Local Landmark: Redfern Station

January 19th, 2024 - by Brad Gillespie

Redfern Station is one of Sydney's busiest train stations, with almost all of Sydney’s train lines running through it.

Home to 12 platforms, it was heritage listed in 1999.

How did the name Redfern come about?

Before colonisation, Redfern was home to the Gadigal people, who found an abundant food supply in its sand hills and swamps.

Like the suburb, Redfern Station takes its name from William Redfern, a prominent ex-convict, surgeon and emancipist in the early colony.

Originally a surgeon’s mate in the British navy, Redfern was tried for mutiny. He was sentenced to death before being transported to NSW, where he worked as a surgeon’s assistant. Here, he built a strong reputation and is widely regarded as the “father of Australian medicine”.

In 1817, Redfern was granted 40 hectares (or 100 acres) in what we now know as Redfern, where he built what was then considered a country house, on land that roughly stands between where Cleveland, Regent, Redfern and Elizabeth Streets are today.

A changing name and location

Confusingly, Redfern Station has not always been in its current location.

The original Redfern Station was actually built in 1855 and pre-dated Central station as the city’s first railway terminus. It was situated in what was then “Cleveland Paddocks”, a remnant of which remains today as Prince Alfred Park.

The original station consisted of just one wooden platform and a corrugated iron shed. In 1874, it was replaced by a larger brick and stone building with two platforms.

The station we know today as Redfern existed, but was a few hundred metres away from its current location and was called Eveleigh (after a nearby home). It had opened in 1876 but in 1885 its platforms were reconstructed.

After the new Central Station was finished in 1906, Eveleigh Station was renamed Redfern Station, and the nearby railway workshops were renamed Eveleigh.

How did Redfern station become Heritage listed?

Redfern Station is credited as being designed by John Whitton and built by the Department of Railways.

Whitton served as Engineer-in-Charge for the New South Wales Government Railways from 1856 to 1890 and was responsible for 3,494 km of railway being established around New South Wales and Victoria.

However, the station we know today is not one singular style, and wasn’t built in one particular era, but many.

A waiting room, office and storeroom on Platform 1 were erected in 1884, to Whitton’s original designs.

The iconic overhead booking office on Lawson Street was erected in 1892 and built of brick in a Federation Queen Anne style.

The Lawson Street Overbridge was completed in 1891 while many other station buildings on platforms 1 to 10 were built in 1912. The Eastern Suburbs Railway occupies platforms 11 and 12 and wasn’t erected until 1979, with other additions made in 1999.

In 1999, Redfern Station was heritage listed due to its age and contribution to the growth of surrounding suburbs.

The hidden secrets of Redfern station

Redfern station contains two secret platforms that were never finished, located above the current platforms 11 and 12.

These platforms, number 13 and 14, were built around 1960 as planned extensions that never proceeded with unfinished tunnels also running north and south from this section of the station.

Passengers standing on platform 1 may notice four brick ventilation air vents or chimneys. These come from an engine dive line that runs underneath the station, and allowed steam engines to travel from Central station to the Eveleigh Railway Workshops.

Gateway to the city

Since the day it opened passengers have complained about the state of Redfern Station. In 1927, newspapers reported on “undesirable conditions”. This has led to many upgrades and changes occurring over the station’s long history.

According to the Australian Railway Historical Society (ARHS), Redfern is second only to Central Station in the number of platforms and trains that serve the station. It’s also one of the largest stations in NSW in terms of passenger volume, with 2018 figures revealing 62,300 passengers pass through daily.

The AHRS also argues Redfern station plays an important and symbolic role in the city, as a “gateway”, noting it was historically the divider between the Eveleigh rail workshops and the public lines.

Redfern Station today

As one of the main landmarks in Redfern, the station has also played an important role as a meeting place for its large Aboriginal community, and a focal point in the fight for Aboriginal rights which came out of Redfern from the 1970s. The station was also damaged during the 2004 Redfern Riots.

As part of a redevelopment in 2018, Sydney Trains worked with Balarinji and the local Redfern Aboriginal community to develop public artwork. More artwork will be commissioned for the opening of the North Eveleigh Precinct.

Recent upgrades to Redfern Station have, finally, made its platforms more user-friendly and accessible. This is the first stage of the Redfern North Eveleigh Precinct Renewal, which will give Redfern Station yet another role to play in our city’s evolution.

Read more about the changing face of Redfern and the North Eveleigh Precinct here.

If you’re interested in making Redfern your home, contact us today.