ON SATURDAY morning Thomas Hickey, a young Aboriginal boy, was riding his bicycle through Redfern. Somehow he fell off, was impaled on a fence and died. The exact circumstances aren’t known. But rumour spread through the Aboriginal community that he had been pursued by police.
By Sunday evening there was a full-scale riot. It took nine hours before the police could get control. The police admit they have never seen anything like it. Up to 50 of them were injured. The government has tried to put it down to misunderstanding, alcohol and the very hot weather.
But Redfern was a tinderbox waiting for a spark. The death of Thomas was a catalyst for all the grievances of Aboriginal people. They suffer an 80 percent unemployment rate. They die 20 years younger compared to the rest of the population.
The rate of incarceration of Aboriginal people is incredible. There is hatred of the police. Thomas’s aunt was reported in the press saying, ‘They are nasty. They treat our kids like dogs.’ Many think the very heavy police presence in the area after Thomas died was a source of the anger. Some of the Aboriginal leaders applauded the young people. Redfern is one kilometre from Sydney’s central business district, the wealthiest part of Australia. You can stand and look at that while in front of you is a Third World slum.
The conditions are terrible there. But the area is synonymous with Aboriginal Australia. The people there want to stay. Redfern is part of an inner city area that is being gentrified. The government wants to sell off the public housing and ‘improve the social mix’, which means getting rid of the poor people.
The reaction to the riot from the government and media has had to be very restrained. Sydney is this ‘world city’ with a big problem in the middle of it. And Aboriginal people are angry at the racism they face.
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