of my earliest memories of Redfern date from the late
70s. They include meeting Aborigines camped around small
fires all night, in the Presbytery backyard, with accompanying
noise followed by a contrasting calm in the mornings.
“More than individual Aborigines, you will become acquainted
with many of the relations as well', said Christine
Smith on introducing me to the Redfern scene. Mum Shirl
and Br Tom Hammerton, shortly after, were supervising
cooked meals. An Aboriginal man was declaring that he
had fought in WWII for Australia.
I'm not sure whether he was part of the “Black Theatre”
Ted's homilies and this community interaction both seemed
to “hit the mark” for me concerning an involvement in
Christianity lived “at its roots”. I was buoyed by Ted's
recurrent themes: conscience, being perfect in compassion,
personal involvement with disadvantaged persons... all
these supported me, and they instigated movement outwards
to Wilcannia and Land Rights issues. There was also
the informal inner city network of houses run by “Women
with Redfern connections”: Forbes, Hordern, Alice,
& Queen Sts, (Newtown),
Caroline, Wells, Abercrombie & Walker Sts (Chipp,
Redfern & Stanmore - not to mention further afield
& other towns – e.g. Mittagong). The “network” had
the Redfern community link in common, each could visit
the other's set-up, and it worked to provide the personal-hospitality
touch to Aboriginal acquaintances who probably knew
Shirl epitomised Ted's words in action. With an absolute
sense of equality, she would talk to anyone. As I became
one of her regular drivers, and we visited Long Bay
and Bathurst, Parramatta and Broken Hill gaols together,
I experienced her straight and well-meant talk, at times
telling the wardens “hoff” (as she did bishops and her
own people if she thought it would do some good). Once
she was handed a key by a new Long
warden, suggesting that she lock her bag up for safety.
Immediately she handed it back saying, “I've been coming
here for 50 years!” and proposing, in colourful style,
that he jump in the locker and lock himself up. At Bathurst,
all the Kooris were already seated in the courtyard
awaiting Mum Shirl's approach up the drive - on the
Wardens’ presumption that they all wanted to see her.
“They just got us all out here to wait for her arrival”,
reported one of them. Not curtailed to gaol visits however,
Mum Shirl covered the country for many a diverse and
particular purpose. She was down at Melbourne
listening to Daniel Berrigan, at Pine Gap for an Anti-Bases
Protest, launching her “Tug” namesake in Newcastle,
and at many seminars. We often took her “grandchildren”
Lawrence, Kenny, Melanie, Belinda and Natalie swimming
Those were the days.
There was Sister Ursula who played the organ and was
very well respected for her other activities as well.
Helen Regan is an accomplished guitarist and singer;
with Sr Pat, she has been very constant and faithful
to the task of providing a musical liturgy so well selected
and played over all these years and we have always appreciated
it Kevin Hunt, of course, and Peter Kearney, have added
professional touches; Peter compositions speak very
much of and to the Redfern scene and to Australia. Helen
is as supportive to the Cana Community. Because Ted
allowed for an interplay of charisms from anyone “on
the floor” in the form of a prayer or recognition, many
a heartfelt comment has been poignantly uttered or sung
through Redfern served to platform important causes.
I have been deeply grateful that Aboriginal Deaths in
Custody notices could be aired and be received welcomingly.
At times, I was following in the footsteps of others,
such as Denis Doherty and his many Peace Movement announcements:
Anti-bases, Pine Gap, Nurrungar, Palm Sunday and Hiroshima
Day Rallies. More recently, messages are given about
forthcoming talks, “street Masses” & donations of
food and clothes for East Timor, Bougainville, Sri Lanka,
asylum-seekers solidarity vigils, and supporting, say,
Pax Christi -Buddhist Fellowship or other groups” work.
it seems there has been a degree of variety as far as
liturgies are concerned. Volunteers arise for special
occasions and there will be a whiz-bang one. Some I
remember are the Easter 2000 Liturgy, featuring, on
Good Friday, strong references and photos related both
to Aboriginal Massacres and to those many wars in which
more than 100,000 people were killed. That Good Friday,
who can forget Glenn cast as Jesus, and that Easter
Day, lsobel, Lizzy, Leanne and Mariah danced “Celebrate',
while Kevin Hunt played keyboard.
and Thelma enacted another beautifully touching Good
Friday ceremony arranged by Sr Leonie this year. Whatever,
liturgies have been an Integrated celebration of the
life and breath of our community. Weddings and many
Aboriginal funerals have made Redfern “sacred ground'.
Some “off the top of my head” were; Fr Ted “married”
us, with Denis as best man, Vernon,
Kenny and Lawrence
as altar servers, Mum Shirl in attendance and many invitees.
memorable weddings - Denis and Hannah (Middleton), Katy
& Paul, Tom Hammerton & Jan MacNamara, Maggie
and Peter, Kerry and Geoff, Robert and Thelma.
Wayney West, Patricia, Dicko, Uncle Leo, Archie, Harold,
and John Jones, Sr Veronica. The community has stood
as a block with Fr Ted over solidarity with Aboriginal
issues, reconciliation, measures of rightful ownership
to Aborigines and the Medical Centre - an ongoing business.
strong interactions with other faiths has been enriching.
A series of various priests and speakers on Sundays
has proved that the community is independently alive
and well. The tradition of Scripture discussion on Friday
and Mass on Saturday evenings also serves to help me
in preparation for a Communion Service at Rozelle
and at Boarding Houses. In short, the Redfern Community
has been, and continues to be, a central wellspring
in my life.
by Frank Vavasour