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15 May 2018



I’ve been in Redfern my whole life. I grew up in shorts, no shirt, a “walkabout black fella” they used to say. After school I’d come home, drop my school gear off and I’d just go; I used to run around the street with other kids. Redfern’s changed since then, it’s getting brand new now, mate. It’s hardly recognisable anymore.

There’s always been a large family in Redfern. It’s where everyone went on a Friday and weekends because there’s always been cars, BBQs and sports on the streets. We’d get the hoses out when it was really hot. I want to do a documentary on the Redfern area and our upbringing.

There has been so much bad stuff over the years, like the death of little TJ Hickey. The people are still down and out about it because there was no justice for the Aboriginal people, or our family. It really tore me up. It hurt all of us, it shattered us. I try and look at some of the good stuff, not the bad stuff. I try and hide the bad stuff, but it’s hard.

I was a daydreamer at school, and that’s how I’ve been for the rest of my life. I try to dream good. I went to school until Year 8 when I got in trouble for being a passenger in a stolen car. I wouldn’t go back, I just read a lot. When I left school, I started working for a recording studio and was a roadie. I went on a six-month tour from Sydney all the way up the coast with Bart Willoughby, of the bands No Fixed Address and Us Mob. I also started doing carpentry work, helping renovate some of the houses next to the Black Theatre.

I was self-taught by watching other uncles working. I’ve been a South Sydney Rabbitohs fan since I was a kid hanging around the club trying to get autographs and a yarn.

I’m also a Melbourne Storm fan now, because I used to play for the Redfern All Blacks (RAB) and we’ve got a RAB player playing for Melbourne, Josh Addo-Carr. I grew up with one of his uncles and his grandparents. It makes me really proud because I can see a couple of kids that I’ve seen grow up in this area make it.

I’ve sort of blocked myself off from everybody now. All my best friends have either moved out or passed away. The family are all close together, but we aren’t as close as we used to be when we were kids. It’s just me and my two boys, [my dogs] Bookerpeely and Maximus now. Gradually it will fix itself though, I’m starting to slowly get some stuff together.

My friend Ronald got me into The Big Issue. I saw him a few times on Redfern Station and he brought me around to the office where I signed up. There have been ups and downs. At first, I thought everything was falling around me, falling to pieces. But now that I’ve got my spot down at Central it’s a nice and calm spot for me and the boys.

Selling The Big Issue has helped break down that isolation. I’ve got some friends that always give me a ring. They can see when I’m down. I’ve had a couple who’ve helped me with a cup of coffee and a chat. I try not to spill the beans too much because it gets me upset.

All I really hope for the future is to pay my mother’s house off so that my sister’s kids have a place to live for the rest of their lives.

Photographs by Peter Holcroft.

Lionel sells The Big Issue at Central Station, Sydney


Interview by Sam Clark
Central Station, Sydney