Anyone who passed through Redfern earlier this year would have seen a team of Indigenous artists, TAFE students and conservationists tracing and repainting the famous 40 Thousand Years artwork that runs along the length of Redfern Station.
The mural is named after Murri musician Joe Geia’s lyrics, “40,000 years is a long, long time… 40,000 still on my mind…” In the heart of Redfern and a gateway to The Block, it has long been an urban welcoming point for Indigenous peoples.
Originally painted in 1983, the 300 foot mural was designed by the artist and filmmaker Carol Ruff. She enlisted the help of well-known indigenous artist Tracey Moffatt and members of the local Eora TAFE college to complete the collaborative mural.
It acknowledges and celebrates the deep indigenous connections to Redfern and the greater Sydney area. The Rainbow Serpent symbolises creation at one end, while at the other, the Redfern All Blacks (winners of the 1979 NSW Aboriginal Rugby League Knockout) stand proudly together as if posing for a photo. The wall also depicts darker moments; a child stands alone in front of a church mission. A symbol of the Stolen Generations.
“The north entrance to the station used to be the only one,” says local Sydney activist and muralist, Jason Wing, who is part of the restoration project. “[The mural] communicates ease, familiarity – a pride of place.” But after 34 years, the paint was cracking. Words were faded. It was never made to be resilient to decades of wear.
It was local community member Desley Haas who initiated the restoration project back in 2013. A member of the Redfern Station Community Group (RSCG), Haas approach NSW Rail Corp (owners of the wall on which the mural is painted) to address the mural’s decaying condition. The City of Sydney awarded a $10,000 matching grant to the project in 2016, and a further $38,000 towards the in 2017. Haas steered the RSCG over the five years it has taken to realise the project.
The restoration team reflects the spirit of the mural’s original creators – including the original artist Ruff, local Indigenous artists, and students from the Eora TAFE and Richard Lucas – a “master copier” who lead the replication of the mural. Using photocopies from the original mural in the 80s, Lucas created a gridding system to guide the restoration one panel at a time.
“What differs this time is there’s a sense of actually recreating history or contributing to history and that’s been a common feeling from the artists,” says Jason.
“We’re contributing to something significant, which the first guys painting the mural, I don’t think they would have realised the power and the significance and relevance historically. And it’s even more important now because of the gentrification of Redfern. It shows now that there’s a lack of Aboriginal presence in Redfern whereas this used to be the hub.”
This iconic work has a breath of fresh life after years of significant deterioration. Standing at the heart of one of the most historically and culturally significant areas in Sydney, it’s a landmark now set to stand for 40,000 years more.