Redfern: a tour of Sydney's Indigenous hub

TV host, writer and podcaster Rowdie Walden shows us around some of his favorite spots in a neighborhood that keeps its Aboriginal history front of mind.
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‘Redfern has always been a part of the family. When I was a kid, a couple of times a year my Nan would drive six hours through the night from Narromine, in rural New South Wales, in an old ute to bring my mum, aunties and uncles to The Block in Redfern to visit relatives. The Block was an infamous building of Aboriginal housing and the birthplace of the Aboriginal civil rights movement in Australia. Starting back in the seventies, property and land in this area were bought by the Aboriginal Housing Company to create community-managed housing. Through this, Redfern, now coined the “Blak capital of Australia” has become a thriving neighborhood and a safe and tight-knit place for minority-owned businesses from all over the country.

‘Across Sydney, suburbs are defined by their past, but none have kept their history and awareness in the present as Redfern has. My mum remembers Redfern as the place that was a home away from home for her, and years later it became mine. When I first moved to Redfern as a young adult, I lived a few streets over from The Block and regularly visited the Aboriginal Medical Service – the first Aboriginal community-controlled health service in Australia – as my regular doctor, just like my mum did a generation before. 

‘Things in the neighborhood look and feel a little different now, though. In the past few years, gentrification has really stepped up, with countless wine bars, fancy cafes, restaurants and high-rise apartment buildings appearing everywhere. Alongside this, though, the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence was established and the Indigenous origins and history of the area can be seen on every street. Murals depicting our history and Indigenous footy players, shops showing their solidarity with First Nations around the world, and native Indigenous ingredients proudly used across the menus of the neighborhood's best restaurants, keep our history close. Over the years, Redfern has been a constant in my life – here's a day in my town.’

A day in Redfern


‘Start the day at Carriageworks. Once railway workshops, it's now a creative hub reopening after refurbishment at the end of April. The weekly markets are great for a wander – they're full of fresh flowers, locally sourced produce and food stalls from nearby businesses like social enterprise Two Good Co and Archie Rose Distilling Co. You might spot celebrity chef Kylie Kwong dishing out her steamed veggie and warrigal greens dumplings, but don't eat too many – there's a lot more to try.’


‘Get a fresh cut at Hair By Tommy J. I've been coming here for about 10 years and there aren't many other people I would trust with my hair. They're so good that, even when I was living in other cities, I'd always make sure to stop by for a cut when transiting through Sydney.’


‘Home of possibly the best brunch in the city, Henry Lee's is a light-filled industrial cafe. While Australia is known for brunch staples like avo on toast, branch out when you're here and make sure you order the mushroom chips alongside your eggs.’


‘Walk off brunch by checking out some of the murals dotted among the streets of Redfern. However, if you get peckish along the way, pop into Good Ways Deli for a “kanga sanga”, its famous sandwich of kangaroo mortadella, salami, ham, cheese, pickles and lettuce. It also slings Aussie faves like lamingtons, cheese and Vegemite scrolls, and Anzac biccies.’


‘Grab a coffee from The Tin Humpy, a famous Indigenous-owned cafe. Owner Yvette Lever is a former pastry chef at Sydney institution The Grounds of Alexandria – so you know it's good. On the menu, you'll find native Aussie ingredients used in dishes like its lemon myrtle meringue and finger-lime jam. With a flat white and something sweet in hand, take a walk down to the award-winning Redfern Park for an arvo in the sun. If you're lucky, you might see the Rabbitohs, our local footy team, training.'


‘Take your pick of an afternoon delight in the form of some shopping with design store DEA or vintage emporium Rudi Rocket.’


‘Thirsty? Queer bar and creative space The Bearded Tit is one of my favorite spots in Sydney. Grab a packet of Twisties (an iconic Aussie snack made from puffed corn and covered in neon orange cheese dust) or a retro cubed cheese platter, and head to the caravan out the back for a beer from a local brewery or a cold Aussie pét-nat [naturally sparkling wine].’


‘Pin down a reservation at Bush, a restaurant that focuses on native and invasive species to nurture the environment. Start with some Sydney rock oysters and wattleseed damper, followed by the restaurant's iconic burger (the best in Sydney, I won't hear otherwise). The fairy bread and butter pudding for dessert is an absolute must-have, it is pure nostalgia.’


‘You've got to have a nightcap at Arcadia Liquors. Back in the day, I brought all my first dates here as it's the ideal bar for such an occasion. It's got good drinks, low light, cozy vibes and, most importantly, it's right next to the train station if the date doesn't work out.’


‘Finish by swinging by a Redfern institution, “the greatest convenience store on earth’, to take home some snacks and to also say “hello” to its owner and local celebrity Hazem Sedda. He's been running the Redfern Convenience Store since he was a teenager and has transformed it into something special. If you're lucky, you might take the prize for “customer of the day” on his Instagram page.’

At a glance

• Redfern is on Gadigal land in the Eora Nation. 

• 10 minutes from Sydney Harbour.

• 13,213: the population of Redfern (2016).

• 2.1%: the percentage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders living in Redfern.

• Blak is a term used by Indigenous Australians, first used by Aboriginal artist Destiny Deacon.

The best place to…

Grab an easy dinner? Ron's Upstairs. ‘Step upstairs to dine on one of Sydney's best set menus. Think: rotisserie chicken, saganaki and grilled seafood.’

Head with a big group of friends? The Sunshine Inn. ‘Cheap and cheerful gastropub out front and fancy food and cocktails out back. With $10 burgers on a Sunday and a daily happy hour, your friends will thank you.’

Head off your hangover with carbs? Breadfern Bakery. ‘The best bread, pastries and cakes this side of Sydney. Stay classic with a sausage roll or meat pie, or try their lamington – it's filled with lemon curd and rolled in coconut.’

This article was first published in Courier issue 46, April/May 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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