On 14 March 1977, the first non-Indigenous community legal centre in New South Wales, established in Redfern Town Hall, opened its doors to clients. The centre has become an icon in Australian legal history and developed a number of other centres critical to the provision of legal aid services in Australia such as the Welfare Rights Centre, the Consumer Credit Legal Centre, Redfern Legal Centre Publishing, the Intellectual Disability Rights Service, the Accommodation Rights Service, Streetwise Comics, Campbelltown Legal Centre, Prisoners Legal Service and the Domestic Violence Court Assistance Schemes. Community legal centres in Australia have been responsible for significant changes to the Australian legal system and legal profession.
This paper uses archival material, newspaper reportage and personal reminiscences from lawyers, activists involved with the Centre in the 1970’s. It examines factors leading to the Centre’s establishment including the nature of the area of Redfern where the Centre is situated, personal motivations and sectoral influences at work in its formation and development particularly at UNSW, engagement in community partnerships, the innovations to legal practice the Centre introduced, and the centre’s sometimes fraught relationship with the wider legal profession.