by Samuel Jones
What would happen to Redfern without children? That’s the question being asked by The Walking Neighbourhood, a project that’s running guided tours of Redfern with a difference; the guides are children.
The Walking Neighbourhood was conceived by Lenine Bourke, who has collaborated on artistic projects with diverse communities and young people for over 15 years. It premiered in Brisbane in 2012 and has expanded as far as Finland and Korea, before coming to Sydney. The tours showcase Redfern through a child’s eyes, highlighting local landmarks that are important to them.
The Walking Neighbourhood, produced for Art & About Sydney, is part of this year’s Sydney Fringe Festival. The event is promoted as “proving that there are ways for children to feel safe while being out in public, walking, meeting shop owners, pedestrians, and developing a sense of themselves”.
A guided tour of a prominent inner city suburb may sound like an unusual way to spend a warm spring day, but at least 50 people have arrived to take the afternoon’s tours. Each one starts and ends at the 107 Projects, a new multidisciplinary arts space in the heart of Redfern, funded by the City of Sydney’s Accommodation Grant Program.
Project Manager Jennie Bradbury has seen the benefits of the program, in particular for the children. She says conducting the tours gives the children “confidence and helps them to stand up for themselves”.
Ms Bourke agrees. “The majority of children feel more confident in their ideas, speaking to an audience, walking around busy roads and more comfortable talking to adults and strangers,” she says, adding that “the Redfern kids are a savvy group.”
At the 107 Projects, participants are treated to a didgeridoo performance before being introduced to the guides, and invited to take part in activities devised by the kids. These include naming the superpower they’d most like, such as flying, invisibility and x-ray vision. The introduction concludes when participants select which tour they’d like to take, each one is unique and mapped out by the child.
Many participants elect to follow boisterous 12-year-old Liam, who marches about the place with a flag spruiking his tour. Liam has lived his whole life in nearby Waterloo and this was the fourth time he’d run this particular tour.
Setting out, he outlines the ground rules for the group with practised efficiency, before beginning a steady stream of banter. “Everyone please hold hands,” he says, as the group prepares to cross the road. He also draws smiles as he regularly finishes his routines by saying, “if you’ll kindly follow me”.
An interesting aspect of the tour is that passers-by hardly notice a 12-year-old leading a tour. Ms Bradbury acknowledges that this is indicative of the popularity of the program and how it has been supported by the local community.
Ms Bourke says “many of the local residents participated in a walk, or were encouraging from the sidelines with very positive things to say about the leadership shown by this amazing group of children”.
Liam takes the group past local landmarks like Redfern Oval, which he enthusiastically points out is where the South Sydney Rabbitohs train. However, he also points out things that many adults would be oblivious to, such as a mulberry tree with its edible fruit, his school Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and the local supermarket. The participants also embrace their inner child by enjoying a Mintie hunt through a local playground.
Some of the sights may seem trivial at first, but when seen from the child’s perspective their importance becomes more apparent. The school is obvious, but what about the supermarket? Well, where else does a kid get lollies after school?