Saturday, February 24, 2024
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEWS ABOUT THE BLOCK
12 February 2007
Sharon Hickey, aged fifty one, has many childhood memories of the Block. As an adult, she worked for thirty years in government departments and in the community sector, and completed a Master’s degree in Social Ecology. She has returned home.
Thank you for meeting me and talking about the Block. Can you tell me your early memories of the Block?
Well, my early memories of the Block probably go back to when I was about five years old in 1959. In the Block in Louis Street, I had many aunties that I used to visit in Eveleigh Street and Vine Street, and my grandmothers used to all live in Caroline and Hugo Streets. My sister also lived there, she was seventeen when she had her first son in 1969, and I went to live with her. My father did as well. My mother was born in Abercrombie Street in 1928 and she lived in a house with her mother and my Granny.
Could you tell me what your family name is and where they come from originally?
My family originally comes from Redfern, and as far as I can trace, my blood line goes directly to Sarah Waters. Her mother was Madoo. I am fifth generation of the tribe from this area, originally from Botany. Sarah Waters was registered with Native Title. She never spoke English and practised the old ways until she passed away at 161 Lawson Street in 1945. My mother has a five generation photo taken in Caroline Street in 1945.
That is great to have that record.
There is concrete information about my family that dates back to1870 in Redfern.
And are there elders within the family line?
I still have the elders who still practise. We have a meeting at Singleton where the elders get together. We still practise the old ways. I have noticed since I have been back home [that] my family in Redfern have slipped away from the old practice.
Can you describe the life that you held in terms of the practice of your culture alongside the changes that have been going on around the neighbourhood at the time, the changes that you have seen?
I was born in Crown Street in 1955. My father was born in Newtown. He rests at Botany with three of my brothers and also with my tribal nana, Sarah Waters. Botany is linked to my spirituality and history. I am the niece of Athol Lester [her mother’s brother] who was involved in the 1967 Referendum, while he was still living in Redfern.
...like, it is in your blood?
It is in my blood. One of the things I want to tell you since coming back and having a strong connection to this community, I walked around this place for two years with my feet touching every memory that I walked past. Every street has a memory. The Block, they call it ‘the Block’, it was never called the Block in my days.
What was it called then?
It was called 'Community'. It was a gathering place. If they came to the city, they would go down and visit my Aunty Joyce. They knew the spot to go to, it was like a gathering place, a meeting place. That is all it ever was. But what happened was this new word they called 'the Block' comes from this new generation who have come into Redfern. But it was never called that, it was called Community. People walked through and out all the time and that is what you loved. I went to school with most of the kids who used to live down in Eveleigh Street.
Where did you go to school?
Arncliffe Girls’ High. I went to Newtown Primary. I went to school with a lot of people in this community. This word, ‘the Block’ is only a new beginning and it has separated the community, because those people who live down there, those new people who have come in, aren’t the original people. A lot of them are coming from different nations, different places, and they have come with their beliefs and practices that are causing a lot of confusion in this community because their beliefs and practices are not the same as those of the original people.
Do you think it is still possible to achieve that consensus and harmony?
Absolutely, absolutely when you bring the truth --- one of the practices of our culture is: you don’t invade another man’s land because you are given the responsibility of caring for it, the environment.
What steps do you think your family and people who really have the right heart could take to restore the situation to its original place?
Give it back to the original people. I tell you when I was a child and the original people were running this place, it was beautiful. You could walk the streets at night and go for long walks because they brought harmony and they demanded it. They would not tolerate this abusive behaviour. We had uncles, we had strong uncles in this community, strong men that wouldn’t tolerate [such behaviour]. My family have been living in Redfern for a long, long time before anyone else here. I have the history and the spiritual connection. Return to the care of the original people and they will bring harmony.
Housing has always been a problem, hasn’t it? I remember years ago when they started demolishing the houses in Louis Street, Aunty Joyce rang me up at work and said, ‘Oh they are here, what do we do now?’ I said, ‘Aunty Joyce I’m not Aboriginal, We can support you but you have got to have the support of all the other people in your community.’ I said.
The thing with Aunty Joyce is, she is eighty-four now and she is exhausted but she hasn’t lost the fire in her belly and she knows she has to keep fighting. I believe this is one of the reasons my family, my elders have brought me home because Aunty Joyce has been trying to stop this abuse, this deterioration, this cyclone, I call it, a cyclone that has come through this beautiful community. Do you know [that] we used to be friends with all different nationalities here? Even the shops around here, they are so disrespectful to me. I’m not disrespectful to them, but their experience of the behaviour of others confuse them. We are told that Aboriginal people are caring and sharing, and yet I don’t experience it in Redfern. It does not exist here.
So the culture isn’t practised any more?
The culture is not practised.
It still exists?
It exists very strongly. Very strong in lots of other tribes. But sometimes one of the things people need to know is, a lot of people [who] arrive in Redfern have been ‘outcasted’ from their families, ‘outcasted’ out of their tribe, because of their behaviour. So they come to Redfern and they set up business. If you ask them, ‘Where is your land?’ Ask them, ‘Where is your place?’ Then ask this question, ‘What are you doing here being the spokesperson? How can you be a spokesperson?’ The resources coming into this community do not get through to my family, there is not enough resources for my family. There are no resources for my Aunty Joyce, there are no resources for my Aunty Pat. She has to go into a nursing home, she has been waiting [for] ten years with the Land Council for a house.
Can you just tell me, in the interest of people understanding the relationship between those who live outside the Block and those who live on the Block, I think people just misunderstand.
There is a misunderstanding and also a deception. The Block can be re-established.
What is the name of your tribe, your background?
My mother named me Sharon and my native name is Wonnaura. I am a Justice of the Peace since 1985. I worked for many years with government departments and community agencies. I spent thirty years training in Community Development. I worked for the Attorney General’s Department and was the spokesperson for women’s issues for the Premier, Bob Carr. I worked in the Department of Community Services for ten years in Child Protection. I worked in the Domestic Violence Line as a counsellor on domestic violence. I completed two documentaries on native healing. I have been a lecturer at university.
Are you an elder?
Yes, I am an elder, since turning fifty.
They have the elders’ lunch, or something organised [here].
I have two elders from my blood line remaining in Redfern and they are also elderly. I am concerned that they may have to leave the area because there are not sufficient resources that will enable them to stay here. I love to live in harmony and peace now that I’m at home, but I see people in the streets begging, hungry, homeless, unemployed. Peace is elusive.
So what would be the change that you would like?
I would like people to have respect and return the care of the community back to the original Redfern people, back to my people, back to my family.
Do you think the market economy and assimilation and all these sorts of things have done a lot of damage too?
I think a lot of the tribes have become modernised, they are too modern. They are wearing $200.00 shoes, I was brought up [that] a pair of shoes is there to get your feet through this journey. They have become modernised, I have seen mothers that are going without food in their cupboard because their teenagers are standing over [their mothers]for the Nike outfits. They are trying to fit into the Australian way of life but the other thing is, you can’t live in two worlds. You are either native or you are not. You can live like I do, I am native and I stand by it, but I also live a good life. I use what is available but I still stay true to who I am.
Thank you, Sharon.
You are welcome.
Interviewer: Deborah Wall
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