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Saint of Redfern remembered ‘Mum’ Shirl (1924-1998)

The City of Sydney lit up Redfern Street on February 27 in an official memorial service for Colleen Shirl Perry, better known as “Mum Shirl” reports Sarah Malik in the South Sydney Herald of March 2008.

The lighting and re-dedication of Mum Shirl’s Memorial is part of a $50 million plan by the City to redevelop Redfern. The decorative lighting will illuminate the Redfern Park Gates, the Redfern Court House, the St Vincent de Paul Church, and the Redfern Post Office.

“I am pleased to see Redfern's historic buildings illuminated and privileged to honour Mum Shirl, one of Redfern's most generous volunteers,” said Lord Mayor Clover Moore.

In her 74 years, Mum Shirl was a powerful advocate for Aboriginal rights and welfare. She assisted in setting up the Aboriginal Medical and Legal Service in Redfern in the 1970s, visited prisoners in gaols and opened her home to the addicted and homeless.

“She was a dynamic, unbelievable woman. I know my life has been enriched. She kept that candle burning and took in the wounded,” said Ann Weldon, Mum Shirl’s great-niece.

Growing up in an Erambie reserve in Cowra, Ms Weldon remembers Mum Shirl defying the welfare authorities when they attempted to remove children. “She made people listen. That we are survivors and we have to be acknowledged,” said Ms Weldon. “She was the matriarch of this family. She willingly gave and left a legacy that most Australians can be proud of. She was just a remarkable lady. We were fortunate to have her.”

Close friends remember her as a passionate and formidable woman.

“She was absolutely fearless. She wasn’t scared of nobody. She would take on the police, politicians,” said Kaye Bellear, a close friend.

Marni Kennedy, sister of the late Father Ted Kennedy of St Vincent’s Church in Redfern whom Mum Shirl worked closely with, remembers her as a woman who had an open heart.

“She had a brilliant mind. She was a mentor and a friend. We called her the Saint of Redfern, her heart went out to the homeless, the addicted,” said Ms Kennedy.

Social worker Rhonda Ansiewicz met Mum Shirl whilst working in a soup kitchen in 1974. She would often drive Mum Shirl to prisons and remembers occasions where Mum Shirl would be called in to quell riots.

“She understood their pain and their incarceration. She had an amazing way of embracing people,” said Ms Ansiewicz.

Friends remember Mum Shirl as a woman of deep religious faith who didn’t hesitate to challenge church officials when she thought they were wrong.

“She was refused communion as a young girl and that nearly broke her heart,” said Ms Ansiewicz. “You could have huge fights with her though. She’d say, ‘I’m an MRC’ (Mad Roman Catholic). She’d take on anybody. That’s what Ted and Shirley taught. You stand up. You pull the rug from under people who oppress.”

Source: South Sydney Herald March 2008 -