Material from the Gary Foley Collection

Red hot - The changing face of Redfern

Mick Mundine says he's "over the moon"

By Julie Huffer
The Daily Telegraph
6th December 2003

An urban overhaul is bringing new blood to the heart of South Sydney. JULIE HUFFER reports

Redfern, once a taxi driver's nightmare, is evolving, maturing, shaking off negative perceptions and moving towards a new future shaped by fresh housing and smart investors.

The area, which has 35 per cent of its population in public housing, has been quietly undergoing dramatic physical and cultural change, largely driven by a major strategic and financial commitment from South Sydney Council and the State Government and also by a pressing demand for more desirable housing near the city.

With the launch of The Redfern-Waterloo Partnership Project some 18 months ago, various interested parties have been working out ways to facilitate urban renewal.

They are setting parameters for the development of specific sites, enhancing public areas and the quality of open space, promoting diversity of housing choice, fostering economic regeneration, improving access to the area and revitalising shopping facilities.

It's a big, costly plan. But some say that it has already had a positive impact on property prices, with median house values rising 15.2per cent in 2002.

Latest figures from the September 2003 NSW Residential Property Return Report available from Residex reveal the median house value for Redfern is now $593,000 -- not too far behind Surry Hills at $675,000.

Macquarie Bank property expert Rod Cornish says that while Redfern's performance is still behind Sydney's overall capital growth for the same period, "there's no doubt the suburb has increased in price significantly" and large unrenovated terraces are in high demand.

"Parts of Redfern are certainly getting gentrified," Cornish says. "High-profile chefs and people in the arts community are moving in but buyers need to be selective. There is some poor- quality stock and that drags down superior stock."

With the suburb earmarked for a massive overhaul, developers are champing at the bit to get a slice of the action.

Those who have recently invested huge money in the area include Southern Cross Construction, which is building a 104-apartment complex called RED, in Chalmers St next to South Sydney Leagues Club.

RED is designed by architects Giles Tribe and Marchese Partners and is due for completion in May 2005.

Another investor is St Hilliers, with its contemporary Warehouse5 complex in Dank St (officially Waterloo, but only a stroll from Redfern Park), designed by Nation Fender Katsalidis Architects.

And Kimberly Securities has invested heavily with the purchase of the two former TNT towers, which it plans to convert into a mix of commercial and residential development. "People are finally realising Redfern is going places," Cramer Property's managing director Erle Cramer says.

Cramer has just sold a penthouse apartment in the emerging RED development for $1.6million and says at least 50per cent of available units have sold off the plan.

One-bedroom apartments are priced from $361,000, two-bedrooms from $545,000 and three-bedroom penthouses from $1.2million. That is still cheaper than many neighbouring suburbs.

"Surry Hills, Paddington and Darlinghurst are out of price for most people and Green Square hasn't got the established village atmosphere but Redfern has that without being too pricey," Cramer says.

"It's proving a great alternative and it's not as sterile as the newer suburbs. It's got lots of trees."

Support from the council and the State Government is giving investors great confidence. "It's a suburb that must go. Three years ago there were not many cafes here. Now young professionals are moving in, demanding better quality restaurants and shops. Surry Hills went through the same thing six years ago," Cramer says.

South Sydney Council recently approved concept plans for a $5.5 million refurbishment for the whole ofRedfern St, planned over three years, with $750,000 allocated for stage one, beginning soon.

It is widening footpaths to provide a more shopping-friendly environment, planting trees and gardens, improving street furniture, burying power lines and introducing bicycle lanes. In March, 2004 it will open a new $3 million community centre in Hugo St.

The Ministry for the Arts has grand plans to convert part of Eveleigh Railway Yards into a performance laboratory, alongside multi-storey commercial and residential development proposed by State Rail.

And the Aboriginal Housing Company has developed a master plan to transform The Block (the indigenous-occupied area bounded by Eveleigh, Vine, Louis and Caroline Streets) into 62 apartments named after the Gadigal family, who died of smallpox.

Mick Mundine, the CEO of the organisation, says he's "over the moon" about changes proposed for the area.

"It's time for our people to change. We have the right to live in a good environment and if we don't do anything, our people will perish. All the drugs and alcohol around here, it's time for our people to get up and look to the future."

However council's project manager Kim Woodbury cautions there are pressing issues that need to be tackled now.

While the relocation of the council from Central to Redfern has brought nearly 400 staff into the area, which must boost the economy, the suburb desperately needs a wider mix of business.

"There's a depressed shopping strip with half the shops boarded and closed due to crime and people are caught in a vicious circle of urban plight," Woodbury says. "Vacant shops make the area look hostile and entrenches the cycle further. But council is committed to improving the streetscape and encouraging the tenancy back."

Mayor Tony Pooley, who has lived in the suburb for 14 years, agrees residents need better and expanded services. He would like to see more middle-income earners and family types in the area, not just the rich who are paying more than $1 million for terrace houses or the less advantaged living in housing commission homes.

"The group in the middle are the challenge. I think we should have a mix of accommodation," Pooley says. "An area this close to the city can only be revitalised