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

Cultivating workplace culture: how migrants are enriching this Collingwood enterprise

Consumerism, fast fashion and immigration are issues that are fast becoming household discussions. The ever-increasing conversations surrounding these socio-economic and environmental topics are making them much harder to ignore.

As we all struggle to be better humans, to find a way to make a meaningful difference, one social-enterprise in Fitzroy has already done just that. For almost a decade, The Social Studio has been employing a globalisation of a different kind using an untapped resource many Australian employers are ignoring – individuals of migrant and refugee backgrounds.

In February of 2017 it was reported that the unemployment rate of East African and Middle Eastern immigrants was averaging 33 percent in the first five years of settlement; six times higher than the national average. While, most migrants will cite employment as an integral part of their settlement, they often face hurdles in getting into the Australian workforce.

The Social Studio, situated amongst the cultural crucible of Collingwood’s Smith Street is a not-for-profit social enterprise on a mission. Founded in 2009, what originally began as a provider of design and sewing classes has since evolved into a successful, multi-faceted organisation intent on improving the lives of those most marginalised in our community. According to CEO Eugenia Flynn, the enterprise’s objectives are simple; “We use the vehicle of a fashion and hospitality business including a clothing label, retail shop, digital printing studio, café and a catering business to create meaningful social change”.

Through its fashion label, textile studio, and café, The Social Studio employs young refugees and immigrants, or those hailing from migrant backgrounds, offering employment with a creative twist. Employees are encouraged to express and share their culture, forging links between refugee and migrant groups and the wider community. Clothes sold in the Social Studio’s Smith Street store are produced locally, with sustainable resources to minimise environmental impact. Designs are affordably priced and feature vibrant, bold prints with significant cultural meanings behind each piece. The adjoining café, The Cutting Table, is also staffed by young refugees and migrants and serves a menu featuring a blend of East and West African fare.

The label’s designs feature vibrant prints all produced locally and sustainably. Photo: Alice Wilson

In addition to providing employment opportunities, the Social Studio makes it possible for refugees to get certified within the areas of hospitality and design. “Our purpose is to create meaningful and long-term pathways into employment for young people from a refugee or migrant background, and who may have experienced barriers to accessing education and/or securing employment.” Says Ms Flynn. “We provide TAFE level training, work experience, volunteer opportunities and employment in fashion, manufacturing, retail and hospitality, creating imperative education and employment opportunities and pathways.”

Since its beginning, the Social Studio has provided education and employment for over 580 people from refugee and migrant backgrounds. One such individual who has benefited from this enterprise is Abuk Bol, who worked as a seamstress in Sudan before she came to Australia in 2004 as a refugee. Abuk came across the Social Studio, after several failed attempts to get into the Australian workforce. She has since gone on to work for Brunswick-based bridal designer Mariana Hardwick and is now the owner of her own enterprise, Twich Women’s Sewing Collective, which sells clothing and homewares in her home town of Dandenong. “I was interested in clothes making and wanted to do something that could get me a job, being an immigrant and hardly knowing English, I decided to do the Certificate III in clothing production with the Social Studio.”

Abuk’s story is a great example of how increasing just one persons skill set can, in turn, work towards increasing many. The Social Studio champions multiculturalism and demonstrates that these individuals contribute to, rather than diminish the economy. “I now have my own store and space where I can help women like me get certification and jobs.” Abuk says.  “I would like to provide women, especially ones in a minority, the opportunity to get an education and a job. Or just somewhere they feel they belong.”

The Social Studio and Cutting Table Cafe, located on Collingwood’s Smith St. Photo: Alice Wilson

This sense of belonging is perhaps the most important contribution the Social Studio provides. “For students it’s developing friendships and broadening their community, branching out and become more open to everyone else.” Says Helen Kelabora, a teacher for the Certificate III clothing course the Studio offers. The benefits of an organisation like the Social Studio are as diverse as the services they offer to those they employ and to the Yarra community. For Eugenia Flynn, the is much more work to be done, “we would love to consolidate our work across the past eight years and create a deeper social impact” and it’s through the help of the Yarra community that this can be achieved.

Written by Alice Wilson

Submissions for Emerge 2017 are coming to a close

Call outs to get involved in the City of Yarra’s most inclusive celebration of multicultural arts and music, Emerge 2017, are coming to a close this Friday.

Created in 2004, in conjunction with Multicultural Arts Victoria’s (MAV) Visible Music Mentoring Program, Emerge 2017 started out as a humble arts festival and has grown into an all-encompassing series of art and music events taking place across the Yarra for one week at the end of June.

Emerge 2017 welcomes innovative music and art submissions from artists in the Yarra and provides an outstanding opportunity for newly arrived refugees and emerging communities to get involved in telling their stories and connecting with the community.

We spoke to Joel Ma, one of the creative producers, about all that is coming from this year’s event.

“It’s about opening up communities and neighbourhoods to the multicultural personalities and diversity that is around them and we often take for granted… and within that is this rich amount of human story and experience that we can all benefit from and embrace,” he said.

Cookin’ Up Community with South Sudanese spoken word poet Abe Nouk and South Sudanese singer Ajak Kwai (held at the Fitzroy Community Kitchen). Photo: James Henry Photography

“MAV gravitates towards innovative ideas and artistic pursuits,” he says,“The other side of [Emerge 2017] is to create amazing art, for us it’s about finding artists within [the Yarra] who represent all groups… to come together and collaborate and try ideas out and connect with where they live now.”

Emerge 2017 is also pushing the boundaries of the mainstream music scene by challenging expectations of many mainstream musicians who are of the notion that multicultural arts and music can’t be separated from the traditional.

“From the music perspective, I’m very interested in the idea that multiculturalism includes more than just a traditional view of art or view of music. It can sometimes be engaged with traditional instruments, but that could be offset with electronics or contemporary music collaboration… And that is where you’ll find the most popular music of today,” said Joel.

With a philosophy of celebrating the positive contributions of newly arrived refugee groups, and embracing diverse art and music in the Yarra community, Emerge 2017 is definitely something we can get behind.

In its 13th year and thriving with strong connections to community leaders and cultural groups, Emerge 2017 is only expected to continue to cultivate its invaluable contribution to the community.

The submission deadline is 5 pm Friday the 5th of May, with all submissions going to Freja Macfarlane at

The Baulkam Hills African Ladies Troupe documentary ready to take on violence against women

The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe documentary previewed at the Nova Cinema in Carlton on 27 September.  We caught up with the producer of the film, Ros Horin, at the screening to find out how the film is challenging social attitudes on violence against women.

Yarrie, Aminata, Yordanos and Rosemary are four female refugees who escaped sexual abuse, violence and war in Africa, and made their home in Australia. The documentary records the journey that the women took with Ros Horin – a community leader and acclaimed theatre director – to transform their trauma into a poignant theatre production.

Produced and directed by Ros Horin, the film was screened at the Sydney Film Festival and MIFF 2016, where it was voted in the top 5 audience favourites for Australian documentaries at both festivals.

“A play has a finite life,” said Ros Horin, when asked how the film came to life.

“We decided we couldn’t keep doing this play, despite a lot of offers, because it was too emotionally taxing for everybody.”

“[We wanted] a film that could go everywhere, to all sorts of communities within Australia and outside of Australia. We really have a purpose of social change and we want to be able to change attitudes towards women who have been abused.”

Ros hopes that the film will also be used as a teaching tool for schools, the military, and people who work with abused women to aid in breaking the cycle of violence against women.

‘What we’re working on here is how to stop blaming women for what has happened to them, and how to stop women from thinking they have to hide in shame,” Horin said.

“How do we change the attitudes within communities to say ‘Yes, I’m going to support this woman!’,” Ros Horin asked audience members at the pre-screening.

The film was released Australia-wide on the 6th of October and will be available for screenings on demand from early 2017.

Despite little knowledge of the Troupe before attending the screening, we left feeling uplifted by the women who experienced so much emotional turmoil to reach audiences with their life stories.

Check cinema listings for screening locations and times.

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.