Tom Williams

Melissa 02
Tony Randall
Cyndelle Georgetown
Redfern, 2010
Turanga Building
Phoenix with newborn Charles, Waterloo 2012.
The Birdman
Family from Moree visiting Sheridan's place.  Redfern 2007.
Orthodox Parade
Kristal and Derek, December 2007
'Damage', Waterloo 2008
Handstand at Joseph Banks
Chloe and Kingston, Waterloo 2012
Cassy before her arrest, Redfern 2012
Deeann Isabella and Jessica
Basketball court, Waterloo
Redfern, 2012
Redfern, 2008
Waterloo, 2007
George Tino, Redfern 2008
Victoria and Paul, Waterloo 2007
Sharnay and her cousin Tarnay on their way home in Waterloo, 2009.
Redfern, 2008
Three Poets
Poet's Corner, Redfern 2010

Melissa Logan at her Aunt Elma's flat in Redfern. She lived in another public housing unit with her father and cousins around the corner but they had to vacate shortly before Christmas in 2007 when their building was about to be demolished.

Tony Randall served in the Australian army in Vietnam for four years. He lived on the 22nd floor of the Turanga highrise in Waterloo after briefly working as a guard and spending most nights over two years in a park. September 2007.

Cyndelle on the phone to her mother, who has custody of her young daughter. October 2007.

The Turanga building, Waterloo 2007

Tarnay ('Poukie') playing at home in George Street, Redfern in 2012. At the time both her parents were in prison. The family moved to a safer location after a fire destroyed much of their floor a few weeks later.

Rob ('The Birdman') passes one of the family's cockatiels to his wife, who is holding their new baby. Rob is starting his second family. They live in the Gilmore block near Poet's Corner, Redfern. September 2007.

Poukie with Maria and Sharnay in Waterloo. They moved soon afterward when a fire destroyed most of the floor they lived on. Maria was happy to leave this section of Waterloo, which she said was too dangerous for the kids.

Rod outside his flat in Redfern. He had lived there for eight years. Recently his boyfriend moved out and stole some of his belongings. March 2008.

The ninth anniversary of TJ Hickey’s death in Waterloo in 2004. Two of TJ Hickey’s sisters (Cynthia, left, and Rebecca, on the right), march with other family members, friends and supporters towards NSW Parliament House to hand over a petition demanding a fresh inquest into TJ’s death. It is alleged that at least one police vehicle was chasing him when his bike crashed and he was impaled on a fence at the base of the Turanga tower. TJ’s death caused a reaction in the community that has been labelled the ‘Redfern Riots’.

Waterloo residents carrying an icon of Jesus and Mary through the streets for World Youth Day, January 2008.

A girl practices her gymnastics while visiting friends downstairs in the Joseph Banks block in Waterloo. She lives in the same building. September 2007.

Lilly, Poet's Corner 2008

Deeann, Jessica and Isabella at Sherry's Place. Some children stay at Sherry's Department of Housing residence in Waterloo if there is no other adult to look after them. September 2007.

Waterloo, 2008

Jojo with his family on the ninth anniversary of TJ Hickey's death, February 2013.

Aunty Joyce Ingram with great-granddaughter Amanda, Waterloo 2007. Aunty Joyce moved here from The Block in Redfern when her place was scheduled for demolition. She was looked up to as an elder and mentor, especially by younger aboriginal people in the area.

Poet's Corner, Redfern 2008


The twin Department of Housing towers in Waterloo, Matavai and Turanga, are not skyscrapers, but emerge into visibility throughout central and southern Sydney as skyscrapers would.  I had lived nearby for some time and often tried to picture who might live behind the imposing cement veneers.  You would see a mix of people when you travelled through the small parkland they stand on:  aboriginal families, groups of pacific islanders, elderly men and women from a broad range of birthplaces who had lived in one of the highrises since they were built in the 1970s.  Many more ageing tower blocks are distributed between here and Poet’s Corner in Redfern, surrounded by smaller red brick abodes, most of which were owned by the Navy before being transferred to Housing.  This place is a central one for the aboriginal communities of the metropolis although uncountable paths have also led here from around the world.

I first came here with a camera in 2004, the day after a newspaper ran a cover story leaking a government plan to demolish the towers and all the other high density public housing and Redfern and Waterloo.  There were some demonstrations and I wanted to take some pictures and, more importantly, ask people what they thought of living in the area.  Many said they were happy, even those who lived alone in tiny flats:  they loved their nearby friends and their million dollar views (precisely the Sydney-postcard aspects developers were ravenous to acquire).  Others were anxious to get out and spoke of drugs, alcohol, violence and abuse.  “I don’t want my kids to grow up here, it’s not safe,” was a repeated phrase.

I’ve spent a long time in these buildings and with this project partly because I get wrapped up in hearing peoples’ stories:  escapes from Eastern Bloc countries during the cold war; journeys through addiction, then prison, then recovery (or relapse); involuntary relocation, toddlers in tow over Christmas, destination unknown.  Such stories can be found in many places but not often so densely packed within one city block or one neighbourhood.

These photographs have emerged through personal odyssey and chance more than investigative rigour or careful planning.   Plans often give way to chance in a place where web connection has been rare and telephone ownership not a given.  In some cases I may have photographed 20 people in a building that houses 800.  Some people don’t like to be photographed – in fact a good number are here because they have escaped the surveillance apparatuses of Franco, Mao and Brezhnev.  Their faces do not appear here although they’re familiar amongst these pathways and corridors.  By chance, the first person whose picture I took on that first day in 2004 was an aboriginal mother of six.  Nine years later we keep in touch and I still photograph the growing family as it evolves.  As I write, one grandchild is in her full-time care while both her parents serve prison time.  The young girl is resilient, smart and street-wise.  Yesterday, on the hottest Sydney morning since 1939, she farewelled her mother tearfully before she was returned into rehabilitation.  Afterwards she got herself ready for the swimming pool and turned down a coke, insisting that a bottle of water would satisfy her thirst better.  You get the impression she’ll conquer life whether she stays in this neighbourhood or travels far beyond.


TOM WILLIAMS is an Australian documentary photographer. His photographic work has been exhibited in festivals and galleries in Australia and South East Asia. These include the Reportage Festival of Photojournalism, Foto Freo, The Angkor Photography Festival, The CCP Documentary Photography Award (2007 and 2009), The Head On Photo Festival, Cross Projections and Sydney Life.

In 2009 He was awarded the 7th CCP Documentary Photography Award for his series ‘Neighbourhood’.  This project will emerge in book form in 2013.

Tom co-founded Timemachine with photographer, curator and editor Lee Grant in 2011.