Photographer: Bianca Hester, 2015

Photographer: Bianca Hester, 2015

‘Murals and Solidarity: Redfern and “the Settlement”’

Saskia Beudel, Laura Fisher, Bianca Hester and Matt Poll, Political Murals, Tim Drescher and Bill Rolston (eds), (book project currently under development)

 

Abstract

 

This chapter discusses two murals produced in association with The Settlement Neighbourhood and Housing centre, more commonly known as ‘the Settlement’. The Settlement stands directly adjacent to the inner Sydney suburb of Redfern, a locale well known for its long history as an Aboriginal community and hub of Aboriginal self-determination politics and arts activities.  Today the Settlement’s services include Aboriginal youth health support, case management and social housing. Its history traces back to the philanthropic and social reform settlement movement begun in England when Toynbee Hall was established in London’s East End in 1884.

During the 1980s and 1990s the Settlement initiated a number of mural projects painted by Aboriginal artists. Murals in Redfern were an important part of constructing social spaces both literally and symbolically that represented and communicated Aboriginal presence as enmeshed in the urban fabric. This chapter focuses on the Settlement Mural Project (1985) and Say Know to Drugs: For the Next Generation (1998). The former, painted by Avril Quaill and Fiona Foley, asserted the value of urban Aboriginal culture and art at a time when many non-Aboriginal Australians assumed that ‘authentic’ Aboriginal culture belonged only to groups in remote parts of Australia. Say Know expresses a stark reality of Redfern’s history when it was in the grip of a drug epidemic accompanied by HIV/AIDS. Young intravenous drug users drew together in unity to produce an educative mural that provided greater visibility for a forgotten community. As Redfern now undergoes gentrification, these murals embody and express different aspects of Redfern’s past and of Indigenous politics and activism more broadly.