was but from the back of the
church that instrument sang its sweet and strong melody.
There was a sense of being fully alive, engaged, grounded.
One other memory from there is the dinners. I only went
to one or two but they were extraordinary events where
a very modest contribution from participants, coupled
with a working bee from a few, meant that an affordable
feast was provided to which a guest speaker was invited.
The first one I went to was one of the Aarons, then
Secretary of the Communist Party of NSW, whose manifest
sense of social justice opened my middle class catholic
eyes to interesting connections across factions and
then Redfern. I donít think I came to Redfern immediately
but at some point I was living in Cleveland
Surry Hills making Redfern a place that was on my doorstop.
I recall the throngs of people in the presbytery on
one side and the Mercy convent on the other. Bossy and
big-hearted Iggy (Sr Ignatius) and Shirley (Smith) ruled
that place. For the first few years the other priests
John Butcher and Fergus shared something of the same
vision as Ted, but Tedís sermons remained distinctive
for their challenges, depth and reflectiveness. Karen
Donaldson and her brother Chris and his wife Anne were
regulars. Ann Daniel was a regular for a while. Tom
Hamilton was always there making himself useful in some
way. Joan and Miriam, of course, and Marie Grunke who
returns now again from New
So too Pat Durnan and Dennis Doherty. Somewhere in the
mess that is referred to as my photographic collection,
are prints of an Aboriginal wedding reception in the
old convent. I vividly recall those faces, and many
more, but, given that I can even forget a friendís name
at the very moment when an introduction to a third party
is in order, it is little wonder that many of the names
of blacks and whites are lost in my grey matter! Redfern
was in part a refuge for the homeless and a magnet for
others wanting in some small way to make a difference.
I was also a site of an increasingly articulate and
disturbing theology informed by Tedís very direct and
impassioned engagement with the Aboriginal people. Every
mealy-mouthed churchy value that had been instilled
in me since childhood was blown away. In its place was
a radical, confronting, and compelling theology that
connected the words and practice of Christ with Indigenous
culture often mediated by artistsĒ reflections on life.
Gerard Manly Hopkins as much as Les Murray were brought
alive in the sermons, framed by Peter Kearneyís music
Ė sometimes offset by exquisite choral music sung by
Peter Hidden and others - and all in a setting where
the run-down St Vincentís was centred on an altar carved
and tinted by Tom Bass.
late 1970s was a time of activism with frequent Land
Rights demonstrations; of routine police brutality outside
the Empress Hotel; of optimism as seen in the establishment
of Murrawina for Aboriginal women and children, and
the refurbishment of Everleigh
under the Aboriginal Housing Co-Operative. Just into
was Black Theatre where Justine Saunders memorably played
in the Bob Mazaís The Cake Man and where the black American,
Carol, worked with the Aboriginal and Islander Dance
Troupe before later helping to set up the now internationally-famous
Bangarra. This moment of Aboriginal ferment within Redfern
cannot be imagined without people like Chicka Dixon,
Shirley Smith, Lennie, Maureen and Leila Watson, the
Coes, the Bellears and others. Ted embraced it, as much
for its own social justice goals as for the insights
to be gained theologically.
to know Ted did not only happen at Redfern. Tedís grandparents
had lived in the old gold-mining town of Araluen,
between Braidwood and Moruya, and for a while the old
cottage became a drying out centre for urban blacks.
I recall mooching around there by day, and chatting
after dinner under the starry skies or trying to allay
fears of people spooked by the ghosts of the nearby
cemetery, eventually falling asleep in the old barn.
After this venture petered out, I returned to Araluen
on various occasions with Ted and a few others. In the
morning thick clouds settled into all the crevices in
the valley transforming the valley into a Chinese landscape
best viewed from the dunny up the hill from the house.
By evening the mountains turned black green against
the setting sun as the evening breeze wended its way
up the valley from Moruya. The sighing casaurinas along
the river bank, and the heady perfume of the peaches
for which the town was by then best known, always provided
the background to some minor repairs and great dinners
was on such occasions with Ted outside of Redfern that
other qualities became clear. His invitation to be poor
in spirit was never a sack cloth and ashes thing: because
he would fight for social justice didnít mean he couldnít
enjoy a superb bottle of wine. Or that he couldnít pick
a property with potential: I recall driving around the
inner west with Ted at the wheel pointing out little
real estate jewels waiting to be discovered by first-time
investors. Personal, specific and focussed though his
attention has been to each of us, black or white, his
unwavering and singular commitment has always been to
the rights of Aboriginal people. To embrace Aboriginal
people did not mean renouncing who he is: Tedís delving
into his own Irish roots enhanced his capacity to understand,
as it were, tribal allegiance. To know our own roots
means that we can talk on the level with those who have
never forgotten their own. When we know who we are we
do not need to wear masks Ė of priest, mother, professional
something-or-other Ė we can be who we are, loved and
loving others simply for who they are.
times moved on. As our family increased and there was
always another set of little feet running around the
church, Ted never seemed to be bothered or distracted
by interruptions. He learnt to look up at some detail
on the window or ceiling opposite the altar to focus
his thoughts and attention. Having said that, it is
also true that he would happily relinquish his train
of thought if an Aboriginal had something to say.
the eighties and nineties, lots of changes happened
at Redfern. The soup kitchen ceased, various priests
and brothers married and moved on. The convent got demolished,
the presbytery was boarded up, Ted moved into the old
sacristy when he wasnít at Burrawang or Araluen, and
the congregation saw new faces augmented by what seemed
like half of Sydney at Christmas and Easter when some
of the many whose lives had been touched by Ted made
it to midnight mass. Ted never missed an opportunity
to ensure that we would leave the church profoundly
challenged by gospel brought alive by reflections on
contemporary Australian and global issues. As a Redfern
regular, however, I didnít limit myself to Christmas
and Easter: I found just about every sermon inspirational.
Indeed, often in the final years of my long-drawn out
PhD, I would head to the university from Redfern to
write, and many was the time I found myself thinking
differently about my own research project as a result
of Tedís ideas, his ways of thinking, and, of course,
his discerning heart.
refused to make a song and dance about mainstream catechetical
activities such as preparation for First Communions,
Confirmations etc. He understood these sacraments as
part of the birthright of all Christians and as such
available to us all no matter how comprehending or uncomprehending
of their significance. So when people asked for first
communions for themselves or their children, he would
happily concede without further ado. For Ted, the Christian
church had to show love and acceptance, not regulations
and denials. I suspect each of us who goes to Redfern
has felt personally the benefit of unconditional love.
We are all welcome no matter how paltry or selfish.
Such unconditional acceptance is profoundly liberating.
Redfern today has a special quality it is because of
Shirley Smith and Ted Kennedy. They attracted creative
and conscientious people from all walks of life. They
showed how an intense engagement with the here and now
could illuminate and be illuminated by the gospels.
They created a setting where justice and creativity
ignite the spirit.
suppose the most important feeling that returns to me
as I recall the last thirty something years has been
the complete sense of acceptance and love that Ted has
shown us all. It was as if you, Ted, didnít see our
inadequacies. A fledgling idea always takes wing and
gains strength with you. Always a visionary, you have
been driven by big ideas not petty manoeuvres and I
have always felt that you kindly mistook the same attributes
in me, seeing good where others, and I certainly, might
have seen mediocrity. An active listener, you so often
seem to affirm ideas, yet in the process enlarge and
enrich them. For your faith in me and your abiding love,
I am deeply grateful.
by Catherine De Lorenzo