Redfern Park And Oval: The Beating Heart Of Redfern

April 22nd, 2021 - by Brad Gillespie

Much more than just a local landmark or a place of leisure, Redfern Park and Oval has a long, proud history at the heart of the Redfern community.

Before European settlement

The Gadigal people of the Eora Nation are the traditional owners of the land Redfern Park and Oval stand on. Originally a wetland connected to the Tank Stream, the land has always been of significance to the local Indigenous community and was a key meeting place that once included a corroboree ground.

A very Victorian park

Constructed in the 1880s, Redfern Park was designed by civil engineer Charles O'Neill as a quintessentially Victorian garden. Cricket pitches, garden beds, a bowling green and bandstand were all included in the design. As the years progressed sporting facilities began to dominate, with tennis courts replacing the bowling green, and boxing and baseball thrown into the mix.

Then in the early 20th century came the sport most closely associated with the oval: rugby league.

Home of the Rabbitohs and the All Blacks

Redfern Oval is of course the spiritual home of the mighty Rabbitohs and their fiercely loyal following.

While league first came to the oval in 1911, it wasn’t until 1946 that South Sydney Rugby League Club proposed the oval become its home ground. The council accepted the proposal, and the following year seating was upgraded for fans. Round two of the premiership in 1948 saw the Rabbitohs make their first appearance, against Easts, at their new home ground.

The club remained at Redfern until moving to Sydney Football Stadium in 1988. Redfern, however, remained their training facility. After the Rabbitohs were excluded from the NRL in 1999, they returned in an exhibition match in 2000 to raise funds for the fight to re-join the NRL. That fight was successful, and the oval resumed its role as their training facility.

Redfern Oval is also home to the Redfern All Blacks, a club with a proud history. Begun in 1944, they are the longest-running all-Indigenous club in the country.

‘It begins with a recognition’

Redfern Park and oval were the starting point for one of the largest protests since the Vietnam War. The Long March of Freedom, Justice and Hope began here on 26 January 1988. More than 40,000 people gathered from across the country and marched to Hyde Park to support Indigenous land rights and oppose the celebration of Australia Day.

Then, in December 1992, Prime Minister Paul Keating chose Redfern Park to launch the International Year of the World’s Indigenous People. As part of the launch he gave a speech that would echo through the years.

Delivered to a mostly Indigenous audience, the Redfern Speech was incredibly well-received. Aboriginal leader Patrick Dodson hailed it as “a great speech because it was about leadership, principle and courage ... He placed before Australians the truths of our past and the sad reality of our contemporary society.”

Keating’s speech recognised the failure of Australia’s European settlers “to bring much more than devastation and demoralisation to Aboriginal Australia”. He went on to state that finding solutions to the problems faced by Indigenous Australians begins with recognising the role non-Indigenous Australia has played in those issues. “We failed to ask,” he said, “how I would feel if this were done to me.”

Redfern Park and Oval today

The park continues to serve our increasingly diverse and inclusive area and remains at the heart of Redfern’s Indigenous community. As stated on the Heritage NSW listing for the park, they are a “physical symbol of Aboriginal cultural, political, social and sporting movements which remain as cultural touchstones to teach future generations of Australians”.

To learn more about our wonderful community or to discover properties in the area, call me today.

Photo credits: Wikipedia