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Can't box, can get smacked - 25 February 2006

How come young kids can get high, can get killed, can hang out on the streets but can't learn the sweet science, asks Stephen Gibbs? SMH February 25, 2006

A SMALL group of South Sydney juniors working on the fringes of Redfern Oval wants to occupy and build on the wreckage of the condemned inner-city ground. If the CFMEU red-and-green ban crumbles, this grassroots band of brothers could make the cardinal and myrtle's last stand.

For the past few months, the kids redeveloping part of the Phillip Street end of the oval during their holidays, after school and on weekends, have installed facilities in their club/cubby house more enticing than anything the Rabbitohs have around the corner for grown-ups.

They chose to build on a site near a hole in the ground's perimeter fencing, which exposure to the elements and wirecutters has enlarged. Using materials endemic to the district, they have enforced public-private partnerships with local government to recycle star pickets, steel drums and timber pallets. They are fine neighbours, and I live nearby.

Construction commenced last October as I began squandering a few weeks of annual leave and was in the perfect position to watch the project slowly take shape day by day, week after week. That's the couch. Work since has progressed throughout the summer and now proceeds regardless of whether I'm there or not.

On weekends, the kids bundy-on at the site before midday and go right through to early afternoon. Contrary to any popular image of inner-city children as layabouts or street urchins, none of this lot seems afraid of hard work. Not any parent or guardian either. Probably not the State Protection Group. My favourite part of their working day is knock-off, when they stop to survey what they have achieved. Watching them sit in the battlements, legs dangling over the edge of the brick wall, makes me so damn nostalgic I want to climb up there with them and tear the top off a pack of Peter Jackson 15s.

Most of these kids seem to be pre-teenaged, but there are visible signals they are growing up. On hot days, it looks like some are dressing to cover the evidence of moving from childhood into adolescence. Kids these days don't need to be told to slip on a shirt, or slap on a bandage, and slop on Bepanthen to protect new tatts from getting sunburnt.

This is really just one small sign of what's going on here:


Development Proposal
Site: 51 Redfern St
Applicant: City of Sydney
Ref: D/2006/163

Proposal: Demolition of existing structures at Redfern Oval, including grandstand and associated facilities, scoreboard, ticket-office structures, amenity blocks, perimeter seating, canteen, and four light towers. Earthworks, including removal of existing perimeter mounds and associated retaining walls and fencing. Removal of vegetation.

When the bulldozers have cleared space for Sydney's first open-air shooting gallery, a separate development application will be submitted for planned construction works.

Then another sign will be posted on the gates of Redfern Park - the northern end of a block dominated by the oval, and the prettiest part of the site. The park is green and gets all-day sunshine but is not a natural playground for kids. In January, it became the first place in Sydney a street drug dealer asked me if I'd like to buy ice.

This has been a safe part of Redfern, I've found when out night-walking with the sportsbag, except for a police horse getting punched now and then. But only once in years of park crossings have I stepped off the pathway - pausing briefly by a class of tai chi exponents to consider whether as individuals they could be tipped with a shove, like sleeping cows.

This is just a sign of the sporting and recreational facilities available in this part of Redfern:

South Sydney PCYC Boxing Classes 2006.

The Police & Community Youth Club is on the eastern side of Redfern Oval in Elizabeth Street. Last year, boxing returned to the place for the first time since the early 1990s, and this year for the first time in more than a decade youngsters can pull on the gloves and step into the ring.

Within a few minutes' walk of here is the fence on which 17-year-old TJ Hickey was impaled and on which he died three years ago. Even closer is a house where five years earlier a molotov cocktail was thrown through a window and killed Arthur Haines, a 13-year-old boy.

Former fighter Billy McPherson already has 10 to 15 boys and girls, aged 14 and over, coming to train at the PCYC on Monday and Tuesday evenings (boys earlier), and holds open sessions on Wednesday and Thursday nights.

Billy says 10- to 14 year-old kids from Redfern and Waterloo want to learn the art and science of boxing and he wants to teach but NSW law won't allow them even to spar in the compulsory protective gear.

Children must sometimes look at the things adults consider to reach decisions about their future and conclude we all should be punched in the head.