Author Archives: More to the Story

The power of the written word

I am thrilled to be joining both emerging and established writers who will descend on the Centre for Stories and other venues in Perth for the Australian Short Story Festival, running from Friday 19 to Sunday 21 October.

“My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel – it is, before all, to make you see.”

This powerful quote by Joseph Conrad will be in my mind when I participate on a panel at the festival on Sunday 21 October. With my colleagues Dennis Haskell and Marcella Polain, we’ll discuss the power of the written word and its conflict with the sword in a session hosted by PEN Perth.

pen-perthI am often asked what PEN stands for. Its name was conceived as an acronym: ‘Poets, Essayists, Novelists’ (later broadened to ‘Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, Novelists’) in the UK in 1921. Over many decades it has become a genuinely international organisation, encompassing a wide array of cultures and languages with over 146 Centres around the world.

PEN promotes literature and defends freedom of expression world-wide. You can join a local chapter of PEN wherever you are and receive newsletters and updates straight to your inbox. Right now that means you can access more information about the brutal killing of the Bulgarian investigative TV presenter Viktoria Marinova in Ruse, Bulgaria on 7 October, which came five days after the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist critical of the Saudi regime, in Istanbul. There are unconfirmed reports that he may have been killed in the embassy.

In Australia, PEN campaigns for a number of writers including Iranian Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani who has just won the Anna Politkovskaya investigative journalism award for his work documenting Australia’s offshore immigration detention program. Behrouz, a refugee who fled Iran, has been held in indefinite detention since 2013 – first on Christmas Island and then on Manus Island. PEN Perth aims to raise the consciousness of the public and encourage a world where writers are free to express themselves, responsibly and respectfully.

I encourage you to participate in the Short Story Festival. You can book tickets online, and some of them are free. It should be a great event – I am particularly looking forward to David Malouf’s opening address and Maria Takolander’s sessions. I hope to see you there.

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Speaking up

What a privilege and inspiration to hear Professor Gillian Triggs, former president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, speak last night.

Professor Triggs is on the first leg of a book tour promoting her memoir Speaking Up. She spoke at the University of Western Australia to a packed theatre about her life and the many challenges she faced during her five-year tenure. She withstood relentless political pressure and media scrutiny as she and the Commission advocated for the disempowered, the disenfranchised and the marginalised.

I’m thrilled that I will be interviewing Professor Triggs myself at the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival in October. It will be a chance for us all to learn more about her global views and the lessons and insights she has taken from her time at the Human Rights Commission.

She left us in no doubt that as an Australian society we have failed to measure up to the human rights standards we hypocritically endorse. She worries about the decline in political leadership in Australia, and in her speech, highlighted some key issues in her book. She spoke passionately about Indigenous Australians and their human rights, freedom of speech, gender and marriage equality and the monitoring, treatment and law about asylum seekers.

She believes Australians can pull together and become a better society. She argued that the time is right for a legislated charter of human rights.

“We do not view social justice through the lens of human rights in Australia. Human rights law does not inform the legal or political discourse and is often ignored and expressly overridden by the parliament.

It is our responsibility as citizens in this democracy to become more informed and to speak up about injustices.”

I am looking forward to my interview with Professor Triggs and I’ll share some more of her thoughts on this blog.  In the meantime, I recommend the book Speaking Up to everyone.

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Refugees create jobs

Recent Australian Bureau of Statistics data revealed that people who arrived in Australia as refugees are the most entrepreneurial migrant group. ‘This builds on earlier research showing people of a refugee background tended to work several jobs in their first few years in Australia to build capital to start their own businesses,’ the ABS said.

Today, Australia is more multicultural than ever before. We live this reality in the food we eat, the music we listen to and, most importantly, with the people we choose to spend time with.

Refugees are not taking Australian jobs, they are creating new ones. There are so many good stories around about big and small enterprises but I wanted to highlight one.

The Fare Go food truck is a social enterprise food truck operated by people from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds. Started by CARAD – the Centre for Asylum Seekers, refugees and detainees in Western Australia, the Fare Go food truck gives us the opportunity to eat, share and connect over food from different cultures while empowering refugees and asylum seekers through employment.

I was pleased to see that the Fare Go enterprise has been chosen to participate in the Pitch for Good event in October.  Impact Seed, StartSomeGood and City of Perth host the event which is essentially a triple-decker live crowdfunding campaign!

It is such a great event – and the finalists are all doing amazing work. Each have the chance to ‘pitch’ their idea to up to 250 people, all of whom are interested in social enterprises and keen to make a difference. There is a cost to attend and all money goes to the enterprises participating. You can find out more about the event and book to attend here.

Fare Go food truck

Why I love libraries

Can you believe an economist penned an opinion piece on the website of business magazine Forbes entitled Amazon should replace local libraries to save taxpayers money?  The writer put forward his idea that libraries “don’t have the same value they used to”.  It caused a public outcry around the world and the post has now been deleted.

It’s hard to know where to start with what is wrong with this idea. One of my favourite memories as a child is of going to the library on Saturday mornings, checking out a huge stack of books, coming home and spreading them across the floor, deciding which one to read first and then digging in to those pages that would take me to another world to meet amazing characters.library2

I love visiting my library now to see pre-schoolers with mum or dad at rhyme time, school children doing research at the desks or older members of the community browsing the shelves or the newspaper stacks.

I often pop in and sit in a comfy chair to read for a little while.  Now of course there are e-books and audio books to download for my phone so I can take my favourite author walking with me each day.library1

There are so many activities on offer that my head spins: book clubs, historical society meetings, computer classes, community legal services, language classes, printing services and a wide variety of talks and presentations.

When my mum was battling cancer, the wonderful librarians at her suburban library chose a selection of books for her each week.  The driver of the bus that drove around to pick up and drop off seniors called in with her books, enabling mum to keep in touch with her reading community.

I have come to understand that a library is not just a place of books; it is a place of people and community.  Thankfully there are enough of us like-minded people to remind economists and others who would wish to close our libraries.

The ever burning candle

The power of telling people’s stories never ceases to amaze and inspire me.

In association with the Centre for Stories, three established playwrights have been working with three local story tellers to bring a portion of their stories to the stage at The Blue Room Theatre. My good friend Fauzia Sufizada is one of those story tellers.

I’m thrilled that Fauzia’s story, which was adapted by Chris Isaacs, an award winning writer who has worked around the world, was primarily inspired by my book More to the Story: conversations with refugees. English is Fauzia’s fifth language and she was brilliant in a solo performance. She asks her audience to imagine her life as someone from a refugee background.

Fauzia Sufizada is lost on a bus to White Gum Valley.  She is in a room in Peshawar watching a Norwegian freighting ship on TV.  She is reading her father’s poetry in Kabul.  She is stepping off an airplane in Perth. She is in a chair in the theatre – and she’s talking to you.

The other two stories that were brought to the stage were equally as engaging.  Due to popular demand an extra show has been scheduled for Saturday 4 August. Click here to make a booking.

Fauzia's play

Fauzia Sufizada (third from left) with a few fans after the show

Take action

You may have heard recently about how the Australian government is making cuts to the Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS). This program provides asylum seekers in the community, who are awaiting the outcome of their protection visa application, with a basic income (89% of a Centrelink Newstart Allowance) and casework support. New tightened eligibility criteria will mean that around 500 people in Perth may no longer have access to this program.

CARAD logoCARAD is a fabulous organisation in Western Australia that has assisted thousands of refugees and asylum seekers with a range of services. Their latest newsletter reports they are witnessing many people facing destitution and homelessness as a result of no longer having a safety net of financial and casework support available to them.

They are calling on people to take action by finding out the facts and getting involved via the following methods.

ADVOCATE – Engaging with your local Member of Parliament is an effective way of demonstrating that you care about justice, non-discrimination and upholding human rights for all. Advice on how to go about writing to your MP is on the CARAD website.

DONATING FOOD – With more and more people relying on their food bank to provide food for their families CARAD is seeking donations. Their website outlines the food and non-food items that are most often needed.

VOLUNTEER – CARAD has many volunteer roles on offer including homework support, English tuition, assisting with the food bank program, and helping out at the CARAD office. They also have a new Food Truck project just getting off the ground and are looking for people who have skills in vehicle mechanics/maintenance, hospitality/food industry, small business management, marketing or event management. Their volunteer information sessions are held every month – here are the ones coming up:

  • Thursday 26 July, 12pm
  • Tuesday 14 August, 5.40pm
  • Wednesday 15 August, 12pm

More information on volunteering is on the CARAD website. If you would like to get involved in the Food Truck project please contact: foodtruck@carad.org.au.

MEMBERSHIP – By renewing your membership or becoming a CARAD member you will give weight to their vital advocacy work, stay up-to-date on news and events and can actively participate in the organisation. More information on membership and on how to make a donation is on their website.

If you are located elsewhere in Australia there are a range of other organisations you can support that assist asylum seekers and refugees.

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Every two seconds

The UN Refugee Agency’s annual Global Trends study released last week found 68.5 million people had been driven from their homes across the world at the end of 2017. This is an increase of 2.9 million on last year’s figure and is the biggest increase the UNHCR has seen in a single year. It now means that a person is forcibly displaced from their home every two seconds – more people than the population of the United Kingdom.

The number of asylum-seekers awaiting the outcome of their applications for refugee status is 3.1 million, by the end of December 2017. People displaced inside their own country accounted for 40 million of the total.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, reminded us that ‘No one becomes a refugee by choice; but the rest of us can have a choice about how we help.’

For those of us in communities around the world who want to help, that can mean practical acts such as lobbying governments, writing letters, volunteering, or donating to agencies that help people of a refugee background like: MercyCare, Save the Children, Red Cross Australia, CARAD and the Edmund Rice Centre WA.

But most importantly, I believe, it means staying informed and knowing the facts. This latest UNHCR report makes for sombre reading and it is a long document. However I urge you to read the “Trends at a Glance” at the beginning of the document and watch the short video on the website about people like you and me with individual hopes, hardships and stories.

As always, behind these confronting numbers are real lives.

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