Riot in Redfern

Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Investigative TV journalism at its best
29 March 2004


LIZ JACKSON, REPORTER: In the middle of the afternoon of Sunday, 15 February, a police report came in - that bricks and bottles had been thrown at Redfern railway station in the centre of Sydney. Only one police car went down to investigate, as this was nothing out of the ordinary in Redfern. But this was not an ordinary day. In the early hours of that morning, an Aboriginal youth had died in the Children's Hospital. He'd been impaled on a metal fence after coming off his bike within a three-minute cycle ride from Redfern station. His family say the police were chasing him at the time.

And you hold them responsible?

GAIL HICKEY: Yeah, I'm holding them responsible for my son's death, yeah.

LIZ JACKSON: If the police were chasing Thomas Hickey, would the police accept some responsibility for his death?


LIZ JACKSON: In the late afternoon, the Redfern police radioed for assistance. It was getting dangerous for passers-by and staffing at Redfern on Sundays was low. But in a lull at around 7:40, all cars not from Redfern were told to leave. By 9:00, the seven or eight police who were left at the station started to feel uneasy.


POLICEMAN (ON RADIO): We got enough at the railway station?

POLICEMAN 2: At this stage, mate.

LIZ JACKSON: The police thought of getting hold of some riot gear from car 14.

POLICEMAN: Get 14. We'll need the shields, I'd say, in case they do start coming and we get a bigger crowd.

POLICEMAN 2: If we go in now, we'll have a bloodbath.

LIZ JACKSON: Just after 9:00, suddenly, it was on.

MAN: Watch out.

WOMAN: Get inside, everybody. Everybody, get inside, for Christ's sake.

MAN: I see them running. Police getting pelted by rocks.

WOMAN ON RADIO: There's a signal one incident at Lawson. There is a large group of Aboriginal persons throwing rocks, bricks and beer bottles at cars.

WOMAN: Take cover!

WOMAN 2: Watch out, Sarah!


MAN: Oh, Jesus!

WOMAN 2: I seen it coming.

LIZ JACKSON: Hour after hour, the barrage continued. More police were getting hurt and frustrated. The front line bore the brunt of years of allowing the tensions in Redfern to fester. That night, they exploded into the worst race riot the country has seen for decades.

SENATOR ADEN RIDGEWAY: I describe it as a race riot because I think this is something that has been coming for some time.

CLIVE SMALL, FORMER DIRECTOR, NSW CRIME PREVENTION: Having said that, this Government's been in office now for nine years, and we're quite entitled to ask, I think, "What's happened in the nine years?"

INSPECTOR DARREN BENNETT, REDFERN CRIME MANAGER: It'd be a brave person saying it won't happen again.

LIZ JACKSON: Tonight on Four Corners, we expose what lay behind the riot in Redfern.

It's now 30 years since the Whitlam Government gave Aboriginal people the money to buy a small block of houses in the heart of Sydney, right by Redfern railway station - homes for the working poor, unemployed and dispossessed. Over decades of neglect, the Block has descended into a squalid slum. In recent years, many of the houses have been demolished, people who can have moved out, and the empty shells have become the sites of crime and drugs and violence. The scandal is that everybody has known this - governments, bureaucrats and Aboriginal leaders - and just looked the other way. No news has been good news about the Block. But since Thomas Hickey died, that has all changed. At the top of the Block in Eveleigh Street, Gail Hickey is hanging out with her children. It's six weeks since her only son, Thomas, died after coming off his bike, just before his 18th birthday. Gail's aunt has come over to the Block to help her through this time. The family has just heard the coronial inquiry into the boy's death will not be happening for months. Typical - they'll try and take it as slow as possible to cover themselves up. That's what they're doing.

LIZ JACKSON: Gail's family is already convinced the boy was being chased by police. They want the inquiry to expose this.

GAIL HICKEY, TJ'S MOTHER: I know that won't get my son back. It's... I hope I get to find out what caused it. That's all I want to know.

GAIL CARGILL, TJ'S GREAT AUNT: They should admit what...what they were doing - chasing him, you know, I mean - which they haven't yet. I mean... But then again, they've got an excuse for everything, really. I mean, it's very hard to beat...beat police, I'll tell you.

LIZ JACKSON: The residents on the Block already feel targeted by Redfern police. Now they've learned that in the wake of the riot the Government is fast-tracking a new police station in the nearby TNT tower. In the Police Minister's words, right where the police want it, with a bird's-eye view over the Block.

WOMAN 1: Why do they want to put up a new police station? It's not going to make any fucking difference.

WOMAN 2: To keep an eye on us blacks, I suppose.

WOMAN 1: They're putting it in the TNT building.

WOMAN 2: In there?

WOMAN 1: Yeah.

WOMAN 2: They might as well just get one copper to live in each house here.

LIZ JACKSON: This tiny community seethes with resentment towards the police, built up over decades and handed down the generations. As drugs have taken a hold on the Block, the tension over policing has stepped up another notch.

Do you accept that police do stop Aboriginal youth - young men in particular between a certain age - ask them who they are, ask them for identity, maybe pat them down, for no reason other than the fact that they're walking along the street?

ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER BOB WAITES, NSW POLICE SERVICE: I don't accept that that happens all over the State. I accept it happens in some places...

LIZ JACKSON: Do you accept it happens in Redfern?

ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER BOB WAITES: It may do, yes. If it's around the Block area and the police are running an operation root out drug pushers in that area, that's quite possible.

LIZ JACKSON: A few days back, there was a typical scene. The police charged into Joyce Ingram's house, chasing a suspected offender. Joyce is 81.

JOYCE INGRAM: Well, I don't know exactly what was going on. All...all I remember is that this other young Koori chap raced in, run out into the bathroom and stood behind the shower curtain, as far as I hear. Police come in and run up the stairs and back down the stairs and out again.

LIZ JACKSON: Our cameras caught the scene.


JOYCE INGRAM (ON FOOTAGE): There you got it right here, see? Exactly what the police do to us Aborigines.

SERGEANT PAUL HUXTABLE, NSW POLICE ASSOCIATION: People talk about it being overpoliced. If anything, it's underpoliced. The area around Redfern railway station and the Block is probably the most violent place in the country. I think last weekend we had 13 robberies, 13 individuals robbed in that area. I mean, so if...if there's any indication that's, uh, overpolicing then we're doing a pretty poor job - but of course we're not.

LIZ JACKSON: For many years the Block was a refuge for out-of-town Aborigines who came to Sydney with little money and nowhere to stay. Thomas Hickey's parents, Gail and Ian, came from around the NSW country town of Walgett. Thomas, better known as TJ, spent his earliest years on the Block.

And what was he like as a kid?

GAIL CARGILL: Well, as a small child, he was very quiet. To me, he was so small and...I mean, thin. Well, what I can remember with him, he's never been in any trouble as...younger than... I don't know how long now since they're trying to say he's been in trouble, but..

GAIL HICKEY: He loved his football and looked after his sisters and that. Yeah. Yeah, he was there for my girls. He was.

LIZ JACKSON: TJ had five younger sisters. None of them saw much of their father. He spent most of TJ's life in and out of jail. He's currently serving seven years for robbery and causing grievous bodily harm

GAIL HICKEY: Yeah, he's in jail for a while and that. Yeah, but he was still there for my kids and that when I had them.

LIZ JACKSON: Did a lot of the looking after the kids fall onto you?

GAIL HICKEY: Yeah, fell onto me, yeah. I was there. I raised my kids and that, yeah.

LIZ JACKSON: So a lot of the time it was you with, like, one, two, three, four and then five and then six kids to look after?


GAIL CARGILL: He's the only man she's ever, sort of, in my opinion, been in love with all her life. And it's just that he was getting out, then she'd get pregnant, he'd go back in, she'd get pregnant. It's just the way she's had her children, you know. That's life.

LIZ JACKSON: Over the years of TJ's life, Gail and her children have been moving back and forth between Walgett and Sydney. TJ went to school in Walgett but left in Year 10. He found it hard to find work and started to get in trouble with the law both in Sydney and in Walgett He first came to police attention when he was 12. Gail came back to Sydney at the end of last year to keep an eye on TJ. She spends most of her days on the Block but sleeps somewhere else. Times have changed since Gail used to live here. At night, it's become a lawless and dangerous place for women and girls.

GAIL HICKEY: You used to walk home from the pubs, but now you can't walk home from the pubs or nothing. You'd get raped or something, yeah

LIZ JACKSON: Is that a serious problem down there?

GAIL HICKEY: Yeah. People have been raped down there but they won't tell no-one.

LIZ JACKSON: Why's that?

GAIL HICKEY: Because they're frightened of the people that done it to them.

LIZ JACKSON: And they know who's done it to them?

GAIL HICKEY: Yeah, they know.

LIZ JACKSON: And people down the Block know who those people are?


LIZ JACKSON: Why don't they tell the police?

GAIL HICKEY: I don't know.

GAIL CARGILL: I don't know much about that. It's just a little gossip I get from going over there, you know, so... And it's not gossip really, 'cause my niece was attacked. So, you know... Well, she was bashed and raped. So... And the person that's supposed to be responsible was arrested but let out on bail, so... And I really don't know people, like, over there at the moment 'cause I don't go there, but she was one of them. But I've been told by many people that there's been a lot of young girls that have been sexually assaulted there. So I don't even know if that's true, but, you know, that's what I was told, so.

LIZ JACKSON: Do you go down there? Before this all happened, did you used to go down there with your daughter?

GAIL CARGILL: Oh, about seven years ago maybe, yeah. No, but I don't.

LIZ JACKSON: What stopped you going down there?

GAIL CARGILL: Oh, I don't know. It's hard to say. Probably seeing a lot of drugs, I suppose.

GAIL HICKEY: TJ never got onto that. I said, "Do you ever...?" Because there's lots of young kids there, they smoke it. And I said, "Don't you ever do that." I said, "Because I will hurt you if you ever get on that stuff." He said, "I'd never get onto that stuff." Yeah, I know he'd never touched that.

LIZ JACKSON: When you say "that stuff", you mean smoking heroin?

GAIL HICKEY: Yeah. Like, down the Block, there's a lot of young kids smoke that.

LIZ JACKSON: Anyone can see the buying and selling of drugs in the lane down the centre of the Block, and until last week, the shooting gallery next door to Joyce Ingram's house.

MERRILL BATES: It's only because, like, I've had a bad childhood, you know, and all that. And that's why I choose to be on the drugs, you know.

LIZ JACKSON: Do you mind if I ask how you support your habit? How do you support it?

MERRILL BATES: Um, money. I go and get... I get money every day. Or I go out thieving and that or whatever. Just all depends, you know. Like, I get paid, but...

LIZ JACKSON: Because it's expensive, eh? So sometimes...

MERRILL BATES: Yeah, it's $50 a day, you know, and that. And like...I'm wasting it. I'm paying, what, 50 or 100 a day. It just all depends People go up the Cross and work for money. A lot of them go out, do car-urging, car-snatches, you know, or some of them go out thieving.

LIZ JACKSON: A fair bit of the thieving goes on around Redfern station. On the day of TJ's accident, at 6:30 in the morning, the cameras at the station recorded this confronting footage of a young man snatching his second bag for the morning. We've blurred the offender's face as he's awaiting trial, but he looks nothing like TJ Hickey. Redfern's only Aboriginal police officer identified the thief from the footage and made him his target for the morning... Month in month out, his arrest rate has been higher than anyone else's. He's probably the most hated man on the Block. Since TJ's death, he's been moved from Redfern.

Why is there so much antagonism to that police officer?

SHANE PHILLIPS, COMMUNITY MEMBER: Oh, I think because he was a blackfella. You know, I think, um... You know, I didn't have much dealings with him. Um, I don't know, you know? I think the sad part about it is he was an Aboriginal man and, um...maybe he just read into a lot of things that someone else wouldn't have read into them and that he...that... I think, um, because he was...was a Koori too, there was...a concern that he should have maybe been lenient or so... I don't know. I don't know.

LIZ JACKSON: He's had to move for his own safety. You know that, don't you?

SHANE PHILLIPS: Yeah, and I think, um, that...that's pretty extreme. I think lots of words were said but I can tell you they're from...from people who were just talking angry, but...

LIZ JACKSON: So you think the death threats...?

SHANE PHILLIPS: Wouldn't follow through, no, no, no.

LIZ JACKSON: The Aboriginal detective organised for eight police officers in four cars to be sent on the bag-snatcher operation - two paddy wagons, one unmarked sedan, one normal sedan with police markings. One of the vehicles had riot gear in the back - to arrest one person. The police say, in Redfern, this is what they need, just in case.

SERGEANT PAUL HUXTABLE, NSW POLICE ASSOCIATION: The situation is, in Redfern, you have a lot of people who gather around. They'll commit a robbery at the railway station, they'll run into the Block. If police pursue them, suddenly you've got a ready-made army of 10, 20, 30, 40 people throwing bricks and bottles at the police. Our only option is retreat.

LIZ JACKSON: The police cars cruised around without much luck, but at 11:13, a call came over that the target had been sighted. At around the same time, TJ Hickey left the Block on his bicycle. He'd cycled over from where he'd been staying with his girlfriend April, to get $20 from his mum.

GAIL HICKEY: And he come down and asked for some money. I said... I gave him $20 and then he went. I told him, I said, "Hurry up and go, 'cause there's police driving around."

APRIL CEISSMAN, TJ'S GIRLFRIEND: I rung Gail up to see where he was and Gail said he was on his way.

GAIL HICKEY: And I said, "No, he's not long left." And then she kept ringing me. I said, "Ring back in about another 10 minutes"

LIZ JACKSON: It's only a three-minute cycle ride back to where TJ and April were staying. April would always time him when he rode over to Redfern, so she'd know if he'd been pulled over by the police.

Did he have much trouble with the police?

APRIL CEISSMAN: Not that much. They just always chased him when they seen him and...and that. They never liked him, but he didn't do much wrong.

LIZ JACKSON: What, just some things?

APRIL CEISSMAN: Yeah, just a couple, you know. Everyone gets it, you know.

LIZ JACKSON: Everybody gets a couple of things?


LIZ JACKSON: What sort of things?

APRIL CEISSMAN: I don't know... Everyone does something wrong once.

LIZ JACKSON: The police say one of their vehicles drove past TJ cycling here in Renwick Street, as they were driving up in the opposite direction. TJ would have seen the police when they saw him and been worried. He had an outstanding arrest warrant for an assault on a woman in Walgett and cannabis in his pocket. The police say the officers did not know who he was.

ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER BOB WAITES, NSW POLICE SERVICE: They weren't looking for him. They paid him no attention. They just kept going. What they didn't know was that after they'd gone, he accelerated away around the corner and lost control of his pushbike and then had an accident. To this point in time there's been nobody who's been able to come forward - and we've called many times - that's been able to say that the police actually were chasing Thomas Hickey.

LIZ JACKSON: Four Corners has spoken to three of the people who've come forward and given statements to police. If what they say is true, the police account looks, at best, evasive.

This is, again, the way the police tell it. The police pass TJ Hickey in Renwick Street and both continue on their way. But the three people all say that seconds after TJ shot through this gap at the bottom of the pathway, they saw a police vehicle stopped here at the gate behind him. One of these people is Stewart Clanachan, who says he was driving with TJ's cousin, Roy Hickey, along this road, when TJ shot across.

STEWART CLANACHAN: We saw a young child sort of dart across the road on his pushbike, going pretty fast. Uh, actually Roy mentioned to me that it was his cousin. A couple of seconds later, we happened to turn to the right because he had come out this park. As we looked to the right, I happened to see there was a paddy wagon there, just straight up against the gate. You know, what happened was it's only a pathway and, uh, there's enough room for pedestrians or a guy on a pushbike to get through...uh, and the paddy wagon was just stopped at the gate.

LIZ JACKSON: Could you tell if it'd been driving behind him or did you just see it...?

STEWART CLANACHAN: I...I saw it stationary. But, um, yeah, that's all I can really say, you know. And it was only a matter of seconds TJ came out that park and it was a matter of seconds by the time we got to the park that the paddy wagon was here, so...

LIZ JACKSON: Essentially right behind him?

STEWART CLANACHAN: Yeah, I'd say so. Yeah. Yeah.

LIZ JACKSON: Four Corners has spoken to another man whose account fills out what Stewart says he saw. 'Harry', as we'll call him, has also given a statement to the police but his employers have stopped him from talking with us on camera. Harry has told us that he was across this park when he saw a boy cycling down this driveway at the bottom of Renwick Street. He said the boy was cycling so fast that his knees almost came up to his chin. Harry says he saw the boy was being followed by a police paddy wagon about three car-lengths behind him. When the boy reached the bottom of the walkway, he shot through this gate and the paddy wagon was stopped by the locked gate. Harry says it turned around and went back the way it came.

ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER BOB WAITES: I don't know that they were doing that. I certainly don't see that that would make them in any way culpable for whatever...what happened to him, if they were following him, no.

LIZ JACKSON: Or chasing him?

ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER BOB WAITES: Well, chasing's different. Because chasing becomes one of when...then there's a reason to notify others to try and stop that person and apprehend that person. There's nothing on our police radio logs, nothing to suggest that the police officers are there. The people who saw Thomas Hickey actually fall off his bike say there were no police there.

LIZ JACKSON: But the people who saw the police say that it actually happened on the other side of Phillip Street.

ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER BOB WAITES: I don't... Sorry, you have more information than me. I don't have that information.

LIZ JACKSON: Isn't the difference between chasing and following simply a matter of speed? I mean, if someone's racing behind you, I'd call that being chased.


LIZ JACKSON: So if someone's racing...if you're going as fast as you can and there's someone behind you, that's a chase?

ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER BOB WAITES: Assuming they're after you, yes, that is a chase.

LIZ JACKSON: TJ's accident occurred about 100 metres away from the locked gate, over the other side of Phillip Street behind the Housing Commission tower.

STEWART CLANACHAN: The last time I saw him, I saw him go round the corner of the commission house, so I presumed that's when it happened. He just went round the corner and that's where it happened.

LIZ JACKSON: Stewart Clanachan and Roy Hickey heard sirens going about five minutes later. So they circled back to the park, by which time, the police were already on the scene.

STEWART CLANACHAN: So we walked across the park and we saw that, er..TJ was actually lying on the concrete next to the fence and there was a lot of police around him. Roy couldn't get any closer to TJ. And, er, Roy just said to the policeman, "Well, look, um, I'm his cousin. I'll go back to his mother's place and tell them what's happened."

LIZ JACKSON: It's the coroner's job to determine what led to this scene, who's telling the truth and if anyone is to blame. But whatever he decides, the fact remains that Roy Hickey's account of what happened is what went straight back to the Block - that the police were behind TJ Hickey less than a minute before he hit the fence.

GAIL HICKEY: My cousin come in, told me...asked "Was TJ on his red bike?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "He just had a nasty accident down near the high-rises." So I just dropped my bag and just jumped in the bus and I went with him down to the...not to the scene, down...straight to the hospital.

GAIL CARGILL: Three of the doctors that I, sort of...that came out to speak to us, like, had tears in their eyes, you know. So it' was very sad. And they were trying to make it as easy as they can on Gail, like, to say they tried everything and, you know, there was just too much damage and... (Sighs)

LIZ JACKSON: What happened then when you went home, after you left the hospital? What did you do? Did you come back?

GAIL HICKEY: No, I just sat at Redfern all that night when we left the hospital. I just sat at Redfern.

LIZ JACKSON: Down on the Block?


LIZ JACKSON: In the middle of the day, as Gail Hickey sat grieving in the street, NSW Police put out a press release concerning TJ's death "Redfern Police confirmed," it said, "they did have a police presence in the area but were not involved in a pursuit of any kind." No-one on the Block believed them. They'd already heard about the police paddy wagon pulling up at the gate.

SHANE PHILLIPS, COMMUNITY MEMBER: The fact that they denied it and when people came to us from the community who are fairly, um...are good. Well-standing people told us that it was...that there was a bit of a chase on, um, that insulted people's intelligence and it caused frustration to people, I think. Then there was all this doubt in people's mind - it was in my mind too - what actually did go on? And, you know, it was sad how it all panned out during the day. Then after that, his mum and all the family were distraught, they're sitting in the street. And in culture happens, people sit around just to be with the mum and that. And that's... The sense of sadness in the community was really frustrating, was really, really strong. And one thing led to another. And it just end up the wrong thing happened and...

LIZ JACKSON: As the day progressed, the stories and rumours got wilder. People claimed to have spoken to people who saw the police actually ram TJ's bike into the fence. And the kids who came from around the Block heard it all.

What did you hear?

GIRL: That he was chased by the coppers and, um...and they knocked him off his bike.

LIZ JACKSON: You heard that on the Saturday, the day that it happened?

GIRL: Yeah.

LIZ JACKSON: What made you think the police had done it?

GIRL: That's what people told us.

GIRL 2: 'Cause... Yeah. They...they would have had to do it.

GIRL 3: They always chase little boys.

GIRL 2: He couldn't have died by himself. And there's no way a little brick could have made him do that.

GIRL 3: Yeah.

GIRL 2: A little rock on the floor. They had to hit him.

LIZ JACKSON: People began to put up posters with photos of police. They read as follows - "Wanted - Child Murderers. There is gang of child killers operating in the Redfern area. They can be easily identified, as they all dress the same. They are serial killers and will reoffend."

RODNEY CAREY: It's one thing to let them drive around and check you out every day, pull you, run in and out of your house looking for suspects or whatnot, but to kill a young kid is another thing. You're killing our future. You know what I mean? He could have had 12 kids, young TJ. He could've had 12 kids and he never got a chance.

LIZ JACKSON: And you believe that's what happened? That they killed him?

RODNEY CAREY: I believe they killed him. Yeah, I believe they did.

SHANE PHILLIPS: That just was magnified by the time things got to the.that evening, I think. Um, and what had happened is, um... You know, people, for years and years, police... I mean, it's not just a new thing with police and Aboriginal people. Um, there's that entrenched feeling that Aboriginal people, um...police are the enemy, you know?

LIZ JACKSON: Most of that Sunday, the police steered clear of the Block, unaware that people were getting themselves ready.

PAM INGRAM: They arranged a lot of weapons, if you could call them that. They pulled up all of the paver bricks and broke them all up into throwable sizes. They collected all of the beer bottles from out of the wheelie bins - both the long-neck bottles and the small twist top bottles. And they had them all lined up. And a car was stolen from off the Block somewhere and brought onto the Block. And the petrol was taken out of the car. They filled up a lot of the twist top bottles and made Molotov cocktails out of them. And they pretty much had all of the ammunition lined up before the police actually started approaching the Block.

LIZ JACKSON: About what time would that have been?

PAM INGRAM: Oh, this was getting up towards about 8:00 at night.

GIRL: Whatever we could fill up with bottles and bricks, we'd grab it

LIZ JACKSON: What did you think you were preparing for?

GIRL: A war.

GIRL 2: A war.

LIZ JACKSON: A war against whom?

GIRL 2: Against the police.

LIZ JACKSON: Did you have any sense that things were being organised?

INSPECTOR DARREN BENNETT: On the night, we didn't have a sense things were being organised.

LIZ JACKSON: Just after 9:00, police were caught unprepared. Seven or eight officers in shirt sleeves ran for their lives.

INSPECTOR DARREN BENNETT: Seeing police run away like that and hide in the railway station until they got backup is highly unusual.

LIZ JACKSON: Hmm. Had you seen it before?

INSPECTOR DARREN BENNETT: No. Not to that extent. No.

SERGEANT PAUL HUXTABLE, NSW POLICE ASSOCIATION: At that stage they could have, if they chose to, continued through the streets of Redfern. What damage could have occasioned if they'd chosen to have done that, we'll never know.

LIZ JACKSON: The 'signal one' distress call went out for backup. Many of those at the front of the crowd in the initial rush were children

MICK MUNDINE, ABORIGINAL HOUSING COMPANY, THE BLOCK: Them kids was up the front. Adults was at the back. We have the adults that are covering their faces. You know, what sort of adults are they when they're pushing kids up the front? What if one of them kids got killed too, you know? It would've been a disaster.

INSPECTOR DARREN BENNETT: It doesn't matter how old the thrower is. Once the rock hits you, it hurts.

LIZ JACKSON: For the next six hours, the tactic was just one of containment - stop the riot from spreading outside the area around the station and the Block. It meant hour after hour of bombardment at a cost

INSPECTOR DARREN BENNETT: I've never seen the number of police go down in an incident like that before. I don't think anyone has. We had almost 40 people injured and many taken to hospital. And when you see people carried off the line, seemingly unconscious, it's very traumatic. There's no doubt about that.

SHANE PHILLIPS: I saw the footage where one of the police officers got hit with a really big rock. That was pretty... That was pretty scary, that. And no-one deserved it.

LIZ JACKSON: Some time after 1:00am, the police made a move to push the crowd away from the station, which was now on fire. All trains to the city pass through Redfern and commuters would start coming through at 5:00am. But a new crowd of people poured out from the Block and the police were forced back. Politically, it's too sensitive for the police to admit that at any point they were overrun.

At no time the police were overrun?


LIZ JACKSON: But the firefighters saw it differently just past 2:00am

Can I read you the following code-red emergency radio message that was sent out by the firefighters at the riot at 2:04 in the morning? It says, "Police lines have been overrun. They cannot guarantee our safety. It seems not enough police."

ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER BOB WAITES: Well, it's interesting, 'cause I was there then. I disagree totally with that.

LIZ JACKSON: So you stand by the assurance, despite what the firefighters said, that the police weren't overrun?

ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER BOB WAITES: I do. I certainly do. In fact, I was there at 1:30 at the line talking to police. I was talking to the fire brigade then, so if some young fire officer panicked and said something, I can't be held responsible for that.

LIZ JACKSON: That wasn't a young firefighter, but the zone commander.


LIZ JACKSON: Not all the people involved in the riot were from Redfern. Not all were Aboriginal. Not all were there for Thomas Hickey. But many clearly were. Like any mob, there was a mixture of motives.

MICK MUNDINE, ABORIGINAL HOUSING COMPANY, THE BLOCK: A lot of people that was involved with the riot would've done it for their own personal reason. I really feel they used the boy's death to do what they want to do. The early activists, you know, the early '70s, they just resent and hate police for the rest of their lives. I suppose you had drug sellers and crims - it was a good time to have a go at the police

LIZ JACKSON: Do you think those people were involved?

MICK MUNDINE: Oh, for sure. It's the truth.

LIZ JACKSON: When you say the early activists from the '70s, who are you talking about?

MICK MUNDINE: Oh, I mean the early activists. The people that's been involved with that sort of situation in the past.

LIZ JACKSON: You mean Lyall Munro?

MICK MUNDINE: Yeah. Lyall's...Lyall's one of them, one of the guy's that's been involved. But, I mean, you know, that's his personal opinion about life and I don't believe what he done is right.

LYALL MUNRO: That doesn't faze me. I mean, the idea of supporting these young people is I do support their right to resist. I support the Palestinian kids' right to resist. I support, you know, the international right to resist all, um, impositions that...that cut across the bounds of human rights.

LIZ JACKSON: At around 1:00am, some older Aboriginal women tried to settle it down and tell the kids that they should go home.


WOMAN: I'm worried about these kids.

LYALL MUNRO: These kids will fucking act the way they want to. Fucking leave them alone!

WOMAN: Do something for them!

LIZ JACKSON: Lyall Munro put them in their place.

LYALL MUNRO (ON RIOT FOOTAGE): You have no fuckin' right! Those issues can wait for later! This type of place...

WOMAN: What do you know about this place?

LYALL MUNRO: Fuck off, woman! These fucking people here! All day! All fucking day!

LIZ JACKSON: What were you saying to them?

LYALL MUNRO: Oh, that was personal, between them and I.



LIZ JACKSON: Finally, by 4:00am, it was over. None of the rioters had been hurt, but it had taken seven hours. And what made you finally go home?

GIRL: I stayed till the morning.

GIRL 2: We didn't go home till the coppers come all the way up to the top of Eveleigh Street.

LIZ JACKSON: Tell me what you thought about it as a night out.

GIRL 3: It was the best night.

GIRL 2: It was alive and, um...

GIRL 3: Yeah. The first time Redfern was ever...

GIRL 2: Exciting. It was exciting for us.

GIRL 3: Yep.

LIZ JACKSON: What were you saying? "The first time..."?

GIRL 3: The first time Redfern was ever, like...

GIRL 2: Alive.

GIRL 3: Yeah.

GIRL 1: Like so many people in it, and that.

GIRL 3: Like, we got to show what Redfern...what Redfern can do. You know? But... Oh. No. Jeez, I already said that.

LIZ JACKSON: What do you mean by that? You "got to show what Redfern can do"?

GIRL 3: Like, if we can beat the coppers, we can beat anyone.

SHANE PHILLIPS: They don't see the consequences, 'cause the consequences could be incarceration for some of those kids. And we're over-represented in jails. We don't need any more of our people there.

LIZ JACKSON: In the weeks that have followed the riot, the questions are now being asked. How and when did police lose control of law and order on the Block? Former assistant police commissioner Clive Small believes it was when they failed to stem the flood of heroin into this community - that the drug-related crime that followed in its wake wound up the tension between the police and the locals to the point where one day it would have to snap.

Up until two weeks ago, Clive Small was the director of the State Government's Crime Prevention Unit. In that role, he's been warning the Government that Redfern was heading for trouble for the past 18 months. His alarm began in a series of meetings in 2002.

CLIVE SMALL, FORMER DIRECTOR, NSW CRIME PREVENTION: There was some information coming through that just didn't make sense when you put it together, and as a result of that, we did a more detailed review of the data to try and get a better picture of what was occurring. The review of the data indicated that, in 2002, Redfern and Kings Cross had by far the biggest heroin problem in Sydney. In Redfern alone, over one million syringes were handed out that year. On the other hand, the average number of heroin arrests a month was a modest six, some of them just small-time users. It indicated a massive failure of policing. People who live on the Block knew, of course, that the problem with heroin dealers had just been left to fester for years.

SHANE PHILLIPS: The fact that they've let it carry on for so long is, you makes some people, and I...I sometimes feel like know, it's done on purpose. If you were paranoid you'd believe that it was there on purpose.

LIZ JACKSON: What do you mean "on purpose"?

SHANE PHILLIPS: Well, let all them blackfellas destroy each other and then we haven't got anyone keep them in Redfern or keep them fighting for the... for the better of their people.

LIZ JACKSON: In October 2002, Clive Small took the heroin use and arrest figures for Redfern to the then police minister, Michael Costa.

And what was Michael Costa, the police minister's response at that time?

CLIVE SMALL: Well, he was quite taken aback by the figures and he organised subsequently a briefing with Deputy Commissioner Dave Madden and another senior officer and I presented my assessment of the situation to those police.

LIZ JACKSON: When you say he was "quite taken aback", can you describe his response?

CLIVE SMALL: Well, Michael Costa's a very excitable man, and he was excited.

LIZ JACKSON: What did he say?

CLIVE SMALL: He said we'd have to fix it.

LIZ JACKSON: Within three weeks, Premier Bob Carr had announced the Redfern anti-drug plan - renewed action, he said, to arrest the dealers, shut down the drug houses, and get users into treatment. Over a year later there have been no successful drug house prosecutions. On top of that, the number of heroin arrests for 2003 appears to be actually lower than before the trumpeted crackdown - if Clive Small is right, down from an average of six to four a month.

CLIVE SMALL: The consequences for the community are devastating. It attracts the drug trade and expands it and simply makes life a living hell.

LIZ JACKSON: And a major loss of morale in terms of the police's feeling that they can actually address this issue?

CLIVE SMALL: I think the front-line police would be quite devastated by it. They would simply feel helpless and there'd be a very substantial loss of morale and I'd probably put it a lot stronger than that.

LIZ JACKSON: Do you accept there's been a loss of morale about the ability to enforce the drug laws in Redfern amongst the police?

ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER BOB WAITES, NSW POLICE SERVICE: Yes, I do. There's a real frustration in the police at Redfern that they can't do their job.

SERGEANT PAUL HUXTABLE, NSW POLICE ASSOCIATION: Why are heroin dealers continually arrested and yet continue to sell heroin on the Block? That's a valid question. And the answer is, I don't know. You need to look at an authority beyond the police.

LIZ JACKSON: Just three months before the riot, in November last year, Clive Small went back to the Government to press his concerns that nothing was being achieved, that Redfern needed urgent attention. A few weeks later the response came back from the Police Minister's office.

CLIVE SMALL: Well, what we were told was that there were adequate police to deal with the problems in Redfern. So that was the sum total of the feedback.

LIZ JACKSON: What did you think about that response at the time?

CLIVE SMALL: I thought it was an interesting response and a brave response. I thought it was highly inaccurate.

LIZ JACKSON: And what do you think now, in the light of what's happened?

CLIVE SMALL: Um, I have a stronger view that it was a very ill-informed response. I mean, it was clearly an inaccurate response.

LIZ JACKSON: Do you think they just didn't want to know?

CLIVE SMALL: Well, I think at that time it wasn't on the front page of the media.

LIZ JACKSON: The Premier, Bob Carr, Police Minister John Watkins and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Andrew Refshauge all declined to be interviewed for this program.

Two weeks ago, the local residents gathered for the opening of the new Redfern Community Centre, just adjacent to the Block. South Sydney Council, not the State Government, put up the money - an act of faith and hope in this struggling community, especially in the children, who deserve a future life that at the very least is free from drugs and violence and trouble with the law.

SHANE PHILLIPS: I'd like my kids to be playing somewhere where there's no dealers and somewhere where there's no shooting up. I'd like my kids to grow up seeing...doing all the things what kids, some kids from within the Block don't get to do. Go and do things outside, what everyone else does.

LIZ JACKSON: There are, as there always have been, plans and dreams that things will all get better on the Block, that relationships can be rebuilt, that lives can recover from grief. There are packages and initiatives under way, fresh starts to be made.

But at the same time as the Governor of NSW and Joyce Ingram are opening the new centre, an ambulance arrives for a heroin addict who has overdosed on the grass 50 metres away. And the police took the opportunity to arrest a boy at the top of the Block they recognised from the riot. Is this the new beginning for the Block?

©2004 ABC

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