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A street art tour of Redfern with Indigenous Services

When we think of art we tend to think of oil paintings, like those we have here at the Library. These paintings have been completed hundreds of years ago. They hang on a wall for visitors to admire, to look but not touch. However, street art is art too, art that takes on the natural and urban environment, art which is also accessible, tactile and responsive to its communities.

Three people looking at a building with the word 'Redfern' painted on it

Indigenous Services team looking at Rekko Rennie’s art work, Welcome to Redfern

The Library's Indigenous Services team recently went on a street art tour of Redfern to see murals by prominent Australian street artists like Reko Rennie, and Guido van Helten. These artists, like the artists in the Library’s collections, are documenting life in New South Wales.

The Indigenous Services team travels widely to regional locations in New South Wales, from Taree in the north to Merimbula in the south. However, this was a rare opportunity to travel within the streets of Sydney, to take in the sights and sounds of Redfern.

The first mural we visited was 40 000 years, painted in 1983 by artist, Carol Ruff. With International Women’s Day this month it was terrific to see the work of a female street artist. This mural has survived for over 30 years and is testament to the rich and enduring history of Aboriginal Australia. It can be found opposite the train station in Redfern.

Street art painting of an Indigenous woman

40 000 years mural by Carol Ruff at Redfern train station

From Redfern train station we journeyed on to Caroline Street to see the work of Reko Rennie, whose vibrant mural, Welcome to Redfern lights up The Block. It is painted in the colours of the Aboriginal flag and was completed by Rennie and a group of young Aboriginal artists in 2013. Rennie is a Kamilaroi artist based in Melbourne, who is most famous for his pink and blue mural in Sydney’s Taylor Square, Always Was, Always Will Be. Welcome to Redfern shows the contemporary side to the history of Aboriginal activism that is synonymous with The Block area of Redfern. To learn more about this mural visit the City of Sydney’s website.

For the final stop on our street art tour we trekked over to Cleveland Street to see two giant murals, one by prominent Australian street artist, Guido van Helten and the other a realistic, ‘larger than life’ portrayal of South Sydney Rabbitohs player, Greg Inglis with the caption ‘Deadly’. Both these murals can be found at The Work-Shop on Cleveland Street, Redfern.

Picture of an Indigenous girl spray painted on a building in a parking lot

Mural by Guido van Helten at the Work-Shop, Redfern

The mural by Guido van Helten, a Brisbane born street artist who moved to New South Wales, is based on records from the Aboriginal Legal Service which opened in a shopfront in Redfern in 1970. Van Helten pays tribute to the pioneering of the Aboriginal people who started this service. You can find out more on his blog.

The mural of Greg Inglis was a favourite with one of our team members who barracks for the South Sydney Rabbitohs. It was painted by aerosol artist, Sid Tapia and commemorates the role of  Indigenous sports people in Australia.

Our street art tour of Redfern is a chance to explore how communities record and celebrate their stories, and to appreciate the role we all play in documenting the lives and histories in NSW. 

Anne Reddacliff
Librarian, Indigenous Services