Campfire storytelling brings the community closer

Sitting around a flickering bush campfire telling yarns can bridge culture and generations.

Many first Australians recount their history to the next generation while using the soothing and entrancing beacon that campfires emit.

The recent multi-arts program Emerge capalitalised on the ability of a campfire to draw out stories from participants.

Emerge focused on the growing refugee population and multiculturalism which is thriving in the Yarra community.

The event, which finished earlier this month, was organised by Multicultural Arts Victoria, Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria (ECCV) and Welcome to Australia.

Emerge’s Campfire Stories: Arise was an immersive experience featuring four storytellers who have experienced the hardships of being a refugee or migrant.

An objective of Campfire Stories was to use the power of storytelling to provide community education to those less aware of refugees and people seeking asylum and to create empathy and understanding towards Australia’s multicultural community.

The event was held in Fitzroy Town Hall where the building’s reading room was transformed into a cosy campfire circle. There was a marshmallow on every seat and the night was accompanied by chai.

Chairs were gathered around a projected campfire with crackling sound effects in the background as speakers told their stories, creating an immersive and welcoming ambiance.

Participants were encouraged to move in close as the storytelling began.

Abdi Aden, refugee and author of Shining: The Story of a Lucky Man, spoke about the lack of understanding the wider community has about the struggles of refugees and migrants.

He cited the community’s often negative assumptions about refugees as being based on fear.

An event organiser, Elizabeth Young, the Victorian manager of Welcome to Australia, agreed with the importance of community education on refugees and migrants.

The Fitzroy town hall proudly welcoming refugees and asylum seekers. Photo: April Shepherd

“Everything we (Welcome to Australia) do is through an educative lense … we are always role modelling good behavior.

“So, for example, we say ‘seeking asylum’ instead of ‘asylum seekers’ to show that people come first.

“We really try to show that we’re all people and that everyone is welcome. ‘We’re all people and we’re all equal’ that’s one of our slogans,” Ms Young said.

Ms Young believes that programs, such as Campfire Stories: Arise, help educate the community. “They’re part of what Welcome to Australia does.

“Nationally we try to cultivate a culture of welcome in our communities.”

The event was inclusive with organisers providing a safe place for stories to be told.

Stories left the audience in tears and others smiling at the lived experience of migrating, surviving and the journey many have made to the present.

The night concluded with audience members sharing their own stories of struggling to fit into a new environment.

Written by April Shepherd

Coffee date with: Ruby Kerrison

Meet 20-year-old Ruby Kerrison, the super sweet and positively vibed barista at Richmond’s slightly outlying cafe Long Street Coffee. In a converted garage – complete with the industrial-minimalist look Melbournians love and basketball hoop out front – Long Street serves up sensationally good coffee using beans from Proud Mary and fights for positive social change with a hospitality traineeship that empowers refugees and people seeking asylum.

Yarra Reporter: So tell us a little bit about Long Street

Ruby Kerrison: So, Long Street [opened] last year and it was started by Jane and Francois Marx. They started it because they wanted to use their activism for refugees and channel that in a way that has real life outcomes for people. So, the principles of Long Street are that we offer paid hospitality traineeships for refugees [and asylum seekers] so they gain real life hospitality skills in Melbourne, which is awesome because it also gets them used to this dynamic hospitality industry that we have in Melbourne.

YR: How many trainees are involved in Long Street?

RK: So we have [3-month long] traineeships. At the moment I work with a girl called Malisha from Papua New Guinea.  She [works] two days a week and then we’ve also got another person who comes in on the weekends; I only work with Malisha. We start them out on the floor and from on the floor we start teaching them about filter coffees and get them working their way up to the coffee machine. They get to experience everything. [I get] to help with training, which has been awesome, and we all do coffee training at Market Lane. There is definitely an emphasis on how much of a team we are.

Entrance to Long Street Coffee. Photo: Roxanne Fitzgerald
Entrance to Long Street Coffee. Photo: Roxanne Fitzgerald

YR: How did you start working at Long Street?

RK: I found an add and had a couple of trials. It just worked out perfectly well for me. The values here are in line with my values because I’m quite passionate about social justice as well. It’s really awesome to be part of a team that’s all on the same level [and] all want the same thing. [We are all] really passionate about providing an awesome service for people and also creating a community of sorts. It’s just an awesome place to work.

YR: Where did you learn to make coffee?

RK: I worked at a cafe previously for a year. It definitely wasn’t like this – as in they didn’t have a strong set of values. Here we have a real emphasis on being professional and also being individual. I learned to make coffee in my first job and I got used to working independently because it was quite a small cafe. [Long Street] is bigger, so it has been good to be able to up my skills both in volume and also consistency. Francois has been making coffee for maybe 10 years, so he’s been able to really guide me through and, like, tell me how I’m going, and basically train me.

Inside Long Street Coffee, where staying for a while and relaxing is encouraged. Photo: Roxanne Fitzgerald
Inside Long Street Coffee, where staying for a while and relaxing is encouraged. Photo: Roxanne Fitzgerald

YR: What’s your favourite part of your day working at Long Street?

RK: I genuinely love coming to work with the people I work with. It’s such an awesome place to be because my colleagues are great people. North Richmond kind of feels small because we have so many regulars and we’ve created a nice little community. The other night we had our Christmas party [with] all of the regulars and it was so lovely to hang out with everyone. It was just nice and super chilled.

YR: And the worst part?

RK: I’m super prone to anxiety, so whenever it gets busy I do tend to get a bit flustered, however… always improving.

YR: If you weren’t making coffee at Longstreet what would you be doing?

RK: I’m also working at a Call Centre, which is all right, but I honestly much prefer doing this…[I love] being in this fast-paced environment, working with people, helping people, and really feeling like you’re getting something from other people.

YR: Do you see yourself doing this for the foreseeable future?

RK: I reckon so. I’m also studying Gender Studies and Australian Indigenous Studies at Melbourne University at the moment, but I have no concrete plans in terms of a career. Right now I’m really happy doing this because I feel comfortable and I’ve finally found the perfect balance with uni, work and having a social life.

YR: Awesome, so you study, you work at Longstreet and the call centre, what do you do in your spare time?

RK: Okay, what do I do… I love reality TV. I’m also a ferocious reader. I’ve been getting into pottery a bit, which has been really awesome, I also just, like, enjoy getting out and cycling. I’ve just moved house, so I’ve been enjoying getting out and about and exploring.

YR: Where is your favourite place to grab a coffee?

RK: I live in North Melbourne and at the moment I’m really enjoying going to Counter, which I’m pretty sure is owned by Auction Rooms, but it’s a much smaller place. It’s really lovely, though, super chilled – not as busy.

YR: What’s next for Ruby Kerrison?

RK: Oh my gosh, I don’t know. I think I’m going to do Honours in Gender Studies. Hopefully. And then go travelling a bit. But, in terms of the next year I’m so happy to be working [at Long Street Coffee] and studying. I feel like I’m in a really good place at the moment.

Read more about Long Street Coffee here.


Written by Roxanne Fitzgerald

Political debates, portraits and hot topics. Refugees are in the Spotlight this weekend.

It’s been a big week for asylum seekers in the Australian media. After Dutton’s much talked about comments earlier this week, the timing for the opening night of the I Came By Boat exhibition couldn’t be better.

On display are 13 portraits of Australians who happened to have arrived here by boat.

Each portrait is accompanied by a story; a personal journey of uncertainty, poverty, war and detention. Each story told willingly in a bid to highlight the contribution of refugees in Australia.

Photographer Lucas Allen manages to capture distinctions in ethnicities and cultural diversity in the minimalist portraits. The one consistent feature being the ‘everyday Australian’ aspect of each photograph.

The unspeakable words ‘boat people’ hardly come to mind when walking through the gallery. In fact, it looks like they might have stepped off a plane much like the other one in four migrants who now call Australia home.

Blanka Dudas & photographer, Lucas Allen

John Gulzari, an Afghani Hazara, was one of the participants in the campaign.

“I think that refugee and asylum seekers have been let down, by the minister [Peter Dutton] and by politicians [in general]. They have always been demonized.” Says John.

Left to Right: John Gulzari and Dr Munjed Al Muderis
Left to Right: John Gulzari and Dr Munjed Al Muderis

John Fled Afghanistan as a teenager in 1999. He first traveled to Pakistan, then on to Indonesia where he boarded a boat heading for Australia.

His story is all too familiar, one which combines the best and the worst of humanity. In 2007 John became a fully-fledged Australian citizen and active participant in Victorian politics.

“[The campaign] will raise the profile of asylum seekers and refugees, especially as it becomes a hot debate in politics.”

Opening Night of the I Came By Boat Exhibition

And a hot debate it is indeed. Although the campaign serves to disprove Dutton’s statement that asylum seekers are all illiterate, it does highlight the fact that they are actually employable.

But let’s be honest, if you had choose between Dr.Munjed Al Muderis and myself to perform life-saving surgery on a loved one, you’d be pretty thankful he stole that job away from me.


So let’s not delve too deep into the statement that illiterate beings, who speak no English, are stealing our jobs, whilst simultaneously sapping your tax dollars because they’re on the dole. The memes circulating Facebook are doing a rather good job of breaking down that argument on their own.

The exhibition will be open to the public from Friday the 20th of May to Sunday the 22nd of May from 11am-5pm.

It’s a highly regarded campaign Australia wide, with talks it may venture interstate.

Eva Orner, director of recently released documentary film Chasing Asylum attended the opening. In a joint event with I Came By Boat, Orner will take part in a Q&A session following the screening of her film next Sunday the 29th of May at Cinema Nova.

Thanks to Blanka Dudas, the driving force behind the campaign, you can expect to see the posters popping up around Melbourne sometime in June, just in time for the federal election.

If you can, get down to 9 Glasshouse Road in Collingwood over the weekend, it’s a great exhibit and an accurate reflection of how we need to view refugees and asylum seekers, just like anyone else.

To donate you can visit the I Came By Boat website here. Tickets are also still available to the Q&A screening of Chasing Asylum.

#ICAMEBYBOAT campaign humanizing asylum seekers in Australia

Liberal political rhetoric uses their stance against people-smugglers to justify their policy against humanity.

We’ve heard the prime minister word-slay the actions of the ‘people-smugglers who are preying on vulnerable people,’ with no mention of their own unwillingness to help them.

Blanka Dudas, has had enough. After fleeing her own home at the age of 19, during the Balkan wars, she has successfully built a life for herself as an Australian migrant for over 20 years.

Blanka Dudas, behind the scenes at the #ICAMEBYBOAT campaign shoot.

Blanka, a professional make-up artist, is the driving force behind the soon to be launched #ICAMEBYBOAT campaign, along with photographer Lucas Allen.

“I’m doing it because I feel like the mainstream media and politics here have done their best to dehumanize asylum seekers and refugees. I was a refugee myself and I can sort of put myself in their shoes. We need to try and humanize these people again, and say ‘hey these are people just like us’.” Blanka told YR in an interview.

#ICAMEBYBOAT has so far raised over 75K through the local crowdfunding platform Chuffed, with an expected launch in April 2016. You will soon see beautifully designed posters pasted across Melbourne alongside a gallery exhibition, featuring photographs of integrated asylum seekers, by photographer Lucas Allen.

fern high res

“[I thought] if we photograph them and put part of their story on the poster to show that they are people living here, they are working here, they are sending their kids to school. They are basically just like us except they had the misfortune of being born in an area that is really troubled.” She says.

The campaign has received a barrage of attention from individuals and media, even the likes of AJ+ made a campaign video.


And it’s been endoresed by none other than vocal Greens leader, Adam Bandt.



But Blanka says she’s not just preaching to the choir. Her designs have a specific target.

“I thought that the more minimal the posters, the more official they look, the more likely they will get the attention of the people who actually think asylum seekers are a problem.”

“We have tried to stay away from the political debate, we want to present it as a humanitarian case.”

The message is simple.

“There is no argument about this, these are people and they need help, and once they are given help, they are contributing and they are making Australia better.”

There are hundreds of thousands of displaced people around the world and with globalization becoming more than just an online reality, the politics of seeking asylum needs to change.

“I saw a campaign in the UK called ‘I am an immigrant’ and I thought that something positive is really needed at this point [here in Australia].

Behind the scenes at the #ICAMEBYBOAT campaign shoot. Source Blanka Dudas

Sourcing individuals to feature in the campaign has been the biggest hurdle.

“I did think that part would be easier. I thought getting funding would be difficult… People have suffered a lot so they’re not really that keen to be telling their story, they just want to forget about it and move on.”

“We printed out flyers on the weekend and we went to Dandenong. My little boy, my four year old, was handing out flyers. My little activist!… I guess he’s the cutest one so people cant refuse him.”

“This weekend we’ll probably go to Footscray and do the same. We’re trying to find diverse suburbs where we will hopefully find people who might want to join us.” She says.

Behind the scenes at the #ICAMEBYBOAT campaign shoot. Source Blanka Dudas

As the interest grows, so do the number of participants, but they are always looking for more brave people to join.

“We are hoping to get more women, as we have quiet a lot of men. We’ve got people from Vietnam, Hazaras from Iran, someone from Iraq and Sri Lanka. It would be great to have more diversity, people from African countries, Burma, Pakistan.” She says.

Behind the scenes at the #ICAMEBYBOAT campaign shoot. Source Blanka Dudas

Having raised so much money through crowdfunding Blanka says she determined to make this project the best it can possibly be.

“It has fully taken up all of my time, my son walks around the house saying, I came by boat, I came by boat.” She smiles and continues, “[but] I have met some amazing people through it and if it makes one bit of difference then it was worth it.”

If you are interested in donating to the campaign you can do so here.