A day in the life of Australia’s busiest community facility
Faith Airel leans in close and sets the sewing machine whirring, concentrating hard as she works on converting one of the City’s colourful street banners into a handy carry bag.
“This is not easy, you know,” said Ms Airel, who comes to the fortnightly sewing classes at Redfern Community Centre for the company and to pick up a few practical skills. “But I enjoy this, it’s something I can do just to get out and about in the community, and something for myself.”
The sewing room is alive with activity. As dressmaker’s scissors snip out the patterns, swathes of pink, purple and green cloth are tossed between cutting tables and sewing tables, and half a dozen sewing machines sound off in staccato bursts.
It’s just one activity room in one of Australia’s busiest community centres, where hundreds of people from all walks of life come and go every day to take part in everything from exercise classes and yoga to child care, guitar lessons, recording in the fully-equipped music studio, or simply a cup of tea and a chat.
The centre is a microcosm of the transformation Redfern is undergoing as it emerges from a troubled past as one of Sydney’s most poverty- and crime-ridden neighbourhoods and confirms its turnaround status as a welcoming, diverse and culturally rich community.
The centre opened in 2004 following a 10-year consultation process initiated by the former South Sydney Council with local Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal organisations and residents, and has continued to expand and prosper as part of the City of Sydney’s network of community facilities.
As an expanding and dynamic facility it attracts over 6,000 people a month and provides a wide range of services and programs to all community groups, with a focus on art, culture, employment and training.
Facilities include an outdoor pavilion and amphitheatre where community barbeques and other community-strengthening events are held, a performance room, a youth services room with table tennis tables and a homework club, and the music studio.
“There’s been a bit of a surge in ballroom dancing,” said Julia Medley, the City’s Senior Operations Coordinator in charge of the centre. “We’re getting people from Haymarket and Ultimo especially for the ballroom dancing.”
While the centre has a strong focus on the Aboriginal culture and heritage of the Redfern area – including the newly opened Elders’ Lounge mural by Charles ‘Chicka’ Madden, Nicole Monks and Dirk Anderson – it the reflects the broadening diversity of the community.
“With The Block being demolished, some people have moved away, and we’re establishing ourselves with a whole new community. Now people are coming from all over Sydney to use the centre,” Ms Medley said.
She estimated services were now shared 50-50 between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal users, compared to an 80-20 split 5 years ago.
Most of the terrace houses that became known as The Block have now gone to make way for the Aboriginal Housing Company's new residential development, and police say crime rates that were once associated with the area have been slashed.
Acting Superintendent, Leanne McCusker of NSW Police Redfern local area command, says robberies in the area have fallen by 80% in the past 5 years in part because police, local organisations and residents are working together to improve their community.
“Redfern Community Centre plays a major part in that,” she said. “The facilities and the various activities that go on or are organised through the centre provide opportunities for the greater community.
“You see kids down there doing painting, younger people getting help with their driver’s licence – it goes right through to cater for elderly people. It’s running music classes, keeping fit with Zumba and Pilates. There’s opportunities for computer access and printing.
“The moment that people are active and engaged in doing positive things and developing their own opportunities – whether that is getting a job or a driver’s license or giving mums a bit of time out – it certainly adds to crime reduction,” Acting Superintendent McCusker said.
Police regularly use the centre as a venue for community forums.
In the centre’s industrial kitchen, Nathan Kemp and Stephen Ingram are working the stoves, making dozens of roast chicken and baked vegetable dinners for the centre’s free weekly lunch for local residents. About 60 people come to the lunch each week. “It’s like Ready Steady Cook, only 10 times the amount,” laughs Mr Inghram. “Chicken, chops – we try to keep it simple and cheap because many people are on a budget.”
The centre employs Mr Inghram and Mr Kemp for 5 hours per week as part of job training programs. The lunches are designed to promote healthy eating and are a chance for people to get together socially.
They are also scheduled alongside the centre’s weekly information sessions that give people a chance to talk one-on-one with representatives from organisations such as NSW Health, Centrelink and Aboriginal Legal Aid.
“I come here because these ladies put a smile on my face,” said Kelly Burgess, a 35-year-old single mum. “I come here to use the computer and get free meals, and they’re here for moral support and emotional support.”
Ms Medley said the centre gives people a safe and welcoming place they can come to for enjoyment, to learn new skills, and also to provide help where it’s needed. “It’s about linking people up with services, especially the people who fall through the cracks,” she said.
One long-time resident who rarely misses a lunch or any other community event at the centre is Barbara Stephen, an early childhood education specialist.
Ms Stephen, 78, founded the Gamarada Redfern Montessori Centre and was awarded South Sydney Council’s 2003 Citizen of the Year for services to the community. She volunteers at the children’s education program at the centre – and attends a few basic computer classes on the side.
“I come here every day,” Ms Stephen said. “It’s a nice place for all of the community. I like it for the people who come here. I meet the most interesting people, and I’ve seen some of the young children growing up.”
Back in the sewing room, Ms Airel is putting the final touches on her project in the Banners of Colour Sewing Class, which recycles some of the thousands of banners that flutter from street poles throughout the city showcasing various events during the year. “I’ve always been interested in a bit of sewing, but didn’t really know how to do it,” she said.
“I needed some new curtains, and I wanted to make a couple of items of clothing, so I thought I’d get some experience and eventually make some of my own clothes.
“It’s a great idea offering this. To get practical life skills is just wonderful.”
Find out more about Redfern Community Centre.
The heat is on to secure Sydney’s future water supply
The City is moving to 'drought-proof' central Sydney’s future water supply with a bold program of local recycled water production and water efficiency measures.
The program also details how the City will diversify its sources of water by replacing 30% of its drinking water by 2030 with locally produced recycled water.
And the initiative is very timely. Sydney recorded its hottest ever day of 46.4°C on 18 January, while across Australia January 2013 was the hottest month on record, with an average temperature of 40.3°C.
The best levels of international and national scientific research are predicting such heat waves will become more frequent as a result of temperature rises caused by global warming.
For the City of Sydney, when the impacts of climate pressures are coupled with population growth and greater demand for council services, water demand is projected to rise by 30% to 44 billion litres over the next 17 years.
To deal with these challenges, the City has developed a comprehensive water strategy – known as the Decentralised Water Master Plan – aimed at reducing water demand by 10% by 2030.
This reduction in water use will largely be achieved through water efficiency programs targeting Council-owned locations and office buildings, apartments, houses, hotels and restaurants across the city.
Diversifying sources of water
At present, the City of Sydney area gets the bulk of its annual 33.7 billion litres of drinking water from Warragamba Dam, 70 kms west of the city, and from the desalination plant in Kurnell, 40 kms south of the city.
During the last drought, water levels at Warragamba Dam fell to all-time low levels, including to just 32.5% in February 2007. Water transfers from the Shoalhaven River prevented levels sinking to just 13%.
Importantly, only half of the City’s 'drinking-standard water' supply is used for drinking, bathing and cooking. The remainder is used for non-drinking purposes – flushing toilets, irrigating parks and running large-scale air-conditioning – all of which could be serviced by recycled water.
The sources of recycled water include stormwater, ground water, laundry water and waste water.
The City’s Decentralised Water Master Plan concentrates on a range of other initiatives to source local water supplies, including:
- building major stormwater recycling projects at Sydney Park and Green Square to save up to 1 billion litres of water per year and reduce pollution of the Cooks River
- building rain gardens within streetscapes to filter stormwater and reduce pollution discharged into waterways
- investigating feasibility of major stormwater recycling projects within wetlands at Wentworth Park, Moore Park, Bicentennial Park in Glebe and Victoria Park at Broadway
- investigating feasibility of waste water recycling projects at major development precincts such Green Square, Barangaroo and Darling Harbour.
Reducing pollution of waterways
Each year some 3,500 tonnes of sediment, nutrients and pollutants flow into Sydney Harbour and Botany Bay as a result of 26 billion litres of stormwater running-off streets and gutters.
The City’s Master Plan aims to halve this pollution by 2030 via projects to broaden the capture and cleansing of stormwater, while at the same time expanding the pool of recycled water.
Currently the City is actively reducing pollution through waste management, street cleaning, trapped gully pits and natural treatments such as rain gardens and wetlands to reduce the impacts on waterways and the health of marine habitats.
And later in the year, work will start on the City’s largest recycled water project at Sydney Park, where up to 850 million litres of stormwater – the equivalent of 340 Olympic pools – will be recycled.
A second major project is planned for the Green Square urban development precinct, which will produce over 300 million litres of water per year.
Both these projects are being undertaken in partnership with the federal Government, with the recycled water supplying City-owned properties as well as surrounding homes and businesses.
Local water projects
The City has already increased local water use by installing rainwater tanks at nearly 20 child care, kindergartens and community centres, including the Alexandria Child Care Centre, the Jane Evans Day Care Centre in Newtown and the Ultimo Community Centre.
There are also 20 stormwater harvesting and reuse projects completed or in planning to irrigate the City’s parks and sporting fields.
Completed projects include: Sydney Park at St Peters, Surry Hills Library, Pirrama Park in Pyrmont, Lillian Fowler Reserve in Newtown, Alexandria Oval and Prince Alfred Park in Surry Hills.
The completed and planned projects together are currently producing a total of up to 5 million litres of recycled water each year.
A number of parks, such as Victoria Park in Zetland, are using local bore water, which overall provides 27 million litres of water per year or 15 per cent of total water use of City parks.
The upshot of this commitment to diversifying the City’s water supply is increased resilience in the face of the challenges of climate change and a growing population, as well as cementing a more sustainable environment.
Sydney’s seven wonders of summer make for sensational times
A global image for Sydney limited to its beaches and harbour is no more, thanks to the City’s array of festivals, big events and cultural offerings.
In fact, spring and summer wouldn’t be the same in Sydney if it wasn’t for its Magnificent Seven events.
From art in unusual places and a two-week party of all things cycling, to the magical festive season and an oriental wonderland, the City is helping put Sydney front and centre on the world’s cultural stage.
The Magnificent Seven journey starts with the annual Sydney Art & About Festival, held in September. This renowned event brings art to the outdoors and breathes life into forgotten corners, making people stop and look at the city in a different light.
Having just notched up its 12th year, its credentials are now firmly international. Art & About 2012 started with a huge, free street party, where some 9,000 people danced the night away to live music and top notch DJs.
Throughout the festival, around 17,000 people visited a house that rained on the inside, groups of friends were mesmerised by eerie 3D projections on beautiful old trees in Hyde Park, and old favourites Sydney Lives and Little Sydney Lives photo competitions returned.
And it’s not just art in unusual places that gets Sydneysiders outdoors. The annual Sydney Rides Festival in October is a chance for bike riders to celebrate all things two wheels.
Each year, thousands of bike riders grease spokey-dokes and polish bicycle bells to take part in events such as National Ride to Work Day, Bicycle NSW’s Spring Cycle, and the Sydney Bike Film Festival.
The festival is growing in popularity – almost 22,000 people recently joined in the fun. And it doubled from one week in 2011 to two weeks in 2012.
With our growing network of cycleways, exploring Sydney by bike can be an activity all year round.
Throughout December and January, the City is alive with the festive spirit, national pride, and world-class music, dance and visual arts.
Kicking-off the festive season, a Sydney Christmas is not just about spending time with family and friends, spoiling loved ones with hugs, and trips to the beach. It’s also a time to wander around Sydney doing some evening shopping on a balmy night, and enjoy the wonderful decorations and events. The incredible projections that light up historic Sydney Town Hall, the twinkling fairy lights on the 21-metre Martin Place Christmas Tree, and our family-friendly concerts in the City Centre and villages make it a magical occasion.
Once Christmas is over, it’s only a heartbeat to the countdown for the world’s best New Year’s celebrations.
As the first major city to welcome the New Year, Sydney is renowned as the New Year’s Eve capital of the world. Sydney Harbour Bridge makes a grand backdrop for the spectacular show.
This summer’s event saw Kylie Minogue, Australia’s Princess of Pop, as the Creative Ambassador, lending her signature style to the fireworks and bridge effect. People worldwide held their breath as the living legend pressed the big red button at the stroke of midnight, welcoming 2013 with the greatest New Year’s Eve show on earth.
Each year, about 1.6 million people gather around the harbour foreshore to welcome in the New Year in style, 2.6 million people around Australia watch the celebrations from home, and a billion people globally watch the event.
But the party doesn’t end there! Our Chinese New Year Festival is the biggest celebration of the Lunar New Year outside mainland China.
Tens of thousands of people visit Sydney each year to witness the colour and costumes of the stunning Twilight Parade, hear the oars roar in the adrenaline-charged Dragon Boat races, and experience the scents and tastes of Asia at the night-time markets in Belmore Park.
This year, more than 100,000 people lined Central Sydney to watch the incredible Twilight Parade welcome in the Year of the Snake.
The 10-deep crowds cheered on the 3,500 performers as they sashayed, flipped and stilt-walked through the city, accompanied by flying dragons, martial artists and Gangnam-style dancing cowboys.
For the first time in 40 years, the City revived the old-school glitz and glamour of the social event of the Chinese community, the Dragon Ball. Sydney Town Hall dazzled with oversized red lanterns and intricate light projections, and glammed-up ball-goers waltzed and glided around the room to the tunes of the 20-piece swing band.
Meanwhile, our parks and streets came alive with weird and wonderful acts as part of Sydney Festival. A firm favourite on the cultural events calendar, audiences were delighted by everything from burlesque circus and New York rap, to Russian theatre and the ever-popular free concerts in The Domain.
The City of Sydney continues to be a proud supporter of Sydney Festival, and last year contributed $2.1 million and value-in-kind.
Each year, the City is honoured to be a part of Australia Day celebrations, including welcoming new Australian citizens.
Following the official ceremony, new Aussies, who come from countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Germany, Jordan, Swaziland, Sri Lanka, Mexico, New Zealand and the USA, are offered traditional favourites such as Pavlova, Anzac biscuits, and Australian sparkling wine.
Many other Australians choose to mark the occasion by enjoying a picnic with family and friends in one of the city’s open green spaces such as Pirrama Park, Sydney Park, or Glebe Foreshore.
Whether you love discovering art in unexpected places, are bike curious, or you simply live for the festive season, the City’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ events are a ticket to good times, exciting visuals, a spectrum of Sydney culture and an outpouring of community bonding.
Roll on next summer!
Last updated: Friday, 17 May 2013