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Why the Rabbitohs need to return to Redfern Oval

By Rob Welsh, Chairperson, Metropolitan Aboriginal Land Council

This year, one of the Metropolitan Aboriginal Land Council’s young site management trainees, Buddy Gordon, made his NRL debut for the South Sydney Rabbitohs.


Buddy ended up playing 10 games for Souths while continuing his studies.  He capped off his season by being selected for the Australian Invitational XIII that played New Zealand at Telstra Stadium.


Buddy grew up in Redfern.  His success is a source of great pride to his family, our Land Council and the entire Redfern Aboriginal community.


But it wasn’t a surprise for us because many of the finest players in Souths’ history have been Aboriginal.


They include the goal kicking whiz, Eric Simms and the inspirational captain, John Sattler, who once played a whole grand final with a broken jaw.


Today, Souths has more Aboriginal players than any other NSW team in the NRL.


It’s for these reasons that Redfern’s Aboriginal community are passionate supporters of both Rugby League and Souths.  And it’s for the same reasons that we hope one day our team will return to our community, to play on our ground, Redfern Oval.


For generations, Aboriginal people have gained strength, hope and enjoyment out of watching Souths play on Redfern Oval.


Generations of Aboriginal families have cheered on the Rabbitohs there and generations of young black footballers have aspired to play on the same famous ground as their heroes.


It’s not just the young men in our community who look up to Souths.  This year, seven of our young women whose home ground is Redfern Oval were selected to play for Australia in women’s rugby league.


Redfern Oval is also significant to Aboriginal people because it’s been the home of our annual rugby league knockout.  The knockout is the largest gathering of Aboriginal people in NSW.  It’s alcohol and drug free.  For security and safety reasons this carnival has to be played on a ground with proper seating, gates and fences.






But Redfern Oval isn’t just important to Aboriginal people.  Souths has always been a club that has been open to people of all cultures.  To all of these people Souths and Redfern Oval are, in the words of the great poet, Judith Wright, “part of our blood’s country.”


Now of course, all this is under threat, because of a plan that would deny Souths the ability to play NRL standard games at Redfern.


From Metro Land Council’s perspective, we have always had a very close and positive relationship with the Sydney City Council and the Mayor and Councilors who serve on it.


We have always felt listened to and supported.


We hope that Council will listen to us again when we tell it that the Aboriginal community of Redfern very much wants our team, Souths, back playing games at Redfern Oval.


Some people say that it will be OK for Souths to train at Redfern and play at Aussie Stadium in the Eastern suburbs.  But this would keep Souths away from its local community.


Souths aren’t wealthy.  They don’t have a playing roster of internationals or a huge junior league.  But what they do have is a passionate, rugby league loving community.  By keeping Souths away from Redfern Oval you keep the club removed from its greatest asset – its local people.


Removing our team would be like taking away a part of this community’s soul.


Unfortunately, when Council voted on the Redfern Oval issue this week, a number of the Councilors hadn’t had the opportunity to look at a plan put forward by the local Police Citizens Youth Club that would redevelop Redfern Oval in a way that would have widespread community support.


This plan would ensure public access without forcing away a football team that has been such an important part of our community since 1908.


An expanded grandstand would give Redfern Oval the capacity to hold up to four NRL games per year and give the PCYC a new home with indoor sports facilities for all the youth of Redfern – Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal.


It’s not too late for our Councilors to have another look at the plans for Redfern Oval. 


A supporter’s BBQ is being held at Redfern Oval on Sunday, December 4.  By attending, people can tell the Sydney City Council that we want them to have a change of heart so that Souths rugby league football club can maintain its important place in our community.