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Memorial for Mum Shirl and Father Ted

In 2006, the year after Fr Ted Kennedy died, members of the community of St Vincent’s Church in Redfern approached Tom Bass and the sculpture studio school at Erskineville to design a memorial. This was followed by multiple meetings to discuss the nature of this project with Marnie Kennedy, Fr Ted’s sister, who continues his work in Redfern, and other members of the church community including Catherine de Lorenzo, Bronwyn Crosby and Danny Gilbert. Ann Weldon, Mum Shirl’s niece, came to the meetings when she was able reports Margo Hoekstra in the South Sydney Herald of May 2009.

It was decided that the memorial should be a tribute to the work Fr Ted and Mum Shirl did together. They worked to establish a society of justice and freedom for all citizens – Aboriginal “cousins” living with dignity and in equality with white settlers.

In November 2007, a meeting was held at St Vincent’s where the community which had been associated with Mum Shirl and Father Ted had an opportunity to reflect and share with the artists what these two amazing people had meant to them.

In principle, Council approval was sought and granted for the sculpture to be placed on the footpath outside, near the space between St Vincent’s and the old Presbytery.

Over several months additional investigation was carried out by the artists, to seek out and meet with local Aboriginal people, particularly relatives and friends of Mum Shirl, who were intimately involved with her and her activities in the Redfern area and elsewhere, so that their experiences could be taken into account.

The artists, under the direction of Tom Bass, integrated this information, and over time, a maquette (model) was developed which reflected the spirit of Mum Shirl and Father Ted Kennedy’s work together. It was decided that the work would be abstract in nature and symbolic of nurturing and political power, with a strong emphasis on reconciliation.

The model for the sculpture was presented at a church meeting on Sunday March 29 this year and at The Block family picnic on Saturday April 18. It was generally well received by local people and the church community. The symbolism of the piece had whole-hearted support. The artists are working to resolve some concerns about the design.

The Memorial will present  the spirits of Mum Shirl and Ted Kennedy by way of connecting hands. Mum Shirl, and for over a quarter of a century, Ted Kennedy, lived with the problems of the most vulnerable and underprivileged in the area, and strove to alleviate their suffering in immediate and practical ways. For this reason hands have been chosen to symbolise their activities.

There is a seating base which represents Australia. Two arms rise up from this – a dark arm representing Mum Shirl rises up directly out of the land mass, expressing her Indigenous relationship with the country. The lighter arm representing Ted Kennedy rises from “off-shore” expressing the immigrant status of white settlers.

Above the land mass, the two arms co-operate – stretching up to form an open archway of welcome and hospitality for which they were both well known. The lighter hand forms a shelter above and is linked with the dark hand, which curves under the shelter to provide support and nurture.

The fingers of the nurturing hand are arranged to suggest prison bars, referencing the significant incarceration problems confronting Indigenous people, and Mum Shirl’s determination to advocate for this group.

Organisers invite the Redfern community to a meeting at the Redfern Community Centre, 29-53 Hugo Street, Redfern, on Tuesday May 19 at 6pm to see the model for the work and artists’ impressions of how it will look on the footpath.

Source: South Sydney Herald May 2009