On Monday night Michael Xu and I had a long exchange of views on the subject of refugees, why they exist and in such numbers, and where and why they became refugees, what might be done about the problem and so on. Obviously this is such deep water that one FB comment thread is highly unlikely to come up with answers — but can point to further thought. So I won’t rehearse all that was said. Michael was tending to deplore the “moral superiority complex” of the West, and pointed to issues related to the history of colonialism and capitalism — all obviously relevant matters. I was trying to present perhaps a less starkly black-and-white set of views.
For example, this is part of one of my comments: “I think we will agree that refugees/displaced people is a world problem far too big to settle in comments like these. Many causes — war, economic situations. political situations, natural disaster, climate change…. Australia used to be more generous. Feeling morally superior or not is not really the problem. But no country can take everybody, just not possible given the enormous numbers.” And I cited a couple of videos — first a very basic one of definition by UNHCR:
I also posted this statistical one, with the reservation that we really needed to look at those totals as a percentage of the populations of each country. But the countries, as you probably know already, that actually receive the greatest number are not those who really could and should do more — such as Australia,
Well, to cut a long comment thread short — we did not solve the world’s problems in one FB discussion! But I began to think of local stories. ” Not for a moment suggesting that this 78-year-old in Wollongong is at all special or knows very much, but I do try (for my own sake as much as anything else) to find those who are saying and/or doing something positive and listen to them.” And: “My neighbours here at the moment include a Syrian refugee, and a young Sudanese whose parents probably were, perhaps him too. I haven’t talked to him about it yet, but the Syrian lady I have had long talks with.”
I posted about my Syrian neighbour in 2016.
Her room is just three up from mine. She has been here for about a year but we hardly spoke until recently, when she wished me a Merry Christmas:
My Muslim neighbour kindly wished me “Merry Christmas” last week, not inappropriately given my “real” Christmas was in Surry Hills last Friday. This morning the lovely folk at the Yum Yum Cafe gave me this. So Christmas, eh! And not too hot here in The Gong this year…
We spoke again at some length a few days ago. It turns out she is from Syria and spoke no English when she arrived in Australia less than two years ago…
That post also tells of other people from similar backgrounds in Wollongong.
In that post also:
Yesterday at Diggers a somewhat cantankerous friend got on one of his hobby-horses – well, more like three: people who won’t work and live on welfare, refugees who go straight onto welfare and/or steal our jobs, Muslims with heaps of wives on welfare etc… You know, standard talkback radio and Daily Telegraph-fed stuff. And some of it just lately emanating from or magnified by (not really ex-) former/in waiting Prime Minister Tony Abbott, I see in today’s news.
Yesterday I fought back a bit, just on the “and how many really do that?” line leading towards the possibility that the majority in whatever group one is hating for the moment probably don’t do whatever it is – like have lots of wives. Pointed also to one of our best-known local pharmacists whose shop is much frequented by mothers in hijabs, Said pharmacist is of Lebanese background. Happened my adversary was a customer and admirer of that pharmacy. Some half hour later my adversary shook my hand and said “I was wrong. You were right.” Nice when that happens.
From an earlier generation is the great story of how the Wollongong Art Gallery’s collection began with the hobby of a post-WW2 refugee who worked at Port Kembla steelworks:
It was not until 1975 after a chance meeting with a very modest gentleman named Bronius (Bob) Sredersas. Bob wanted to donate his collection to the “Children of Wollongong”. This momentous gift was the catalyst on which the Art Gallery was built (Sredersas Gallery). The Illawarra County Council donated the property formally known as the Hughes Whetton Reilly Building (now Wollongong Youth Centre), including the land upon which it stood to Council on the proviso that the property be used for an Art Gallery. Through the persistence and hard work of the society, volunteers and donors, and with the assistance of Council and Government funding bodies, a Director and Board of Trustee was appointed and on the 2 June 1978 Wollongong City Gallery was officially opened by Mr Neville Wran, Premier of NSW at 85 Burelli Street, Wollongong attended by over 500 people. The first exhibition was titled Burghers of Calais, with works borrowed for the National Gallery and Art Gallery of NSW.
I then recalled something from just last year. “Illawarra Grammar alumnus Ian Steven Muhayimana was awarded Wollongong’s Young Citizen of the Year 2020. Ian is a musican, producer, singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who performs under the name Stevan.”
ABC Illawarra ran a story on him in July 2020.
From Malawi to Wollongong to the world!
19 -year old multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter Stevan has been getting played on triple j for a couple of years now, and is starting to make waves on NME and the BBC. He has finally released his long-awaited debut mixtape Just Kids, and he’s from Wollongong! Well, kind of.
Born in Malawi to parents from Burundi, Stevan arrived here when he was 3, went to school at TIGS, and is making music right here in his home studio that is getting talked about all around the world.
Here is one of his 2020 tracks, with a great video featuring some of our Illawarra bush and scenery too. I see he has resumed posting songs in the last week or so.
My mind goes back to an assignment I had for the South Sydney Herald: Launch of Refugee African Muslim Youth Project Book – 16 Jul 2010, Alexandria NSW.
On Wednesday this week Indigenous presenter Tony Armstrong did an excellent piece on Peter Bol on ABC News Breakfast’s coverage of the Olympic Games — it is very relevant to issues raised in this post and also in the FB discussion which triggered this post! That video does not appear to be useable, so I am substituting this July interview:
Bol’s story is compelling – even beyond his journey from Sudan to Australia. As a teenager, he attended St Norbert College, a prestigious private school in Perth, on a basketball scholarship. Each year he was required to participate in school athletics. He kept winning races but, despite the urgings of his teachers, had no interest in swapping sports.
Eventually, when Bol was in year 11, a teacher promised to help find him a coach, a club and a mentor if he gave athletics a shot. He agreed. “That single decision to say yes has meant I’ve travelled the whole world,” he said. Within five years, Bol was competing on the grandest stage. In Rio and now Tokyo, Bol has represented his adopted homeland.
“I love my identity and my background,” Bol said last year. “My mum is Sudanese, my dad is South Sudanese. I take a lot of pride in both of those. But I’m also as equally thankful to be here.” Bol has spoken about the positives of increased awareness about race and racism, and of his support for the conversations around the Black Lives Matter movement.
At the time of writing this (and revising it!) the outcome of the 800m Final was unknown. By the time you read it chances are you will have heard all about him!
So 10.15 and I saw the race. Great effort. Just missed a medal.