Prime Minister Paul Keating delivers The Redfern Speech, 10 December 1992

On 10 December 1992  Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating came to Redfern Park in Sydney to launch the United Nations International Year of Indigenous People. The eloquent speech he made was clear and to the point and has become a turning point in our nation’s reconciliation with its Indigenous People.

These were his words:

The starting point might be to recognise that the problem starts with us non-Aboriginal Australians. It begins, I think, with the act of recognition.
Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing.
We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life.
We brought the disasters. The alcohol. We committed the murders.
We took the children from their mothers.
With some noble exceptions, we failed to make the most basic human response and enter into their hearts and minds.
We failed to ask, how would I feel if this were done to me?”
We practised discrimination and exclusion.

Shortly before the 26th anniversary of his message was due, on Monday 10 December 2018, Redfern Park, with its trees, gardens and playing field, long associated with Sydney’s Indigenous People, was at last added to the  Heritage Register by the State Government of New South Wales.

This recognises the park’s history and its important role in shaping sporting, cultural and social movements over many generations.

Obed West

Writing in ‘Old and New Sydney’ in The Sydney Morning Herald (7 February 1883), Obed West, an old timer born at Rushcutters Bay in 1807, reminisced about Boxley’s Clear, a property once owned by an ex-convict named John Boxley, situated on the Sandhills close to the Brickfields Village (now Chippendale).

It is some 65 years [about 1823] since I first became acquainted with the locality when it was known as ‘Boxley’s Clear’, after the first colonist to settle in the district. The locality was afterwards called ‘Redfern’, from Dr. Redfern of the General Hospital who purchased the property.

The portion of Redfern known as the Albert Ground and Victoria Town, as well as the adjacent paddocks opposite Elizabeth-street, was, at the time I write of,  one large swamp, known as Boxley’s Lagoon.

The lagoon and swamps of Boxley’s land, fed by an offshoot from Blackwattle Creek, was the site of the present Redfern Park.

Indigenous People at that time were frankly described as ‘blacks’.  West said the Redfern area was ‘a great rendezvous of the blacks’, where they often feasted, but it was also a ‘convincing ground’, where individuals might be ‘punished by their comrades for breaches of their tribal laws’, in  ritual revenge combats.

He recalled:

Round the edges of the clear were the camping grounds of the blacks, and little I daresay do those who now occupy comfortable houses in the locality, and have steam tramways running past their doors, think that they live over the old dwelling-places of  the aborigines, and on many of their graves.

Redfern was named for Surgeon William Redfern, an ex-convict, who was granted 100 acres in 1817 by Governor Lachlan Macquarie.


James Chisholm  (1772-1837), a member of the New South Wales Corps who arrived in the Third Fleet ship Britannia in 1791, ‘received a grant of 60 acres at Newtown, but it was all bush, which he had to clear’, according to his son Dr. Edward Chisholm, as recorded by Mrs. A.G. Foster in ‘Some Early Homes and Epitaphs’, in the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society (1925:311).

Chisholm’s property, granted in 1819, was the site in later years of the Eveleigh Railway Workshops in today’s Redfern. His home, Calder House, was demolished in 1924 after a fire.

Mrs. Foster, quoting Dr. Chisholm, continued:

He [James Chisholm] commenced to build the house in the latter end of the eighteen twenties. His friends used to chaff him for going so far in the bush, where he was sure to be killed, by either the bush-rangers or the blacks. I myself, as a boy, have seen as many as two hundred blacks, of the Botany Bay tribe, at the house, asking for sugar bags (old sugar bags from Mauritius made of split bamboo).

[More likely ‘sugarbag’ – hessian bags soaked in water added to old rum casks – KVS]

Plan of Part of the South End and Suburbs of the City of Sydney, 1849
Peter Lewis Bemi (1795-1853)
State Library of NSW, Sydney

Surveyor Bemi’s map shows the full extent of the creeks running from Black Wattle Swamp to Redfern and Chippendale, taking water to the Brisbane Distillery and Kent’s Brewery and on into the Government Paddocks.

Calder House became a boarding school for the ‘sons of Gentlemen’, some of whom wistfully recalled the nearby watercourse. One was William Freame, a writer and artist, who wrote in the Evening News, Sydney (21 April 1924):

The demolition of Calder House revives happy memories of those halycon days when we were boys and used to go bird-nesting and blackberry gathering along the creek that rippled along the site of the present workshops until it lost itself at the Chinese gardens at Waterloo. And close by was the lake, upon which the boys from Calder House floated their toy yachts.

Another old pupil, J. McKern, reminisced about the stream in the 1860s (Sydney Morning Herald, 19 April 1927):

There trickled a stream on its way to Blackwattle Bay, a stream in which we fished gudgens with a line of cotton thread and a bent pin for a hook. The stream supplied water for a large bed of watercress …

The Government Paddocks, also called the Cleveland Paddocks, ran from Cleveland to Devonshire Street and west to Chippendale. One part of the area  is now Prince Alfred Park in Surry Hills, where the first Agricultural Society Show took place in 1869 and the Intercolonial Exhibition was held in 1873. 

Turning the first turf of the first railway in the Australasian colonies at Redfern Sydney, N.S.W. 3rd July 1850
John Rae (1813-1900)
ML244, Mitchell Library, Sydney

Here, John Rae features an Aboriginal group (at right), at the start of rail construction in 1850 on the Cleveland Paddocks Reserve, close to the present Eveleigh Street Block. Although these onlookers would soon be dispossessed by the railway, the movement of Aboriginal people to Redfern greatly increased after the building of Australia’s first railway station there.

Rae, a self-taught artist, was Town Clerk of Sydney 1843-1853. He became secretary to the Railway Commissioners in 1861.

Rae had portrayed the same Aboriginal group on the cover of John Skinner Prout’s Sydney Illustrated in 1842
Detail of Rae’s Aboriginal people at the sod turning in 1850








Rae had sketched the same distinctive group of Aboriginal people, notably the man with a breastplate (possibly Bowen Bungaree) and the young person with the spear and straw hat, on the cover of Sydney Illustrated (featuring work by the artist JS Prout) in 1842, in which the figure of an older woman wearing a shawl and smoking a pipe might well be Cora Gooseberry, Bungaree’s widow.

Proposed plan for the Sydney Railway, 1849
City of Sydney
State Records NSW


The map shows proposed railway land in green and retained Crown land in yellow. The Sydney Station railway line running to Parramatta opened on 26 September 1855 with a 30 metre long timber platform and a corrugated iron shed. It’s boundaries were Devonshire Street and Cleveland Street. This was Australia’s first railway line and station.

The Sydney Terminus took the name Everleigh Railway from Everleigh House (now demolished) the property of John Rose Holden, whose mother’s maiden name was Everleigh. It was renamed Redfern Railway Station when Central Railway opened in 1900.

Devonshire Street Cemetery
Site of Central Railway Station, Sydney

The Burial Grounds, also called the Devonshire Street or Sandhills Cemetery, would become the site of today’s Central Railway Station. This  flat area of sandhills, just above the Brickfields (Chippendale), was the scene of several ritual revenge combats between 1790 and 1812. 


One of the graves at the Sandhills cemetery was that of Cora Gooseberry, widow of the Garigal leader Bungaree, who lived until 1852. Another was that of the brewer and innkeeper James Squire (1754-1822), who befriended Bennelong, Nanbarry and Boorong and buried them together in his orchard at Kissing Point, now Putney on the Parramatta River. Some 3300  gravestones and monuments were taken to Botany when the cemetery was resumed to build Central Railway.

Gravestones at the Sandhills Cemetery                                                                                                       “Gooseberry Queen of the
Sydney Tribe of Aborigines
who died 30th July 1852                                                                                                                                                     aged 75 years”


In time the wording on Cora Gooseberry’s stone faded and can no longer be deciphered. However, Mrs. A. G. Foster recorded the inscription:



See my online entry about Cora Gooseberry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography at

From the 1920s the Everleigh Railway Workshops provided work for many of the Aboriginal families in the area.


In the eighth of a series of articles on ‘The Suburbs of Sydney’ , The Echo newspaper (12 June 1890) mentioned Johnny or Johnnie Malone, ‘the last member of the local tribe of Aborigines’ [at Redfern] who had died ‘some time ago’ [1875].

There are many people living who recollect when the Cleveland paddocks [renamed Prince Alfred Park in 1868], where the railway station and the Exhibition building now stand, were a favourite camping place for the blacks. Then their “corroborees” kept the few residents in Redfern awake till far into the night. By degrees the camps were driven back to Waterloo and Alexandria, until the blacks, the original lords of the soil, have all gone to that bourne whence neither individual nor races return.

There were blacks’ camps to be found along the Pacific Coast and round Botany Bay, wherever sheltering shrubs are to be found; but the blacks do not belong to the local tribe. They travel towards Sydney from various parts of the coast, even as far as the Tweed River, but the majority come from the Illawarra and South Coast districts, where a remnant of the native races may be found.

“Johnnie Malone” a descendant of a Botany Bay tribe of aborigines, and an old Botany identity.
2004.526.118, Archives of Captain Cooks Landing Place Museum, Kurnell
NSW Department of the Environment


It is stated in the Archives of Captain Cooks Landing Place at Kurnell [Box 12, item 141] that on 22 January 1905, ‘Mr. Longfield showed Mr Houston a photograph of Johnny Malone, a halfcaste of the Cook’s River tribe.’

William Houston, a surgeon, was Undersecretary of Lands in New South Wales from 1890 to 1900. After he retired he became a Trustee of the Landing Place Trust and interviewed informants like Richard Longfield there.

Johnny Malone belonged to the ‘Cook’s River Tribe’. His mother was an Aboriginal woman from Botany (perhaps a sister of Boatswain Maroot) and his father was an ex-convict named James or Jemmy Malone (or Malownes – died 1843) who was granted 30 acres of land on the south side of Weeney Bay.

The grant appears in James Malone’s name on the chart of The Parish of Southerland c. 1835, but had been reassigned  to John Connell, according to a Government Notice in  the Sydney Gazette (30 October 1831, page 2).

On 1 December 1858 the Austrian scientist Dr. Karl Scherzer from the ship Navara went by light carriage to ‘Coggerah Cove’ with Edward Smith Hill of the Australian Museum. Scherzer, whose object was to unearth Aboriginal skeletal remains, met ‘Jonny’ [Malone].

Here we found near the shore a small Encampment of blacks and female mixed-bloods (two women with two children half-caste and Jonny, the last of the Sydney tribe, approximately 30-40 years old, hunchbacked due to a fall as a boy). In the year 1836 there were still 53 blacks of the Sydney tribe alive, now there is not a single one except for Jonny.

These people camped on the grounds of ‘Ellesmere, owned by Sir John Hector Carruthers, New South Wales Premier from 1904 to 1907, which overlooked Kogarah Bay and was known as the Ellesmere camp.
[See my entry TOWAA: The real Tom Ugly, filed on 4 September 2017]

On 12 June 1890, the Sydney Echo reported that the Cleveland Paddocks reserve (part of which is now Prince Alfred Park)  had been ‘a favourite camping place for the blacks’,  but ‘by degrees the camps were driven back to Waterloo and Alexandria’.

more later

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2020