Police and Law and Order
As with Redfern, Aboriginal people faced harassment and difficulties with police in Newtown. As far back as 1882, Aboriginal people were being brought before courts for what colonists saw as offences such as being ‘drunk and disorderly’. An Aboriginal Advancement League publication suggested the difficulties people faced with police in Redfern and Newtown in the 1960s. While the account focuses on incidents in Redfern where arbitrary arrests took place on trumped up charges, there is also an account recorded on Newtown police behaviour. Ken Brindle on calling into Newtown Police station to inquire about the details of a case where a young Aboriginal man was shot was charged with using insulting language. Brindle argued that, in fact, the police assaulted him. After the Council for Civil Liberties became involved in the case, a QC represented him and the magistrate dismissed the charges. An article by Grace Bardsley, a member of the Aborigines’ Advancement League (AAL) argued that Aboriginal people needed to be informed of their rights, as many were intimidated and harassed under assimilation policies when they had lived in the country and on reserves, and were not necessarily aware of their rights under law.
The (late) activist and wharf labourer Chicka Dixon in 1975 summarised what he saw and knew of the situation with police and Aboriginal people in the area in the 1970s, and the imposition of an unofficial curfew:
“If you’re Black in Redfern, Alexandria, Waterloo or Newtown and you’re on that street after ten o’clock, brother, you’re taking a chance. This is the procedure. Along comes the ‘hurry up wagon’:
‘Right-o, Rastas, in the back.’
‘But I’m not drunk.’
“What do you want Drunk? Or Goods in Custody?’‘
This is what goes on and believe me, when you get to that police station, it’s very difficult for any man not to sign whatever they want to throw at you, especially if you’ve got a detective squeezing your testicles.’
Mum Shirl played a crucial liaison role for Aboriginal people in dealing with police and the law, at Newtown Police Station (see previous).
Stories of police treatment of residents in nearby Redfern indicate that prejudice was rife. Ann Ramsay recalled that a former ‘black tracker’ who lived in Phillip St Redfern had eviction notices put on his door, and was almost harassed out of the neighbourhood.