Arts recognise local Aboriginal history

This month a collection of indigenous performers and artists are coming together for Smith Street Dreaming as part of the annual Leaps and Bound Music festival.

Smith Street Dreaming 2017 is the biggest street celebration of the iconic thoroughfare’s Koorie history. The festival brings diverse groups of people to the suburbs of Collingwood and Fitzroy to recognise indigenous culture, the local Wurundjeri people, and its aboriginal community.

The free event will host some of the country’s best indigenous talent featuring live performances from Frank Yamma, Emma Donovan, Yung Warriors, Indigenous Hip Hop Projects, traditional dancers  Jindi Worabak and MC Shelley Ware.

The project is part of the Smith Street Working Group that, according to organisers, aims to build and celebrate better relationships between Yarra Council residents, workers and visitors to Smith Street by fostering understanding, respect and peace between all.

Members of the Smith Street Working Group include Aboriginal elders, indigenous community members, Victoria’s Neighbourhood Justice Centre (NJC), Yarra City Council, Victoria Police, the Salvation Army, Co-Health, Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee, Smith Street Business Association, Eastern Health, Melbourne Aboriginal Youth Sport and Recreation Co-Operative (MAYSAR) and restaurant Charcoal Lane.

The event was initiated when The Neighbourhood Justice Centre collaborated with Aboriginal elders, police and traders to discuss the complex issues of social inclusion, cultural respect, safety and diversity, which eventually lead to the formation of the Smith Street working group. Members of the working group realised they all wanted the same thing, and the indigenous music festival was born.

On the Smith Street Dreaming report NJC project officer, Maree Foelz, describes Smith Street Dreaming as “a fantastic event which helped build better relationships between the various communities that visit, live, work and gather on and around Smith Street,” which also encouraged her, personally, to “embrace the opportunity to learn from being part of the Smith Street Working Group.”

Rebecca Langley, lead activist in the community’s  Everything Advisory Group, this year is working with MAYSAR on a project for Smith Street Dreaming. With the focus of the event being reconciliation, respect and fairness, she believes that this will help show the broader community the importance of indigenous history to the area and the ability to connect with it.

To Amnesty International, she said: “I believe that Reconciliation Action Plans are a great opportunity to decolonise our work spaces by acknowledging and acting to change the part we play in the ongoing oppression of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

Smith Street Dreaming aims to bring together indigenous and non-indigenous community members to reconcile.

Image of Archie Roach at Smith Street Dreaming 2015, Photo: Antony Ket

In an interview for the Yarra Council’s history project, Archie Roach, indigenous Australian singer explained the importance of Fitzroy as a meeting place for Aboriginals.

“There was more to it than drinking. If people just saw it on the outside, you know, they’d just think, oh, a couple of old or young Koori people drinking in a pack, or whatever, vacant lot, vacant area – but it was more than that. That’s where I learned my history brother, from those areas, because all the old fellas, they knew more about me than I did, mate.”

Those who gather in Smith Street are referred to as “Parkies”, being mostly Aboriginal people who have long gathered on Smith Street. The ‘community of the Parkies’ has been fundamental for the passing on of Aboriginal stories and history according to the Smith Street Dreaming report.

Indigenous Hip Hop Project performer at Smith Street Dreaming 2016. Photo: Tony Proudfoot

The Indigenous Hip Hop Project team has experience in performing in events focusing on inclusiveness and recognition especially surrounding this particular event.

“The indigenous Hip hop Project team has [had] interactive performances running for 10 years … most performing in remote Aboriginal communities as well as everywhere around Australia,” said managing director, Michael Farah.

Having been involved in the Leaps and Bound music festival, the group realised the importance of hosting events like this giving them the platform to express themselves and perform.

“Dance performances for the event showcase more art going to hip hop [and therefore is] trying to get everyone [at the event] involved,” he said.

“Everyone is attached to music, most performances come with music and culturally it is about music and dance. Stories are told through traditional instrument[s] and also done through movement which is the best way to showcase because culturally, nothing is written down.”

He then went on to explain the ‘dreaming’ aspect of the festival and the importance of it.

“Everything is a story and [is] about dreaming … dreaming is sitting down listening to elders. This festival is bringing all that to the table. It is crucial to modern-day society when talking about bridging the gap and reconciliation.”

Smith Street Dreaming 2017 is taking place on the corner of Smith Street and Stanley Street, Collingwood, from 1pm-5pm, on Saturday, July 22.

For details go to Leaps and Bound Music festival website leapsandboundsmusicfestival.com.

Written by Zathia Bazeer

Coffee date with: Sonam Sherpa

Shopfront Coffee is just as the name suggests: a small aesthetically designed shop-front cafe with space just for the beautiful white coffee machine and a handful of customers. The intimate space, designed and built by barista and owner Sonam Sherpa, invites conversation: a perfect fit for his vibrant and welcoming persona. With the myriad projects Sonam has on right now aside from his main gig Shopfront – we’re talking pop-up cafes and small sustainable farms – I was lucky to get in for a chat. Here’s what went down.

Yarra Reporter: So tell us about your background in coffee and how you got started in the industry.

Sonam Sherpa: So I started making coffee parallel to when I went to Uni. I started when I was about 19 and I kept doing it while I was at Uni, and then I traveled intermittently as well. I actually went to Uni for 7 years and made coffee at the same time. I got offered an opportunity to open a shop at the same time I was finishing Uni, so I thought I’d try and open a shop.

YR: What were you studying at University?

SS: I did my Masters in Landscape architecture. I still do stuff related to it; I’ve started a little farming project out in the Yarra Valley. So my studies do fold back into it, [for instance] I’ve designed and built all of the cafes I’ve opened.

YR: Where are the other cafes you’ve opened?

SS: There’s another one in Brunswick at the moment, It’s a pop-up called Phase One Coffee, and there’s another one out in the Yarra Valley called Manna Lane. (Like Manna Gums, an Australian eucalypt, he explains).

Shopfront coffee from the front. Photo: Roxanne Fitzgerald

YR: Where did you learn to make coffee?

SS: So my first job was at Gloria Jeans, that was just making coffee. Then when I was living in London I actually learned how to make coffee properly with some hard-core career baristas… that’s when it started. That [cafe] is called Climpson & Sons.

YR: How did you establish Shopfront?

SS: When my pop up on Smith Street (Place Holder) finished it was just logical to open up another [cafe] nearby. I was looking around this area for a space and I found this place for rent. I just went for it. (The old building was apparently previously a butcher, but now co-exists as apartments and the relatively new Shopfront Coffee).

YR: What is it you love about the coffee industry? (Customers walk in for a coffee just as I finish my question and he greets them enthusiastically).

SS:  This part. Hanging out, catching up with everyone, the social aspect. That’s why you do it. If you don’t like people, then you’re in the wrong industry.

YR: And on the flip side, what don’t you like?

SS: Probably the early starts. You kind of miss out on a fair bit if you’re starting work at 6:30 every morning. And then you have to go to bed early. I live with my girlfriend, and it would be nice to wake up with her and do stuff with her in the morning before going out to start the day. We have people who come in and they have their morning coffee together before they go out and start their day. I miss that I reckon.

YR: If you could work anywhere in the world as a barista where would it be?

SS: I would really like to try Mexico. It’s a heavily prolific coffee producing area and you get to eat Mexican food!

YR: Have you ever dabbled in roasting and would that be of interest to you?

SS: I’ve seen enough of it, done enough. I’ve been into different producing areas, like, I’ve been to Kenya and other coffee farms. The roasting part doesn’t really have any interaction with people, which is what I enjoy. I completely respect it as an art. But for me, it’s not thrilling.

YR: What do you think makes a good barista?

SS: A good attitude and a steady hand.

Baristas at Shopfront. Photo: Roxanne Fitzgerald

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

SS: I’d love to be a dive instructor, I think that would be awesome! I love to go diving and snorkeling. A tour guide or something would be fun as well.

YR: Where’s your favourite place to get a coffee?

SS: There’s a place around here called Long Street Coffee. I love those guys. Whenever I’ve got a day off I go there. They’re such nice people and what they’re doing is really respectable. Not many people are that ethically minded.

YR: What’s next for Sonam Sherpa?

SS: Next up I’m starting a furniture trading company with my partner. Just to spice things up a little.

Written by Roxanne Fitzgerald