Your Street History: Redfern Street, Redfern

September 27th, 2018 - by Brad Gillespie

Redfern Street is home to a diverse community.

Parallel to Cleveland Street, it runs from busy Redfern Station down to Young Street, past Redfern Park.

The street is now known as a commercial and dining hub with a large selection of cafés and restaurants including Coffee Tea and Me, Baffi & Mo, Donut Papi, Fern Street Eatery, Isaac Restaurant and Redfern Continental.

It also has a vibrant history and the Victorian architecture, which lines the street attests to its rich past.

Here’s some background on how this dynamic area came to be.

Pre Settlement

For tens and thousands of years, the territory that Redfern sits on today belonged to the Gadigal People from the Eora tribe. They dwelled in the land that spanned through the southern side of Sydney Harbour, South Head and Petersham. But Redfern was pivotal for them, because the area had an abundant water supply.

In 1789 after the arrival of the first fleet, the Eora people were all but decimated from smallpox pox and conflict with the European Settlers.

The Name

In the early days of the colony, before the area was called Redfern, it was referred to as Roberts Farm and Boxley's Swamp. The suburb and the street were named after William Redfern. Redfern was a surgeon, who took part in a naval mutiny on the Nore and was sent to Australia as a convict in 1801, his medical skills earning him a pardon in 1803.

Redfern received the first medical diploma in the colony and managed the largest medical practice in the region. He was also one of the most crucial emancipists in NSW.

In 1817, Governor Macquarie granted 100 acres of land to Redfern. It was bounded by Cleveland, Regent, Redfern and Elizabeth Streets. The grant was made on the basis that the land was cultivated and not sold for five years.

The Area

William Redfern died in 1833 and the land was left in the trusteeship of Mr Alexander and Captain Pockley. In 1842, Redfern’s grant was subdivided, which was the catalyst for the suburb’s urban growth.

Less than a decade later, the Sydney Slaughterhouse Act meant that abattoirs and noxious trades were banned from the city. This, along with the local water supply, propelled tanners, wool scourers and washers, fellmongers, boiling down works and abattoirs to move to Redfern.

Redfern continued to grow. In 1855, the first railway in the state connected Redfern to Parramatta servicing the 6,500 people living in the suburb.

In 1859, the municipality of Redfern was announced and in 1870, Redfern Town Hall, a Victorian regency-styled building was erected on Pitt Street. The suburb became known as the Borough of Redfern, which remained an independent municipality until 1949.

The area was a hub for market gardeners. In 1885 the Sands Sydney Directory listed 54 market gardens. The demographic of gardeners changed, initially those who worked in the area were of European-Australian descent but by the 1870s the leases in the district were held by marketers who were predominantly Chinese.

Another industry that rapidly expanded was the railway industry. The location of the train station was a drawcard for the locomotive manufacturers and in 1887, the new locomotion motor workshops (now known as Eveleigh No.1 – No. 4) were established.

In 1890 the Municipality of Redfern hosted 450 businesses and Redfern Street became the civic, religious and commercial centre of the area.

Significant Buildings

Closer to the station Redfern Street is more commercial, while the section near the park is home to classic Victorian terraces and 20th-century unit blocks.

Redfern Court House 103 Redfern Street

The Redfern Court House was designed by Government architect WL Vernon and built in 1896. It is a federation-free classical building. At the time it cost 9000 Pounds to complete. The courthouse is now used by the Redfern Community Health Centre.

Redfern Post Office 113 Redfern Street

Redfern Post office was completed in 1883. It’s symbolic of the population boom in the area when the suburb urgently needed better services; it’s been a centre point of the community since.

Architecturally, the building is a unique example of the Victorian Italianate style and the building is a landmark thanks to its four-and-a-half storey clock tower.

St Vincent de Paul Catholic Church Group 117 Redfern Street

St Vincent’s Church is one of the most striking buildings on Redfern Street. The church was built in 1885. In 1902 it became sandwiched between two adjoining Victorian-style houses: St Vincent’s Presbytery and St Vincent’s Convent High School.

The church is still used for services today and has retained many original details such as the Tom Bass altar, granite baptismal font, the granite tabernacle, iron water font, the pews, the mural on the southern wall, and paintings and photographs.

Redfern Park

In 1885, the Burroughs Council of Redfern gazetted 12 acres of land in Redfern as a park. Work began on the project straight away, and the council met requests from community groups for the park to be used for cricket and rugby union.

In 1890, a bowling green and pavilion were added to the park, as was a bandstand and an ornamental fountain donated by John Baptist – which was restored to its original condition in 1991.

The original wrought iron entrance gates to the park can be found on Redfern Street today.

The park is bordered by plantings of Ficcus – three species of which are considered rare.

The park has hosted many sporting teams and has been paramount to community events in the area, hosting sports games, war memorials and speeches.

In 1992 then Prime Minister Paul Keating gave his famous Redfern Speech at the park. He talked about the tumultuous history of the Indigenous Australians in the area with the conclusion: "There is one thing today we cannot imagine. We cannot imagine that the descendants of people whose genius and resilience maintained a culture here through 50,000 years or more, through cataclysmic changes to the climate and environment, and who then survived two centuries of dispossession and abuse, will be denied their place in the modern Australian nation."

If you’re looking to buy or sell in Redfern contact our team today.