Redfern - rename or reclaim?

The real estate agent’s property pitch assures me, with the myopically deranged semi-perjurous optimism of someone who only gets paid if they sell this place, that Redfern is the new Surry Hills.

No. No, it’s not.

Redfern is an inner-city suburb of Sydney, just south of the city centre. It’s an inexpensive suburb, with local shops and small family restaurants that sell to people who usually don’t have much money to buy. It’s not full of students on the parents’ payroll. It’s Redfern.

Redfern is also not, as I have seen claimed, the new Newtown or the new Erskineville. It is certainly not Strawberry Hills, despite frequent attempts to shove the boundaries on a map a few small, but extremely profitable, inches over.

It is definitely not East Redfern, which does not have a postcode or appear on ANY maps but frequently does on property ads. Watching someone try to call their home address East Redfern is like watching Keeping Up Appearances’ social snob and secret ex-lowlife Hyacinth Bucket explain that it's pronounced “Bouquet”. No one’s convinced and, frankly, it’s embarrassing to watch.

Known more for the poverty that singles it out in the affluent inner city, or the riots in 2004, Redfern is a primarily a living suburb – no malls or huge offices here - full of diversity from the various waves of migrants that have settled. According to the 2006 census, 35% of the population was born overseas, and only 55.9% speak only English in the home. It’s expensive to buy, but 41.6% of the population live in public housing. It’s not flash. It’s not a good address.

It’s Redfern. And I like it. It has real people, who are not always as quiet and as well washed as you would like, living here. It has local shops, and craftsmen. Bakeries, vegetable shops, pubs and corner stores, real ones run by real people living in the area.

There’s none of the expensive gourmet eateries you find all over the Inner West. You can get real food. Not pan seared patties of organic Herefordshire sung to sleep by angels and served au jus in organic fromage brioche, but a proper cheeseburger - delicious and cheap. Within a minute of my front door there are three cafes, two Thai restaurants, one Vietnamese, one Chinese and a Turkish kebab parlour, all doing dinners for under a tenner that taste great. Redfern does good grub.

And it has that rarest of things in the city – a sense of history and community. Aboriginal inspired murals by the train station ask children not to do drugs. There are recognisable faces, community groups, local churches.

It has been heavily developed, but it still has a lot of older building. It’s not a Macsuburb, full of apartment blocks of identical homes - magnolia walls, cream carpets and a chrome kitchen come living room. It has terraced houses, and odd laneways. Fences and gates in various states of repair, gardens with kids’ toys lost in the long grass. Yes, some of those houses contain the people society try to ignore – alcoholics, druggies, deadbeat dads and the chronically unemployed. Sometimes drunk people ask you for money in the street. Sometimes there’s late night shouting. It’s Redfern. It has real people here, and all the problems that go with that.

You don’t have to live here. But if you do, live in Redfern. Not East, not North, not Strawberry Hills. It’s Redfern. If you are too ashamed to admit that, if you don't want to live in Redfern, then don't.


  1. Great post! I have the same problem with people living in Quakers Hill and calling it the hills district. We have a hill and technically I guess it is part of the hills district and we're only 20 minutes away from Castle Hill. At the same time however, we're also 15 minutes away from Blacktown and we shouldn't forget that. If I meet people, I tell them I'm from Western Sydney not from the Hills District.

    Anyway, anyone who has bought in Redfern is going to be the ones laughing all the way to the back. Any suburb within five minutes of the Sydney CBD is going to rise in value.

  2. Right on and well said. When I moved to Sydney three years ago, one of the greatest things was losing my suburb snobbery (which I had tonnes of in Melbourne). Not growing up here, I didn't know which were 'good' or 'bad' suburbs, so I just picked one based on location and what I could afford (Mascot). It was the type of suburb I wouldn't have lived in back in Melbourne, but living in Mascot chilled me right out.


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