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Mick Mundine - On the streets of Redfern, there's a new day rising

Years ago the Gadigal - Sydney's Aboriginal people - travelled in a circle. They'd spend six months at a waterhole, eat, drink, fish, hunt and dance. When water got low or food got scarce, they'd move onto the next waterhole. A few seasons later they'd come back to find the waterhole was full and all the animals had returned. The cycle began again reports Time Out Sydney Wednesday 21st May 2008.

Ever since the railway circle went in, Redfern has been our people's main watering hole. That's why, when Sydney builds its indigenous cultural centre, it should be in Redfern. Not The Rocks. Not Darling Harbour. No blackfellas down there! Redfern is Blackfella Gathering Ground Number One. It's where Sydney's past and future connects.

The way I see it the cultural centre should be a living, breathing symbol of reconciliation. Yes, it should be a museum and school and art gallery and research centre and library and performance space too, but most of all, it's got to tell the stories of Sydney's people - from the very beginning right up to now.

Thing is, how can they expect Aboriginals to recognise anybody else in Australia when Australia itself doesn't recognise that we're the first indigenous people of this land? That was a breakdown in Rudd's apology. We need that recognition for reconciliation to come to reality.

This centre has got to help people from Australia and overseas understand who the Aboriginal people of Sydney are. It's got to look history in the eye - the invasion of our country, the slaughtering of our people, the stealing of our children - but then it's got to move people along. What's past is past. Let's not dwell on it. Reconciliation is the future.

It's about people more than politics. Paul Keating made a great speech at Redfern Park in 1992 but he didn't carry it on. Now Kevin Rudd has taken the first step and apologised to the nation in a really passionate way, the Aboriginal people got to accept that apology, face reality and move on.

And that's the most important thing about the apology, I reckon. It's a time for us to come together. Blackfellas. Whitefellas. We've both got to learn from mistakes and start fresh. Whitefellas got to wash the blood off their hands. Blackfellas got to forgive, stand up for themselves and say enough is enough.

What all of us gotta ask ourselves now is: how we gonna walk on together, hand in hand?

The way I see it, it starts here in Redfern. For too long our community has been a no-go, our streets just a fast track to the airport rather than somewhere to stop and learn. For too long our residents have been stuck in a vicious cycle of drugs, alcohol, violence. Mate, I'm sick of The Block being called The Blockage.

Now we got new hope. I was at a Chamber of Commerce meeting last night and we had residents, politicians, councillors, architects business people excited about Redfern. We've got the Pemulwuy Project [named after the first Aboriginal freedom fighter], and we've got big plans for this area. It's up to us elders to pave the way.

We're gonna fix Aboriginal housing, open up Gadigal Apartments as a residential area, make a Red Square to go with Green Square down the road - Rabbitoh tribal colours! We want to demolish The Block and put in 62 houses - same number of Aboriginal families as were in the Gadigal clan on this land when the First Fleet arrived.

One thing I'll be cranky about is if the rainbow serpent marks the path of this indigenous culture trail - it's a desert totem and got no place in Sydney. Snakes represent evil and the negative side of our culture - even Adam and Eve knew that!

At Redfern station there used to be a rainbow serpent painted on the wall, fangs bared, bringing bad karma on us for 45 years. It took me years but I cut his head off eventually, painted that bad karma away.

See, the truth is, the Gadigal and us are water people. Our totems are whales and dolphins - they're warmer, more human creatures, better for kids and more connected with home. These are animals that represent flowing water and cleansing properties. Why aren't they painted on the ground of children's playgrounds instead of that bloody rainbow serpent?

Mick Mundine is the CEO of the Aboriginal Housing Commission

Photo: Mundine and his mob are fighting for a past, present and future Sydney can be proud of