Saturday, February 24, 2024
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEWS ABOUT THE BLOCK – 2002
15 April 2002
Paul Morris is originally from Kempsey. He is a proud father of three children, Paul, Jordan and Brittany. He has been coming to The Block since he was a kid and he is thirty-two this year.
We are in Holden Street and we are going to talk to Paul Morris about some of his memories to do with the Block. He has just come here to share some of his stories and memories to do with his experiences here on the Block.
I have seen The Block change, go through many stages from bad to good to good to bad. At this point in my life, I am struggling with some issues of my own and hopefully in the future, I will address them and become a better person.
In what way is it worse?
Paul Morris: Oh as far as community and drug culture and all the side effects of all the drug culture. I would have to say that the community is not what it used to be. There are more divisions in the community and a lot of that has got to do with families looking after themselves instead of focusing on the community as a whole. A new wave of drugs and disease that has come into the community. There is a lot of division here. They are all more focused on their own families and their own needs rather than the community as a whole. There has got to be a lot of healing around here if people are to get back to that community focus.
What is a particular story or memory that you remember that sort of describes the Block as a community, or being as a community.
Paul Morris: Probably one of the biggest turning points in my life was being at the 1988 march when Aboriginal people from all over Australia, and a lot of non-Aboriginal people, came to Redfern and we marched into the city. That was a real feeling of togetherness. I think we could achieve something if people do focus on everyone as a whole instead of their own families and their own needs.
Do you know exactly why the Block is called ‘the Block’? I mean a lot of listeners probably don’t understand that term or what it refers to. What is the Block?
Paul Morris: A lot of that has probably come from the police I would say. It goes without saying they used to call this the Block, or The Fern, or The Mish, as long as I can remember. Only lately now has it sort of got out into the media and everyone sort of knows it as being this little square down here of Vine Street and Eveleigh and Caroline, around that area, Hugo Street. That is about it I suppose.
Why did you end coming here? How did you end up being on the Block? Why would you choose to live here, or come here, or whatever you do?
Paul Morris: Well I grew up in Kempsey and I always visited here, my family is here, my father’s people are here. My grandmother is Joyce Ingram. I moved down here at the end of 1986 to look for work and play rugby league and just looking for a different side of life than country life. Yes it was mainly to look for work. When I came to Redfern it opened my eyes to a lot of things, meeting people like Max Silva and Kevin Smith and Shane Phillips, people who are a different type of person to people you’d meet in your home town in the country. It just opened my eyes to a lot of things. A bit more community-focused I suppose. I saw another side of life. Yes so I came down more or less to escape the country and come down here and find work and sort of improve myself in a lot of areas.
When you were in Kempsey what sort of impression did you have of the Block? I mean what does Kempsey know about the Block?
Paul Morris: Oh Kempsey and Redfern they’ve got a lot of strong connections from a lot of families. Like I always in my head pictured the Block, when I was younger, a place to party, a place to play football and meet other people. Now I sort of look at it as being a haven for alcoholics and drug addicts. A lot of the community spirit is not there any more. That is something that is a phase that Redfern is going through I think and it is going to take a lot of time to change it. I am not saying that a lot of the people who sell drugs or use drugs are wrong, they’ve got their own problems to deal with. It is just going to take a lot of time, education and money to change the way people think about what is going on now. At the same time, I’m not perfect either, I’ve done a lot of wrong things in my life too.
Can you pinpoint one thing that is needed to make say the Block a better place. What’s the one thing that might be needed to generate some movement in a positive direction?
Paul Morris: It is like all other Aboriginal communities, missions and what not, people grow up somewhere like here in Redfern, they get educated, they get a good job and they move away. Instead of running from their problem they should stay here and generate more interest in what they do for the younger kids, give the kids something to look up to and be proud of. Try to change the community. If they are going to run to another area everyone is going to run there with them and it is just going to go through the same cycle. Aboriginal people have got to start thinking laterally, start thinking twenty and thirty years down the track where their community is going to be, otherwise we will continually be going through these cycles and have nothing. It is not community-focused any more it is just individuals and families and people are just worrying about themselves and I don’t blame them in many instances.
It is hard to change it back to what it used to be. You get somebody who is selling drugs and earning $2,000, $3,000 a week? How is he going to go back to earning $400 a week? What can you do to change that? How are people expected after living the high life to then go back to $400 a week? They are used to that lifestyle. I don’t blame them for selling drugs, most of them, that’s their way of survival. What is there for them? The ambitions people have got today are not the same ambitions I had, it just changes with the generations. Today there is a bigger drug culture. I mean women and drugs. Going out in flash cars. How are they going to change all that?
You couldn’t change just one thing. Things have to be tackled from all angles. I am terrified for my kids, and they are only babies, where are they going to be in twenty years? By that time, Hep C and AIDS will be rampant in the communities. What chance have they got?
Certainly sounds like something has to be done straight away, if not years ago, anyway.
Paul Morris: You’ve got all these community-based organisations that are there to do a specific job but they cannot do it alone, they’ve got to do it all together, a co-ordinated effort from everywhere. People in twenty years time will look back and say they should have done this, should have done that. Now is the time to change, not wait until something happens. People can see what is going to happen they just don’t stick their neck out any more.
There seems to be a real influence, or something the Block has, because generally a lot of people are drawn here. Would you agree with that? Why are people drawn to coming to the Block?
Paul Morris: Like I say it is a haven for all Aboriginal people. At the same time a lot of Aboriginal people are scared to come here because of the images they see on TV. But to me this is home. When I first came here there were a lot of different communities here from all over the place. Now there is what you could say is a second generation of people here. Everyone knows one another now, and there is a bit more closeness in some areas. But at the same time there is a lot of separation too. I just see this place as a safe haven for all Aboriginal people. I mean everyone is welcome here. Redfern, how can you describe it? I feel safer here than I would anywhere in Sydney. At times there is a real sense of community when there is trouble. The experiences I had here I wouldn’t change them, especially a lot of the community stuff. The march I was talking about earlier and the football and the work I’ve done in the community-based organisations. Just the friendship that is here at times.
Just a bit of a dark cloud with the drug thing.
Paul Morris: Only now. There is a lot more to it than the drug thing, but to me it plays a major part because I see it every day and it affects me directly because of my family. I have seen a lot of people go to gaol. What is this doing for the next generation. Our next generation might be, and excuse me for the French, that drug-fucked that they might not be able to recover. It has got to be this generation that makes that difference, they can’t rely on the next generation. The drugs are just rampant, and a new junkie is born just about every day. One dealer goes away, another comes along.
We’ve got to educate our kids more. That sort of plays a major part in my thinking. At the same time I have got to lead by example too, in some areas. By not going out drinking and not smoking cigarettes and not smoking ‘yarndy’. It starts with the individual, then family groups and the community. It has got to change.
Redfern is about much more than just this. I am sure in the late 1960s and early 1970s when people first started coming here if they thought it was going to be like this thirty years down the track they would have made a change. People want to think another thirty years down the track, what’s it going to be like then. People have got to make changes, they’ve got to make sacrifices. There are people that bring drugs and trouble to this community a lot, and people have got to stand up and get rid of them, move them out or straighten them up or it’s never going to change.
I suppose traditionally the elders were responsible to clean up the community, or keep it clean I suppose, I don’t know.
Paul Morris: There is disease. It is all hidden now but ten years down the track you will see the side effects of it all. At the same time Redfern is a good place and hopefully this is just sort of a phase it is going through, hopefully things will change.
The Block won’t die?
Paul Morris: I don’t think it will but I’ve got a feeling, just like everything, they will try to split the community up. They’ve already done that in parts. You’ve got your community people who live in the area and you’ve got the people who are coming to work, they’ve all got their own opinions and they are entitled to them. There are some people who are motivated by money. Other people have hidden agendas and stuff. Aboriginal people should be more out in the open, straight up with one another and decide their own future instead having people in the background dictating to them.
There is just a lot of healing to be done. You can’t point in one area and say this is the problem, you’ve got to look at things holistically. It is going to take years. It has taken years to get to this point, it is going to take years to change it. But as long as we are moving in the right direction and people start standing up and force the change, you can’t let it happen and we’ve got to start forcing the issues, I am sure we will head in the right direction.
A lot of the times people ignore our younger people, not educating them properly, getting them involved in community issues. I feel that more people should be involved and a lot of people should be involved in decision-making.
What sort of positive things are happening at the moment that might turn it around? Is there anything that you know of to share?
Paul Morris: Positive? That’s hard. Positive things on the Block at the moment. Well when you see people walking up and down off their heads every day of the week it is very hard to find a positive. Like we’ve got our rugby league team still here, still surviving, Redfern All Blacks. We’ve got the CDEP, that is the Work for the Dole Scheme. We’ve got The Settlement.
What sort of work do they do?
Paul Morris: Oh I haven’t been involved with them for a long time, but they clean the place up and make it look a bit respectable. Appearance does count for a lot and it is good that people do get out and start cleaning the place up. We’ve got The Settlement for the kids, there are a lot of educational programmes down there. We’ve got Tony Mundine’s gym, there’s a bit of resurgence there.With Anthony Mundine training there, it has picked up a lot.
It is hard to point to a real positive, like a true positive, because things to me, I see them as being half done all the time. I don’t mean to sound down on a lot of people, but I find it hard to believe we have these people in organisations that are on huge wages, that don’t stick their neck out for their own community. We still have a few elders around the place that try to give our younger people a bit of pride. It is pretty hard to point to true positive, something. We have got our church groups around here too that are doing their best and they help a lot. What else have we got here? I can’t find much more. This project it is an esteem building for some.
Oh, the Redfern Residents?
Paul Morris: Yes. That is about the only positives I can find around at the moment. I’ll have to think a bit harder. Like to me when I first came down here Redfern represented a lot of hope, like ambition, not just with work but with sport and community. It has been known around here. People haven’t got that, they’ve lost this ambition. I don’t know if Aboriginal people are supposed to have ambition the same as non-Aboriginal people, but I’ve always had my goals. You know to own a car, a house and what not. But Redfern represented a different way of life.
When I look back on it now a lot of goods sportsmen have come through here. A lot of strong leaders. Today you look at it and you don’t see any of that. You barely see people looking after themselves. It is sad but it is true. People can’t keep avoiding the issues, we have to stand up and start to make changes. The main thing we have to understand our own impression. When we understand that and deal with ourselves things will change. I believe we can go back to what Redfern used to be, it is just going to take a while. It is going to take a lot of people to stick their necks out and force change. It is just like that old saying, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. Now we’ve got to drag that horse to the water and make him drink. We can’t just let things cruise the way they are. People have got to start standing up.
Me saying all this, I’m not completely innocent of contributing. I went through my earlier years and I was just like everyone else. It has just taken me a long time to wake up. When people took me under their wing that’s when I really started to change, when I could see other people did care. Outside of my family too. That sort of made me wake up and think these people do care about me. That’s when I really started changing. I went to university and I’ve got a Grad. Dip. now. I’ve got a good job. In some ways it is good to be seen as a role model, but I don’t want that to burden me, not yet. At the moment I feel I just need to work to get myself financially set before I can turn around and start helping others.
Just visually how has The Block changed since the 1980s? Fifteen, twenty years ago, visually over time?
Paul Morris: A lot of buildings have been knocked down. There is more graffiti, there’s more rubbish, a lot of needles. The people have slowly gone back to where they came from or moved on to other areas. It is a shell of what it used to be. When I looked at The Block I didn’t really look at the buildings, I just looked at the people who were there, that sort of made it more for me.
Were there a lot more people then?
Paul Morris: Every house was overcrowded just about. It was good because you didn’t know everyone and it was good to get out and meet everyone. There were always people coming and going and it was good to meet people from other areas. When you travelled away, you always knew someone in that town and they would welcome you to their place. That was a good thing about the Block in the earlier days. Outside of my children, the 1988 march would probably be one of the biggest turning points that started here in Redfern, that really gave me something I had never had before. It gave me spirit, I suppose you could call it that, or belief in my own people.
I was just wondering if you had anything really humorous or a funny experience that you might want to share that you can remember, way back or recently. Something that could only happen to you because you were on the Block.
Paul Morris: The funniest person on the Block is my grandma [Joyce Ingram]. I don’t know. As old as she is she will still stand there and argue with any one and the things that come out of her mouth you could fall over laughing. I went to a meeting one day and she got into an argument with this lady and there were swear words flying everywhere. I couldn’t believe it of my grandmother. She is probably the strongest woman I know, or person. She would sum up everything, she’s funny. This is only to me, that’s my opinion. She has done a lot around here for a lot of people. People that no one wants anything to do with.
She has probably been the biggest influence on me. People like her and Ali Golding and a few of the other people around The Block, I can’t name them at the moment, they represent the hope that they have around here. People like Daniel and a few of the younger people that are going places, that don’t leave The Block, they are the ones that represent hope and give people a bit more ambition. Alex Tui, even though he is not an Aboriginal, we own him as our own and he represents a lot of hope around here for the kids and for the adults, the men and the women.
There is that good element here in Redfern. Unless we all give up this ‘move away', this place will go to nothing. I have to say my grandmother, and I don’t want to brag because she is my grandmother, but I would say she represents everything about The Block. She looks after the people no one wants anything to do with, even her own family. She has always go a kind word to say to people. I say you would call her a bit of a counsellor around here. That’s the thing that makes them stand out, that they always find that goodness in the worst possible situation and that makes them really stand out. They are always concentrating on the good and not the bad, and that is what makes them stand out in my mind. At the same time they’re not perfect either. I am sure a lot of people will try to tell you that too.
Redfern represented a lot of hope for some people and that hope might come back, but it is going to take a lot of hard work and a lot of money and a lot of educating people. You could name just about everything I would say. When I look back on the early years I don’t know whether they were good because I was young and silly, but when I look back on that that was a good time. But having kids and having responsibility really changed that for me and I’ve had to settle down and find work and that was really hard.
I work at Prince Alfred Hospital now, and every student I get under me I always bring them to The Block. I always give them a first hand look at what Aboriginal people go through in this area. I have never ever been ashamed of The Block and what’s happened here, but most of the things, I see it for what it is. I don’t want to imagine it as something it’s not. I am straight up, I just see things that are real in front of me not the things that are pretend. That’s about all I can say at this moment.
That’s great Paul, thanks for sharing with us.
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