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Gentrification from local perspectives

The Redfern-Waterloo Tour of Beauty features prominently in the How the City Cares exhibition at Customs House in Circular Quay. It sits proudly among a number of artist-led projects that have cared about and for Sydney’s people and places – offering insights into life in our city and voice to its inhabitants – and curated by Bec Dean from UNSW into a stimulating exhibition.

In 2005, the artists’ collective SquatSpace decided to organise tours of Redfern-Waterloo to talk directly with local people about the rapid gentrification of their neighbourhoods and to highlight the complexity of the issues at stake.

The initiative was prompted by the formation of the Redfern-Waterloo Authority by the NSW government – which had also granted the authority sweeping powers to redevelop the area.

At each stop on the tour visitors met with a local who spoke briefly about the place, its significance and their connection to it. They also answered questions and facilitated discussion about the transformation of the suburb; how gentrification was affecting residents; and how urban development might be done better and more compassionately.

Each tour lasted four or five hours and connected visitors with representatives from the local Indigenous Women’s Centre, the Settlement Community Centre, the Aboriginal Housing Company, the REDWatch activist group, architects, designers, and the Indigenous Social Justice Association. About 15 tours were run during between 2005 and 2009.

Photo: TextaQueen

Maps, diagrams, flyers, a poster, clipboards, and a shirt and tie comprise the archival material from the Tour of Beauty (2005 to 2016) included in How the City Cares.

SquatSpace also premieres its documentary of the 10-year anniversary tour conducted in 2016, which revisited many speakers and places that had changed or would soon be changed irrevocably.

The documentary is dedicated to the late Trevor Davies, Ross Smith, Chiko Monks and Ray Jackson. It’s a stirring piece, and one which recognises these champions for their stellar community leadership and battles for justice.

Jenny and Lyle Munro, and Lyn and Geoff Turnbull were some of the other locals I recognised in the Tour of Beauty visuals and audio. We should be glad about this inclusion because their commitment to ensuring the Indigenous sovereignty and history of the area is acknowledged and their dedication to building an empowered community that can work together to achieve positive change has been exemplary.

The work of SquatSpace artist and long-time Redfern resident Keg de Souza also features in How the City Cares. Of the Redfern School of Displacement (2016) and the Tour of Beauty she writes: “We decided the way to have the most impact would be for people to meet these residents face-to-face. Going to the different sites in the area and learning about a place while you’re inside it is so powerful: you find yourself associating the various sites you’ve visited with the people you heard telling stories about it.

“Marginalised voices that are often displaced from mainstream dialogue are at the centre of the Redfern School of Displacement (RSD). By creating a platform for conversation and debate that explores the politics of displacement, RSD promotes learning as a useful tool to combat the forces of dispossession for the future.

“The goals of the school are to create dialogue and debate around issues relating to social justice and equality from a local perspective.”

SquatSpace artist Mickie Quick wrote in the SSH in 2006 that the “Redfern-Waterloo Tour of Beauty was about the very particular meanings of place.

“It was not just about conflict, gentrification, government and community racism, or history. The tour was about the very particular meanings of place. It assumed that the ‘experts’ about any given place are the people who live there, and have a connection to it.”

Mr Quick also expressed his concern on his blog last November that the City of Sydney had rejected artist Deborah Kelly’s work “My Sydney Summer” (a four-metre wide print, that depicts young people protesting against inaction on climate change) for inclusion in How the City Cares because it was “not suitable to be viewed by children”. He said the City had also censored parts of Sarah Goffman’s work, “Occupy Sydney” – censure which seems to suggest that it is not only Redfern-Waterloo’s future that is contested!

If you’re new to South Sydney don’t miss this exhibition and the chance to learn about the area and its remarkable people. If you’re a long-term resident you might want to view the art to remind yourself of the courage you and your friends displayed in times past and to steel yourself for the next stoush.


Redfern-Waterloo Tour of Beauty is part of the How the City Cares exhibition (part of the Big Anxiety Festival) at Customs House, Sydney until March 8. See and

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