Arts & Events Our Home, Our Future

"Our Home, Our Future" shares and engages with different ideas of home and visions for a stronger future in our community.

Loddon Campaspe Multicultural Services is a welcoming not-for-profit organisation that empowers people from migrant and refugee backgrounds to participate fully in our society. We are an ethnic communities council and the peak body for migrants and refugees in the Loddon Campaspe region.

At Multicultural Services, we want to take a look at what it means to build inclusive and welcoming spaces from the ground up, through personal connection and storytelling. We’re asking our communities:

  • What does “home” mean to you?
  • What kind of spaces help you to share culture and connect cross-culturally?
  • What dreams and hopes do you have for your future community?

"Our Home, Our Future" Profile

Bruno Spandonide

I’ve been in Australia almost thirteen years.

My parents were political refugees from Romania when it was a dictatorship. It took courage and organisation for them to get to Paris. I naturalised French within a few months of my birth. I consider myself a very privileged political refugee. I went to a bilingual school. I grew up in a very multicultural area of Paris, with communities from Mali, Senegal, Morocco, Vietnam, Turkey, Chechnya and Lebanon. Our family comes from all over – ethnically Romanian, Russian and Greek – but I have a very strong French connection culturally; I was born, educated and raised as a French person.

We moved in Bendigo in 2015, my wife had family here and her grandma was sick; it was important for us to spend time with her. Then my wife’s relatives needed someone to house-sit. It was convenient because my work at the time was fly-in, fly-out in but we needed a base.

We had good feelings about Bendigo. We are super happy to be here. We arrived right in the middle of the mosque protests and I said to my wife, I’m not sure about Bendigo, but very quickly it did appear that most of the protests were initiated by people who were not from Bendigo.

At first the quietness was challenging; the level of activity. In Australia people live individualistic lifestyles in general, breaking in to those networks requires a lot of effort, especially for people who are not from an established Anglo-Australian background. I’m very lucky that I have my wife [who is Anglo-Australian]. It is hard to make genuine social connections when you are a newcomer. My wife came across Multicultural Services within the first three months that we arrived and we saw a very different side of Bendigo. We both said, ‘Oh this place sounds really cool, we should actively try to get involved’. We arrived in April and my wife started volunteering in May. Then I started working for Multicultural Services doing some French courses. We made some great friends. A solid 75% of our network are people who were not born in Bendigo or are recent arrivals in Bendigo. That’s not to dismiss the wonderful people who are locally born and are dear friends or family members, but Multicultural Services was an amazing point of contact for us.

Now I volunteer at the Feast of Stories each month and I champion Food Safari at work. We volunteer at Zinda Festival also. We are very closely involved and consider everyone as friends in Multicultural Services. You don’t have a lot of workplaces like that, where you actually work with friends.

I see Australia as a country of freedom and social justice, a country that promotes positive intercultural relationships, brings people together, is inclusive and open to others. And being able to influence some of the processes that are in place and maybe to optimise them, that’s something I truly believe in. I try to share the French enthusiasm and passion to advocate for freedom in Australia.

Having had this family experience of people travelling in different experiences all over the world; my aunty and my grandparents say, ‘Our home is the world’, so we have to look after each other – in a global sense – all over the world. And our home locally is reflecting that; creating a local place that is inclusive of anyone in the world and creating a special connection to everywhere else in the world.

Fazeleh Sayedi

I am Hazara. I have been in Australia three years and seven months. I came to Australia with my mum and younger brother and little sister. I didn’t speak any English.

Before I came to Bendigo I thought all the world spoke in one language. When we first went in the airplane the lady asked me, “Do you want coffee, water or juice?” I didn’t know what juice was. Before we arrived in Australia my brother came to Iran to help us come to Australia. The night before our flight he called my other brothers and they came to the airport to pick us up. I came straight to Bendigo. It took us about one full day of travelling to get from Iran to Bendigo.

When we first came I missed my friends and family. But I like Bendigo because it’s quiet and also people are really good here. People are more kind here than in other places. I went to other places and the people there look at me like I am different. Now Bendigo feels like home to me. I have lots of family here and anytime I am missing home I can go to them, my uncles and aunties and cousins.

In our culture we celebrate Eid after Ramadan and we get together and celebrate; here in Bendigo we celebrate with other Afghani people but also other cultures who are also Muslim but not Afghani. We have a party and cook food and dance and do henna. There’s a lot of different ways we celebrate.

I was at school at Bendigo Senior Secondary and one of my teachers told me that there was a project to make films and she introduced me to Multicultural Services. They invited me to improve my skills in English and make a film about different cultures. We went and joined them and made a film and I practised so much to make my English better and my interpreter helped me and so did my cousins and nieces and nephews and brother and sister and my English improved. After that film I improved a lot and the next year I did work experience at Multicultural Services and I was invited to do another film.

Now I study Certificate 3 in Spoken and Written English at TAFE. I really like to be a beautician, like work in a beauty salon, like do beauty therapy but I’m doing English cos I want to improve my English. I want to have my own salon and be famous, doing waxing and make-up and bridal make-up, and hairstyles and nails. I want to do it all! This is why I want to be famous. I like YouTube makeup tutorial.

Any time I need help I go to Multicultural Services – if I need help to make a resume or looking for a house or job, there are so many people here to help me.

I feel I belong in Bendigo. Not just in Bendigo, but in all of Australia. Multicultural Services is a place that helps us be with our culture and to learn about other cultures. Our home in here in Australia, it is here for all of us, and this is the place that is helping me make my future plans and grow.

Hanna Solodka

I have been in Australia three and a half years. All that time I have been in Bendigo. I am a writer; I write stories and poems. It’s difficult for me to say how much I have been published because many of my stories and poems became part of collections. I write on a range of themes; social problems, love – of course – and some philosophy.

It’s very hard to explain why I became a writer – it’s not a deliberate decision or a deliberately wanted process. I can only think of it as sitting down somewhere and there’s a noise and you feel something, and whether the noise is pleasant or unpleasant you write it down. It’s whatever you feel at any given moment that sort of involves your feelings, you put it down on paper.

We came here as refugees because there’s war in the Ukraine. As soon as we arrived we contacted the Red Cross and they are the first organization that supported us. The Red Cross recommended us to contact Multicultural Services, I think they put us in touch automatically. Multicultural Services has been a great help. We get assistance with food and occasionally with medications and with language classes. There’s a war going on in my country. I happen to be from the region which is involved in that conflict. The shooting is continuous; it’s heavy artillery shooting. My house has been demolished. You hear the explosions all the time, it’s very hard. But for true belonging you need equality and I don’t feel that equality because I am in the position of someone asking for help and asking for charity; at home conditions are very hard.

It’s complicated to talk about what I love about Ukraine. It’s my country, that’s why I love it. It’s the country where I was born, it is a very beautiful country and its people are very nice. Above everything else in Australia it’s the people that I like. In some ways, they’re similar to Ukrainians: they’re kind, they’re hospitable, they’re always looking out for ways to help a person who needs help, they’re friendly and responsive. It’s those qualities that make me feel at home.

Editor’s note:
Hanna was recently awarded a medal by the Writer’s Union of Ukraine for her latest work which she wrote since being in Australia. The medal is only awarded once every four years. Hanna kindly consented for us to share a translation of one of her poems:

The world is changing, life will not stay as it was,
The stream dries up, the volcano goes silent,
But in spring, the snowdrop blossoms all the same,
Amongst constant misfortunes, pain and woundsOn earth it is anxious and unstable and unquiet
And yet from the nest a baby bird takes flight
And the child’s smile shines up like the sun,
And the young man takes his girl down the aisle.This is because love is everywhere.
And the world dozes in her palms
Everyone nourishes a hope for happiness in his heart
Filling up with breath bottomless ether.

Kalapriya Selvaraj

I am a Tamil speaker, from Hindu background. I love my culture’s traditional dance, and spices and food but most the culture that respects my family and elders.

I’ve been in Australia since the beginning of 2016, waiting for my visa to be processed. First Victoria, then New South Wales, then South Australia, then Bendigo. I was in South Australia and got an appointment with the Immigration Department in Melbourne, early morning. I had been sleeping in the car since 2016. I thought, I can’t sleep in the car in Melbourne because need to pay parking, it’s a big city, so I picked somewhere near in the map – two hours’ distance. Bendigo’s pictures showed lovely area, I thought ‘Why don’t I park there, sleep overnight, go to next day appointment’.

Then my appointment was cancelled. I had just arrived in Bendigo and panic, I don’t have any idea what to do. I looked for a place to park the car and picked Lake Weerona; it was so beautiful and I thought ok, this is where I will stay in Bendigo. I didn’t know anyone, I have no idea what to do, no money, how am I going to stay? It was so challenging. But I faced it. I parked at Lake Weerona for two weeks; used a tap to wash clothes and the disabled washroom to clean up. The council came and said you have to go in a free camp. I had stayed in free camps, but when I came the panic was too big – I totally lost the knowledge, I didn’t think about anything. I went to Huntly free camp and Gillian and John from Rural Australians for Refugees (RAR) and told me about Haven: Home, Safe. I went there but they said we can’t help you because you don’t have any income. They were so sorry and kind and helped with the petrol voucher. They fix an appointment with Multicultural Services for the next day. And Gillian and John from RAR took me to meet Ian who is happy to receive homeless people to stay for two weeks. But then he let me stay until February 2019. Then I met moved to a different spot.

First at Multicultural Services I was involved in Feast of Stories, then certificates in Food Safety, then gardening at Gravel Hill, then soccer and BBQ, then swimming lessons. The teacher said I’m eligible for the swimming course. Now I’m doing my practical hours to become a swim teacher. No way I thought about becoming a swim teacher before. Multicultural Services is always welcoming; it encourages me. Just parking is the issue. When I am in town I go there for a cup of coffee, say ‘hi, hello!’ They helped me with lots of information with full details. For my visa appointments they told me what kind of supporting documents I need to carry. And whenever I’m enter to office they are so warm welcoming staffs. They are like my parents or siblings, “Oh sister you need this? Make sure you do that.” It is that feeling of home. Most people who coming to the Multicultural Service would came from many different trauma ­– could be difficulties, violence etc. But this office staffs make them forget about everything and feel comfort. Now I am a full-time volunteer at Multicultural Services, The Old Church and Food Bank. I don’t have work rights, so no income, no Centrelink, but I am willing; those places help me, and I give back.

I feel I can share my culture in Bendigo. I share at Multicultural Services, Bendigo Library, the Old Church. At Gravel Hill Garden they ask which vegetable you want to plant? But I think one hundred percent we need a place for us to share our culture with other people – we can feel that I am safe, I am free.

Bendigo is home. When I was moving I didn’t realise why I was moving, but when I settled in Bendigo I found the reason: no feeling of family. At Multicultural Services everyone is my family. Colour doesn’t make me feel different. White, black, brown – they are my mother, my sister, my father. I lost my father when I was five years old. I missed him a lot. When I came here they give me all the comfy feeling like family.

Home means I can settle here; get a visa and I can contribute myself to this country in the future. I’ve got a lot of dreams but without work rights… But I am respecting Australian government rules and laws and I am using this opportunity to volunteer and learn more. This home can bright my future. I feel I belong to Australia.

Mangok Deng

I’m the president of a non-profit organisation for the South Sudanese community called Whetayoukyouk. We provide families with resources that they don’t have: food, language, help with Centrelink, interpreting, finding a job, filling in forms, a youth group. We have about 20 families, but the organisation is run by about five of us. I also work at KR Castlemaine.

I’ve been in Australia 15 years, in Castlemaine for seven. When I came to Australia I didn’t speak English. People from South Sudan came from many different countries before Australia, each time we had to adapt; learn a new language, learn a new culture, learn the law. It’s very difficult starting over again.

This is a nice place – quiet, not too busy. I had been in Sydney for eight years then I applied for work here and stayed. Then my family – my mum, my two sisters and my brother – came. My mum comes to White Nile group at Multicultural Services.

We are Dinka. One of the most important things in our culture is family. Coming together. We have big families. Music is important and dance and food too. We are friendly people.

I didn’t know anybody in Castlemaine; it was hard. Socialising was difficult. I didn’t know where to go or how to reach out. I had to adapt again. I went to the library and community house and talked with people and tried to learn. There were people on the street that would stare at me, like, ‘Where are you from?!” It was like they’d never seen a black person before. Days went by and people kept asking me – I felt like I needed to explain myself all the time.

That’s why we started Whetayoukyouk. We thought, ‘Wait a minute, we need all the community to come together, sit and communicate and get to know each other, interact with each other’. A way to help our community – with language, where to go for help or fun and to know other communities too; we don’t want to just know our community, we want to know other communities as well. We need to get involved and we need to learn and adapt.

Multicultural Services helps our community in general; what they do and what we do, and they had the same idea that we were talking about. They helped us apply for funds for our Independence Day celebration, helped plan and organise the day. We went to Chinese New Year. We DJed at Zinda Festival and we’re booked for next year’s festival too. We help each other. As the years have gone by Multicultural Services is like family to us too. This is what it’s all about, all cultures coming together at once, getting to know each other, embracing each other’s cultures and qualities.

I feel both Australian and South Sudanese. There’s always gonna be a feeling for me of where I came from. I’m Sudanese first, but I grew up here, so I’m Australian. The feeling’s there. But the issue is, you can feel it yourself, but you have to be accepted by others. If you don’t feel like you belong, then you start to question yourself. I feel like I belong, but it’s taken a long time.

Feeling like you belong depends on freedom and understanding. Multicultural Services is the only place people can come and see other cultures but we need a place that we can come and socialise together, tell stories, play music, learn other culture’s language, that’s very important to have a space to do that. It brings out the humanity in us.

Home is the foundation of what comes next. Everything we do as humans is to leave a legacy behind for the next generation. We gotta make sure our culture, our region, our city is in a better place than it was yesterday. We gotta come together as people and work together and move forward in the best way possible. It’s important that it starts at home for our children’s future.

Shilin Roy

I came to Australia in 2007, January. I studied my post-registration in nursing in Ballarat Uni for one year, then I moved to Bendigo. I don’t have much time now. I have three kids, I work almost full time in the community plus in the hospital, I care for the kids and if I have any spare time I read to improve my knowledge because I recently finished my Master of Nursing.

I am president of the Bendigo Malayalee Association. We started with ten families in 2010 and now it is an emerging community with over 140 families. We are in partnership with Multicultural Services and registered with Consumer Affairs Victoria and Multicultural Association Victoria. We want to showcase our culture in the community; to share the richness of our culture – different types or art, music, dress, food – for the people in Bendigo.

We have a good relationship with Multicultural Services and with council. Many of the people in our community are working professionals; Multicultural Services provides supports and gives them opportunity to learn certificate courses, make them aware of jobs and volunteer work. We also participate in other community programs with drumming and dancing. For the last two years Multicultural Arts Victoria and Multicultural Services helped us get the men opportunity to share our drumming – it was on the television and the news. At Zinda Festival our girls performed Bollywood and our men did drumming. We had a stand with butter chicken and fried rice; our food was finished in one hour! Last year we also organized a dance program. Professional dancers came from Melbourne. It was amazing. And teach traditional dance; teacher comes from Melbourne every Saturday to teach the kids. It is a lot of work but I know people like to know about our community and culture, our art, our food, what we do.

Initially when I came to Australia it was a big challenge. I was very scared, thinking oh, why I came here, I don’t know how I bring my children up here, the culture is totally different. There was a lot of questions in mind. Culturally India is very strong. The older generation want to keep that alive and want the children to follow that – each of the states is totally different. I am from Kerala South Indian state. In our custom there is lot of people in the family. The children grow with massive information about their culture and how they need to be, to behave in society, to behave culturally, to behave religiously – doesn’t matter if they are Hindu or Christian.

When I first came to Bendigo I was planning to move to Melbourne but it’s years now I settled here. I know lots of the people in Bendigo, through my work and through the Malayalee Association. I can be a resource for other people. This is my home now. My home, my place. For that attachment and feeling of home, a lot of people helped. A lot of people helped us to settle well. When people came from different place to Bendigo now, we also do the same thing as a community group. Do they have enough food and clothes? Are they fine? We feel that Bendigo is our home, so we want to share. Bendigo is becoming more popular in a strong multicultural way.

A hub would be a cultural exchange. Working together, people can gather, kids can play and meet, like a playroom. If you give the different community groups an opportunity to come together it is a very good idea. We can all work together. Some communities don’t have as much information or resources; some are weak in some areas and some are stronger in other areas. A hub would give an opportunity to get more involved in education or health or women’s groups. It would be a good idea.

It’s really working together.

Nay Blu Htoo Tha

I have been in Australia for eight years. We came on September 6. I was almost twelve. We first came to Bendigo. I don’t know anyone and then after a couple of months I go to school. Found it a bit hard, couldn’t understand English. I didn’t speak any English. Probably took a year before I could understand. It was hard. I sit there quiet. I don’t talk much. I still don’t talk much. I was a good kid at school. Quiet kid, shy kid.

My family is mum, dad, brother, sister. My sister is the oldest, then me, then my brother. My cousin was here, and my aunty; he came three years before me. That sort of helped me a bit.

I wasn’t used to things in Australia. I liked school in Thailand. We had fun with our friends. But school in Thailand is very different to here. Back there if you were naughty or didn’t get work right, you got hit. The teacher hit you with a stick or metal ruler. You would bleed on the knuckles. It hurt. When I went to school here, I did ESL at Primary School. Now they call it EAL. That helped too cos we had a Karen group and we learned English, more English. It helped because the teacher teached differently. We had lots of Karen there that made us feel more comfortable.

I do roofing, roof-plumbing. Basically, we just build people’s houses and their roofs. Sometimes we do a bit of general plumbing. I’ve been doing it almost a year. Next month it will be a year. I got the job because Bu Gay told me. She asked me if I was looking for a job, because about that time I was about to finish Year 12, so I told them year I’m looking to do plumbing job and they got me one and I joined it for a week to see how I go and I like it and yeah, then I joined it. The people I work with are kind to me and nice to me. Even though my English isn’t that good. I used to live next door to Sylvia from Multicultural Services. We didn’t know each other but we would talk to each other sometimes. I didn’t know she worked at Multicultural Services. Then my parents told me. She helped me get my job. After I finished Year 12, I didn’t know what to do so I thought I will do study and try something but then I got this job.

I turn twenty this month. Twenty-seven of October. I am getting older and mature. But I am Seventh Day Adventist, so we don’t celebrate birthdays and Christmas. Some of our celebrations are a little different. But I like that my Karen culture is about people getting together. Meeting each other so we don’t forget our culture.

There have been times when I didn’t feel so comfortably. But now more Karen people come here, more support. I work with people. When I first came here, I don’t know anyone, so I felt left out. To belong feels like home. Now that I belong, I can start a new journey, new beginning, start a new life again. I think a Multicultural Hub would be great for our community. Other Karen people that are new here that don’t speak English much could get help and meet people from other communities.

Now I feel home is here in Australia. Back in Thailand where we live is in refugee camp, where we sort of can’t go anywhere, have to stay in camp, can’t go outside. Feel like same day every day. Go to school, come back home, play with friends. In the morning same thing again. No opportunity. It’s different now in Australia. Now I feel I belong here. I got my citizenship. People are kind in Bendigo, they treat people well in the community.

I like to go out in nature and go walking and hiking. It helps me relax and have relief. I like to go anywhere in Bendigo and outside; the Grampians, Macedon, Woodend. Back in Thailand we used to sneak out of the camp with friends, go hunting, kill birds, the we would eat them. Nothing wasted. We would bring them back home. One time me and my friends went outside the camp, they had wild mango trees. Me and my friend were climbing the tree and some of our friends told us security, Thai security were there. I just jumped down. But he was joking. I was so scared. I was about 9 or 10. I was scared they would take me back to the camp or put me in jail. But here you are free. You can go wherever you want.

Silvia Moo

I have been in Australia almost eight years. I haven’t been back to Thailand. I’m still waiting for citizenship. My mum has citizenship, I’m still waiting. She hasn’t been back, probably she’s waiting for me! We applied together in 2016. It’s been a really long process. It’s like nightmare, you don’t really know what is going to happen next. If you want to travel around, you can’t. You feel hopeless. You just have to stay here. Even if you want to go back to Thailand, you just… People choose to go back just with travel documents but I prefer with a citizenship because you have more guarantee; it’s the title that you are Australian citizen.

I came to Australia just me and my mum, but my grandmum came one month before me. We lived in Werribee, and we moved to Bendigo 2017. Werribee is so crowded; so many people, so many cars, But Bendigo I love it. Because it’s so quiet, it’s calm and nice and my grandmum she has a place where she can plant things and have her own garden.

I understood just a little bit of English before I came. My grandmum doesn’t speak English, my mum speaks a little bit. She’s better now. She still needs me to go with her when she has appointments. She is working and says that if she don’t have work, she doesn’t really know what to do. I told her if I get a job, if I have money, I want her to rest. But she said, the money that you earn and the money that I earn probably the same so she would rather work!

Comin to Australia, the first challenge was that you have to adapt to a new culture, you have to learn systems and everything. Back then we lived in a camp, it’s just like you have nothing, you live a daily, basic life. They provide you with monthly rice, oil all that stuff, but when you come here you have to life adapt to a new thing. Here you have more opportunity and they give you more resources.

Communication was the hardest part. Until now I still remember when I first went into my class, a mainstream class, and I couldn’t understand anything at all. And the teacher’s accent! I remember that my first class was history and back then it was a nightmare for me. It was totally different, the accents, the tone, everything. I would cry, because I didn’t really understand what they were teaching.

It took about a year until I understood. I had my cousins, and the teachers who supported me and they were really nice and approachable.

It was my university requirement that I volunteer in community engagement so it came in my mind that maybe I could find something around here. I met with Bu Gay and she said yeah, that’s a good idea because here at Multicultural Services we need someone here on a Friday who speaks English and can speak Karen as well. Then I came and spoke to Rose and it just happened really quick and she signed everything for me and it was like it was planned ahead. It was amazing! I volunteered for a year. The university requirement was only for 30 hours, but I still wanted to come back and help people here in the community here. I also wanted to expand my knowledge and skills. I did that at Multicultural Services because I was exposed to many things alike business and admin and answering the phones.

Now I have a new job. It came from the relationship I built here. I started three weeks ago as bilingual support employment consultant. It’s a great opportunity to expand my skills in a real-world setting. I study at university two days a week in Melbourne also and sometimes go back and spend time in Werribee and then I am also here in Bendigo with mum and grandmum. For fun I like to watch movies and I play keyboard. But I don’t have a lot of time!

I want to show to the young people that it’s not just that you finish high school and you go to labour work; you can study for a future; you can extend your knowledge. There are so many opportunities here, you can do whatever you want with your study, with your life, so just obtain your opportunity.

Australia is my home now. Multicultural Services is my home as well because everyone is so welcoming and approachable and friendly. I feel like my family is here. If I have any questions or trouble, they always help me with that.

I want everyone in the community here to know where I come from up to this point, but like everyone of different backgrounds, from diverse backgrounds, I have my own ability and capacity and want to fight for other people as well. What they can do, I can do.