Faces of FLN

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Faces of FLN celebrates the stories of students, volunteers and staff of the Fitzroy Learning Network, drawing on the diversity and generosity of the community of Fitzroy as their backdrop.




Fitzroy Learning Network is a House of Welcome. It is a place where refugees and immigrants can begin to rebuild their lives and acquire the skills to start anew. It is a bridge between their past and future. Above all it is a place where newcomers are made to feel at home. ARNOLD ZABLE



The FLN Community



First published by the Fitzroy Learning Network in 2018 Fitzroy Learning Network, 198 Napier St, Fitzroy VIC All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or in any means electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without prior permission in writing from the publisher. Copyright text © each individual contributor Copyright images © see Image Credits on page 153 Cataloguing-in-publishing-details are available from the National Library of Australia www.trove.nla.gov.au ISBN: 978-0-6481099-6-9 Produced by The Bowen Street Press Cover design: Christopher Black Cover images: Shane Bell and Alex Mitchell Text design and layout: Christopher Black Printed and bound in Australia by Print Strategy Management

A Timeline of Fitzroy Learning Network 1985–2018



Volunteers became a core element of FLN in 1993, breathing new life into the organisation.



In 1985, the Brotherhood of St Laurence established the Fitzroy Learning Network (FLN) to provide adult education programs for people living in rooming houses and on the Atherton Gardens Estate, Fitzroy. It was located in the Uniting Church Building at 124 Napier Street.

In 1994 severe funding cuts threatened the future of FLN so a fundraising subcommittee was formed. The ‘Save Fitzroy Pool’ campaign galvanised the local community who took action to save the pool and protect other local organisations. A great new network and active community is formed which supports FLN.



The City of Yarra assisted FLN to move into its current location in 1995. Teachers from Adult Multicultural Education Services (AMES) and Kangan Batman TAFE helped to expand English as a Second Language (ESL) and other programs, including storytelling through the writing and performing of plays.



The main groups of students in the mid-90s were refugees from Vietnam, post-war migrants from the Mediterranean and men from the rooming houses, as well as the Hmong—a hill tribe from Laos who fled after the Vietnam War. To meet the needs of Hmong women who could not participate in programs because of lack of childcare, FLN partnered with the Fitzroy Community Health Centre, receiving grants and raising funds to establish programs and support services so they could learn English to ensure ‘their daughters had a better life than they had’.

The fundraising committee established the Fitzroy Ball and The Fitzroy Women’s Dinner. These were supported by local businesses and became highlights of the social calendar. FLN became a Neighbourhood House to provide community development activities as well as adult education programs.



In 1997 Scott Thornton joined FLN as a volunteer, bringing much needed financial and administrative skills. He established the Over 55s Group that would meet once a week for lunch and bingo. This group continued for 17 years until Scott retired in 2014. He is acknowledged as the ‘Father of the Fitzroy Learning Network’.

FLN decided that it was important to celebrate every success of its students at a special ceremony at the end of each year. Certificates were given to students for attendance, achievement and contribution to the community. Volunteers and supporters were also recognised as well as local businesses and agencies that supported FLN.



Puss the cat adopted FLN, making herself at home and becoming a therapy cat. She made the world normal for dislocated and traumatised people. People coming out of detention were happy to sit in the garden with Puss and just talk to her.

The arrival of three computers changed the way learning happened at FLN and eventually led to the creation of the Computer Clubhouse, the first established in Australia. It was based on a model developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston. THE PLAYS

The play I Came Without My Mother’s Hand was written and performed by students from refugee backgrounds around schools and theatres in Melbourne. This brought actors, writers, producers and musicians into FLN.



FLN became a major advocate for refugees and asylum seekers, campaigning to get refugees, including children, out of detention and to stop the Pacific Solution. The play Kan Yama Kan was written and performed to help tell their story. The play was performed at Trades Hall in July 2003: thousands of tickets were sold and a regional tour was funded.


In August 2000 refugees were released from Woomera Detention Centre. They were welcomed by FLN with open arms, warm hearts, biscuits, tea and coffee. The community donated bedding, clothes, furniture and their time to settle the newly arrived.


During this time, thousands of people (predominantly from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran) leaving detention from mainland centres including Woomera, and later refugees from Manus and Nauru, passed through the doors of FLN. Hope and party therapy became key elements of the Refugee Support Program. They brought the community, supporters, volunteers, staff, refugees and asylum seekers into a space filled with delicious food, conversation and opportunities to meet new people and laugh and dance.



By 2006 FLN’s model was well established and powered by dedicated staff and volunteers, federal, state and local government funding, business supporters, philanthropic organisations and individual donors. The combination of being a Registered Training Organisation (RTO), a Neighbourhood House and a ‘home away from home’, meant that FLN continued to offer a range of program and support services to meet the needs of the local community. These included: English language programs; computer courses; classes in sewing, business, catering, photography, jewellery, music production, video making, driving skills, poetry, songwriting, cooking and dj-ing; jobs club; the Computer Clubhouse; reading groups, and excursions. FLN also provided a Foodbank, refugee support (information, advocacy, access and referral services), mentoring and homework support. FLN continued to advocate against Australia’s refugee and asylum seeker policies, which were becoming progressively harsher.


In late 2003 FLN led a delegation of people on Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) and their supporters to Parliament House in Canberra to meet with MPs and Ministers. ‘Refugees Say Thank You Australia’ was supported by 67 organisations across the nation. By late March 2004 change was happening. Detainees were being released from detention centres including Manus and Nauru, and TPV holders were being granted permanent visas. They were welcomed at the airport with bunches of wattle and koalas with hearts on them and then bought back to FLN where friends, volunteers and Afghan food awaited. By the end of 2005 all refugees were off Nauru and in the Australian community. Manus was closed and mothballed. All children and the majority of refugees were out of detention centres.


FLN attracts students from many countries including Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, China, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Turkey, Egypt and Brazil. They range from under 20 years to more than 80 years of age. Hundreds of volunteers from Fitzroy and across Melbourne continue to contribute to FLN.



In 2017 FLN partnered with Yarra Libraries and Fitzroy Legal Service to host the first Bridges to Harmony Festival to celebrate the inclusivity and diversity of our community. In 2018 the Fitzroy Ball was revived as FitzRitz, having been on hiatus for many years, and turned the Town Hall ballroom into a dance hall, selling out!


Sarah Noori won the 2006 Victorian Spirit of Anzac Prize with a video she produced at the Computer Clubhouse. She travelled with the then Premier of Victoria Steve Bracks and Minister for Youth Jacinta Allan to Singapore, Vietnam, and Japan to learn more about the history of the ANZACs.


On June 13 2018, a week before Refugee Week, the member for Richmond Richard Wynne and the Premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews visited FLN and announced $2.1 million of funding for a major refurbishment.



Mark Madden Chair of FLN Board

I became involved with FLN back in the early 2000s. I had worked with Anne Horrigan-Dixon, the then CEO of FLN, in a previous role and hadn’t seen Anne for a number of years. I ran into Anne walking past a shop in Fairfield where I lived and we got chatting. Anne knew that I was a journalist and had written media releases so she asked, ‘Can you do a media release for me?’ This was at the height of the post-Tampa period when FLN was dealing with a whole range of issues around the refugee community and the media. After I wrote the media release, I slowly became more involved with FLN and was asked to assist in developing an advocacy project which we called ‘Refugees Say Thank You Australia’. We took a group of refugees to Canberra, many of whom were on Temporary Protection Visas, to meet with ministers and members of Parliament as a way of trying to get the government to change its position of Temporary Protection Visa holders so they could have much more certainty in their lives. They weren’t declared as genuine refugees and FLN coordinated the trip to try to get them permanent visas. Those who came with us were very brave because they were putting, in effect, their visa at risk by being publicly involved in something like this. It was deliberately called ‘Refugees Say Thank You Australia’ to disarm people who might have a negative view about refugees—they genuinely wanted to say thank you and ask for greater certainty. These were people who wanted to become part of the community—to contribute to



the community and to be able to bring family to Australia. I think that trip was really important in helping shape future decisions. The thing I always think about is the bravery of the people: refugees and asylum seekers who have had to leave their countries. You hear their stories and think ‘Oh my god’. They’ve left family behind, in many cases, to get here— they’ve travelled enormous distances and they’ve taken enormous risks. After all this they arrive here with a continued sense of optimism and a willingness to contribute to a community. There’s an amazing spirit. There’s a real sense of passion and generosity in Fitzroy. FLN is a very strong volunteer community and it’s a fantastic sign that people are willing to come and work with new members to help them develop new skills, to share their culture and participate in the life of the community. Our staff also deliver high quality programs tailored toward the community. Part of their role is to be able to say to someone, ‘What sort of other help or services can we provide that will make it easier for you to learn and participate in what we do but also in the broader community?’ FLN is a meeting place where people feel safe and comfortable—where people from all places of the world can come together and be on the same level: exchange food, exchange conversation and learn. There are a number of


people who come to learn language and find a pathway to employment, there are other people who come simply because it’s a welcoming place to be. I’m currently the chair of the board. I had previously held a role on the board when I was first involved with FLN but resigned after moving back to a government role. I rejoined the board in late 2014 as the secretary and have now been the chair for around 18 months. Funding is a challenge that the board has to consider. It’s always, from year to year, the question of how we sustain ourselves but also how we build up some reserves which give us the ability to invest in new facilities or new equipment like IT and those sorts of things. Our challenge at the moment is FLN itself—the building is getting old and tired. As much as we love it, you wouldn’t say that it’s a modern, professional space so we are looking at different ways we can upgrade the facilities. The old FLN slogan was, ‘We open doors to our community’ and that’s really what FLN still tries to do. Now we’ve changed the focus—it’s about ‘building bridges’. Not only does it open doors for new members of the community to join, it’s about building bridges between communities and building a stronger sense of the broader community. ■


That’s what you want to see in the community, isn’t it? Everyone happy to be together. No conflicts, instead everyone is enjoying living here and happy to see their neighbours … And not just one culture … all different cultures enjoying themselves.




Student to Volunteer I moved from Hong Kong to Australia 40 years ago. We lived in Sydney where my Dad worked, but my Mum liked Melbourne better so the whole family moved to Melbourne. I live in a high-rise apartment building. On the ground floor there are always posters. I saw a poster for a women’s leadership program and I thought, maybe I can make use of it to start my own business. The women’s leadership program was run by FLN. They taught us what it would be like running a business. When I walked through the door I felt like I had a big family supporting me. That’s what I really enjoyed, because starting a business without any support is very hard. After we finished the course, other students and I formed a catering group—we catered for events and the local football club. We wanted to share food from our different cultures. We worked at a fundraiser at the football. That was the first time I’d ever been to the football, I didn’t know anything about it. There were so many teams involved and they’d change over; there was always new people going in and out, in and out. We were so busy trying to serve and cook all the sausages, but it was a really fun day and we raised a lot of money. I was happy. At FLN’s Bridges to Harmony Festival we set up our food stall and we cooked


all the food in the kitchen. We did all the preparation and a lot of volunteers came to help. When we did the preparation, we helped each other so we learnt from each other. We learnt how others cook their food and I was taught some things I’d never known before. The whole of FLN was involved in that day. They had games in the park and the teachers arranged for all the kids to perform on the stage with the volunteer performers. There was so much cooperation. Everyone was really excited. Instead of just having a shut door and nobody talking to each other, people brought their families and you could see all the neighbours on the street joining in. That’s what you want to see in the community, isn’t it? Everyone happy to be together. No conflicts, instead everyone is enjoying living here and happy to see their neighbours. That day the weather and the music was so beautiful. It was amazing. I never thought there would be that many people involved and all coming together. And not just one culture; I saw all different cultures enjoying themselves. I think why I volunteer is to give back. FLN helped me a lot and when I volunteer it feels good; I’m giving back something in return and helping somebody else. People can help me without me having to pay them, so I should do the same and then they can help others in turn. ■




Aziz Student

Aziz was in detention for four years before he arrived in Australia as an asylum seeker. He took part in hunger strikes and other protests for human rights during the time he was incarcerated. The trauma he suffered from this period exacerbated the trauma he had suffered as a victim of persecution in his home country of Afghanistan. When Aziz was finally granted refugee status and released he found it difficult to adjust to life in Australia. The Fitzroy Learning Network was one of the first organisations he had contact with upon release. He describes the moment he met the refugee support worker at FLN as ‘the first time I felt welcomed and safe in Australia’. Although the refugee support worker at FLN has now changed, Aziz still accesses FLN services as his primary support. After nine years of waiting, the humanitarian visa that the FLN support worker helped him apply for was finally granted to his wife and children. In mid-2011 the support worker assisted him with the final document required for his family’s journey to Australia, and in December 2011 his family arrived. During their first days in Australia the FLN support worker helped the family with their initial settlement needs—bank accounts, doctor appointments, Centrelink liaison, Medicare registration, school and childcare enrolment for the children and referral to appropriate agencies. His wife immediately began English classes at FLN and his children joined the FLN Computer Clubhouse. The family continue to attend a variety of FLN programs and access the refugee support program for their ongoing settlement needs. ■ Aziz is a pseudonym.



It’s not just celebrating a Fitzroy thing, a Melbourne thing or an Australian thing. It’s celebrating extraordinary achievements by ordinary people. I think that’s basically what FLN is about.



Larry Journalist

I came to know about FLN while I was working as a journalist for The Sunday Age in the early 2000s. I decided, without realising the significance at the time, to focus on migrants and refugees. The stories to first emerge were of people in detention. One day I was asked to cover the rehearsals for the play Kan Yama Kan, which in Arabic means ‘once upon a time’. After meeting the cast and the people involved I wrote a story. I then went to the opening night and later visited FLN to write a story about the centre, who were coordinating the project. When people who’d come out of detention centres on Temporary Protection Visas were being denied English language classes, then FLN CEO Anne Horrigan-Dixon opened the door and welcomed them. It made me think: ‘What would I do if I was at the door?’ Would I turn these people away? Would I have said ‘I’m not allowed to …?’ The people at FLN were not breaking the law, but they were taking a chance with wholeheartedness and determination. As a privileged migrant from the apartheid-era South Africa, I had felt incredibly optimistic about Australia and its post-war cultural mix—until I started reporting stories from people in desperation living in


detention camps. It really knocked my sense of idealism and optimism. What Anne Horrigan-Dixon and FLN did was reaffirm a sense of something special—a fire that had remained. It brought together a divided community polarised between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ and crashed through borders. These people who came as fugitives were traumatised, marginalised and found refuge in the community at FLN. I don’t live in Fitzroy but it’s a very special place. It’s one of Melbourne’s oldest suburbs; it has an incredibly diverse mix. Since migrating from South Africa in the early 1980s, I had hardly watched theatre but Kan Yama Kan was a play that needed to be seen. These were real stories told by real people. People who had been detained and released on Temporary Protection Visas and were unsure as to whether they would be forcibly deported back to their countries. These people had found incredible warmth, decency and camaraderie at FLN. Not only did people associated with FLN put on a play, they took it all the way to Canberra as a means to tell the refugee stories that countered the government’s attempt to dehumanise people. FLN had a campaign


called ‘Refugees Say Thank You Australia’. It was a kind of reverse psychology and it worked. When I’d left The Age and started teaching and working on a PhD, I was approached by a publisher to write a book about activists. I said, here’s a story about the people who have opened the door—one which transcended narrow-mindedness at a time of misinformation. FLN were getting a simple human story out there. If you look at the courage and decency of the people involved I think that’s worth celebrating. What I’ve got in my book, A Knock at the Door, is a series of stories that celebrate some aspects of Australia and its open-heartedness during a time when we were pretty closed-hearted. It’s a story of courage and defiance. It’s not just celebrating a Fitzroy thing, a Melbourne thing or an Australian thing—it’s celebrating extraordinary achievements by ordinary people. I think that’s what FLN is about. There was a welcoming of the stranger and it led to such lasting and mutually nurturing experiences that helped sustain people in incredible difficulty. It occurs to me that we live in a time when people cannot set foot in Australia if they come by boat. If there’s a lesson for me it’s that we, as a community, are diminished by not having the opportunity to engage as we might with the people we should be welcoming into our community. ■



Mona Student

I was born in Sudan in 1975 and lived there for 30 years. I remember going to school and having lots of fun playing with my friends. I studied Arabic, science, geography and maths. There was a war between the north and south of Sudan. Sometimes there was fighting near the school and we were scared for our safety. The school had to close and send us home. I finished school when I was 16 and was married. I stayed in Sudan with my husband and three children while my family moved to Australia. They told me it was very good living in Australia. Sudan had become very dangerous because of the war, so we decided to leave. We left Sudan for Egypt where I lived for eight years before finally arriving in Melbourne in 2014. There were seven of us living with my mother for two years while we waited for housing. We’ve only recently got our own flat. I was frustrated that it took such a long time. I miss Sudan because it’s my country. I miss the green landscapes, the mountains and the beach. Now most of my family are in Melbourne. My mother, one of my sisters and three of my brothers are here. When I am at home with my mother and my brothers, we make African coffee with ginger. I buy the coffee beans from a Somali shop in Footscray. We watch Arabic and Sudanese TV channels. This is my favourite way to relax. I like Fitzroy, it’s safe and close to my mother and brother. The people are friendly.


Sometimes if I need help while shopping or I can’t find where I am going, people will always help me; Australians are so kind. I have been coming to FLN to learn English for two years. I want to speak English with my doctor, at my children’s schools and when I go shopping. I also like the business leadership classes for women because we get to cook. I would like to have a job as a cook or a chef one day. I could cook Sudanese food or African food. I could cook everything. ■




Nannette Volunteer

My daughter is a graphic designer and writer. A few years ago she designed the annual report for FLN and asked me to proofread it. After I had proofread it, I told her that’s where I was going to be volunteering. I had been retired for about a year and was looking for somewhere to volunteer but I hadn’t found anything that I wanted to do. The very day I returned the annual report to her I went over to FLN. When I arrived I saw a group of African women having their lesson outside in the courtyard, they started dancing and everybody was laughing. I thought I want to come and work here. I’ve been here for seven years now. I volunteer as a teacher’s aide and help the teacher in the classroom with the students learning English. I speak English with a Scottish accent and that makes the students laugh. I just enjoy myself. Nearly every week I learn something new about a different country. One of the things that I find interesting is every so often there’ll be a session where we talk about special occasions; weddings, births and other events. Whether it’s Easter, Eid or Buddha’s birthday. We talk about our celebrations, our religions and our cultures. Everybody is learning about each other and it creates an understanding and therefore a tolerance of others. The first year I was here, there was an African woman in her fifties. She had brought up her children and now she was bringing up her grandchildren in Australia. She was intelligent, resilient and a survivor. When she started here in the class it was the first time she held a pencil and I was just gobsmacked. I used to teach preps how to read and write. So, for an hour every week for about eight weeks I just sat with her and taught her how to write like you would teach a


five-year-old. That just blew me away. I thought: how could it be that it’s the first time she’s held a pencil. It’s humbling, that’s what it is. It’s humbling. There wouldn’t be a single volunteer who doesn’t feel like they get more, or at least as much, back than they give. That’s certainly the way I feel. There are really practical things you can do as a volunteer as well as the amorphous tasks like helping people learn English. A few years ago one student was completing her learner’s permit. You can practice taking the learner permit test online. She wanted to do it in English, but at first she couldn’t understand any of it. Eventually she was scoring 99 percent in practice. She then passed the actual test and that was brilliant. I really enjoy coming to FLN. There’s always something to learn about some country or some city or some religion or some aspect of language; how different languages are structured. And this keeps you active. It keeps your mind working. ■


Zahra Student

I didn’t know how to speak English when I first arrived in Australia. I moved here from Afghanistan in 2009 with my family. I was nine or ten when we moved, so I don’t remember much. I know that we were poor and I didn’t go to school and we moved to Melbourne to get a better life. We live in the flats near FLN. I am the youngest of three. My older brother is working in Brisbane and the other has just completed his undergratuate studies at Monash University. I’m studying year eleven at Melbourne Girls’ College and I’m fascinated by global politics. My favourite subject is legal studies, I think it’s very interesting but sometimes I find school difficult. I come to FLN once a week to get help with my school work. I first started coming to FLN in 2012. My friends and I would come to the Computer Clubhouse. We got to use the cameras and began doing projects. Tuesday was ‘Girls Day’ and my friends and I would get help with homework. My mother also comes to FLN to learn English. I think it’s a great place, the people are welcoming and everything is good. I’d like to see more events for young women at FLN. Perhaps something creative, like photography or knitting and crocheting. ■ 34


I feel like FLN is a powerhouse— we know where we are going and we can really achieve anything we put our mind to, because there’s so much will. It can be a challenge, but it’s a good reason to get out of bed in the morning.




Education Coordinator FLN is not a place for the faint-hearted—that would be the way I’d describe working here! The community members that use our centre come from all kinds of backgrounds, walks of life, from many different countries and find themselves in Australia due to many different circumstances. We’re a learn-local, not-for-profit, neighbourhood house and Registered Training Organisation, offering education, youth programs and Refugee Support Program (RSP). FLN definitely has a homely feel and I think that’s one of the reasons we have such a strong and diverse community group that feel comfortable about coming here. Our services are aimed to support local migrants, refugees and asylum seeker communities and individuals. For me the crux of FLN’s education programs are designed to assist people to access education and employment by reducing barriers such as limited English language skills, as well as limited opportunities to development or demonstrate their existing skills and experience in an Australian context. English language is such an important requirement of this group’s successful settlement transition in Australia. The small things that are often taken for granted, such as understanding road rules, the law, housing, finance, having self expression and self confidence, supporting children and families are often made more difficult when your first or only language is not English. FLN offers learners courses focusing on spoken and written English at four discrete levels, from Preliminary to Certificate III. This higher level is a stepping stone for students to go to TAFE or other private providers once they’ve completed the course. We are looking at expanding our current programs to be able to offer learners studies


in Childcare & education care. This year we have continued with delivering the new pre-language program for students wanting to complete the Certificate III in Childcare. In the future, I’d also love to do that with courses such as aged care, hospitality and food prep. It’s pretty exciting. We also offer complementary skills development programs such as jewellery making, women in leadership, business skills and computer classes. Creating a safe space to learn and opportunities for the learners to develop practical application skills is incredibly important for selfempowerment. This is especially true for those who have never been to school or had limited education experience which has been interrupted or was somehow dysfunctional. Our classes also help to engage people who may be isolated or marginalised within the community. It’s about providing easy access opportunities, breaking down barriers and facilitating a good educational experience for everyone so they remain engaged. What we do at FLN is amazing and the client group are amazing too. They’re all incredibly diverse and we really want to celebrate what they bring to this space and to Australia. There are learners in our classes who might have a cleaning job now, but in their home country they may have been a doctor, engineer or lawyer. There are others who have never been to school or experience a formal educational environment. The Dinka women who attend our classes come from an oral language so they were never taught to read or write. Others have been in refugee camps for several years


before they came to Australia. It’s a credit to all the FLN teachers that we are able to do this every day, it requires a lot of balance and resourcefulness to manage such diverse groups of learners in a class. One of the challenges that our clients’ face, (especially if they are newly arrived) is that life can get in the way of their plans and potentially disrupt their learning progress and pathway. This could be anything from getting a parking fine they may not understand, a serious medical issue they are experiencing or even the threat of homelessness. Others may have to travel back and forth to their country of origin several times a year. These can often take a heavy toll on a student and their ability to make substantial progress in their classes. That’s where the support of our volunteers and the RSP becomes vital. I see so many of our students who would probably stop attending classes if they didn’t have the support of the RSP. I find it hard to imagine trying to maintain going to school, having nowhere to sleep and not knowing which services to contact. RSP helps people through complex issues by providing a supportive referral service to our students. These include support or referrals to providers who assist with homelessness, domestic violence, legal or financial hardship or attaining visas. The variety of services FLN provides has the potential to be life changing. I really like talking to the students. That’s what we’re all here for! I find it really rewarding. There’s a lot of positive energy at the moment and we have some fabulous volunteers and teachers. I feel like FLN is a powerhouse— we know where we are going and we can really achieve anything we put our mind to, because there’s so much will. It can be a challenge, but it’s a good reason to get out of bed in the morning. ■



Theresa Student

I come to FLN five mornings a week. I learn English on four of those days and how to use a computer on the other. I’m a Dinka woman so I never learned to read or write—we only speak the language. It’s difficult to catch up even though I’ve been coming to FLN every year. But I am getting better—now I can write my name and my father’s name. In South Sudan my husband and I had a herd of 300 cattle, but when the war came we had to run. I came to Melbourne with two of my children in 2004, but my husband and my other two children stayed behind; they had to run too. The separation of my family is very hard. My father and everybody else are also back home. My son, in Sudan, is married and my daughter is in Nairobi, they both studied business. I’ve tried many times to bring my children to Australia but have been rejected. It’s causing me a lot of stress because it’s been five years now and I haven’t seen them. There are many things you can do if you have a job. If I had a job I could work to buy myself a house. I’m already middle-aged and I don’t see the chances of owning a home. One of my daughters who I brought with me to Melbourne has bought a house, but according to my culture, as a mother, you’re not allowed to join your in-laws at your daughters’ house. I have to remain in my house with my younger son and only if he grows up and marries, then I can stay with him. On the weekends in Melbourne my son plays soccer. Sometimes my children in Melbourne come to FLN. We go to the park next door and to the Town Hall too for Christmas events and the Bridges to Harmony festival. I love my course. I love Fitzroy. I love it here. ■



Mohammed Student

When I was in my lovely country, Syria, I thought I was the luckiest, happiest man in my society. I move from Syria to Saudi Arabia, in 1981, and became a senior audit manager at a national bank for 24 years where I had responsibilities as an investigator into banking financial activities. Then I retired and moved home to Syria with my wife and family where we opened a petrol station. When the Syrian civil war started in 2011 it was far away in the south, but reached Aleppo, my city, by 2012. A conflict around my petrol station caused my family and I to return to Saudi Arabia against our will until 2015. Forced to escape we lost everything, leaving behind family, friends, relatives, business, properties and money. I had visited Australia as a tourist in the past and thought it was the best place to move my wife, Salywa, and I away from conflict. The first seven months after we arrived were very difficult. As asylum seekers my wife and I lived in very difficult circumstances. These uncertainties ended when we became clients of the Red Cross. The Kensington Neighbourhood House, the Fitzroy Learning Network and Asylum Seeker Resource Centre are three of the many places I have attended. I have participated in over ten courses, studying topics such as English, understanding Australia: history, culture and society (a lecture series) as well as First Aid, gardening and healthy food. 44


Before moving to Australia, we had taken many trips around the world. Before we moved finally to Australia we noticed was that was a positive difference between Australia and some other parts of the world, such as friendly culture, helpfulness, respect for others and a positive attitude to multiculturalism. We don’t hear car horns or fighting, there is just peace. What more do you need? A calm country—a safe country. This is my real feeling towards Australia. We finally moved into our house in St Albans and filled it with furniture—we made a home, one with a garden and some livestock. After spending time at the Fitzroy Learning Network, I can confidently say I am beginning to restore my humanity, renew my character, and recover my face with smiles as I build this new life in Australia with good friends in a generous country. I have been living in Australia for around three years, participating in many communities—in complete peace—in a country where the highest level of safety is upheld. We are here enjoying free will and freedoms, receiving all kinds of support and help. I strongly believe that the citizens of this country welcome us and have opened their hearts to us. I came here to be part of the society, not to be removed from it; when you are in Rome do what the Romans do! ■


Salwa Student

I was very sad as I was forced to leave my homeland, my friends and relatives. When we first came to Australia, I was in bad health condition. Medicine was expensive. I had no knowledge of English. I had no friends—no home. Since then I have been completing many courses: such as a course about Australian Culture at Melbourne University, sewing, an English course in Darebin and another in Footscray that teaches asylum seekers about small businesses. I became certified in food handling and serving, which carries on a tradition with cooking that my mothers had passed onto me. I am the only woman in the course. Mohammed and I led a class on Middle Eastern cooking in Kensington—we made delicious food and talked about our history. We taught the students how to make hummus, tabbouleh, falafel, halawa cheese, baklava and sweets the Syrian way. They loved our food. I can say now I am very happy in Australia I am living with my family, with new friends and in a welcoming society. I hope to stay all my life here. ■



Clubhouse Member to Mentor I was in grade three when computers became big. The computers at the Clubhouse, an after school arts program at FLN, had all of these new programs: Flash, Photoshop, Dreamweaver. The complete Adobe Suite, pretty much. I was really good at Flash. I’d do intricate drawings and make animations— some of them won competitions. Eventually everyone in my school would go to the Clubhouse. Every day when the school bell rang it was a race between us to get the best computers. The corner ones were the best. It was one of the only places you could just hang. I’ve grown up in a lot of places. In the country you can kind of play at different lakes and stuff. But here because it’s such a concrete place, there’s not many parks or recreational areas. In year eight we went to America for a conference. The Clubhouse is an international thing, so there were people from Clubhouses all over the world. It was pretty cool because you could see the similarities—the parallels between people in America, people in India, all trying to create these programs. Similar sense, similar vibes.



I mentor at the Clubhouse now. I do it because I enjoy it and see a career in community development. We make videos. When we’re on the computers we’ll watch anime like Naruto and Dragonball, and then we’ll talk about it. It’s easy to build a rapport through exploring new technology. Mentoring also means I can identify little problems with their education. I found one kid couldn’t write very well. He’s in year eight or year nine and writing at grade five standard. I can help identify these things. If it’s a kid who wants to meet more people and make new connections I can introduce them to my friends. Helpful things like that. FLN and the Clubhouse isn’t just for the people in the commission housing, it’s for everyone in Fitzroy and neighbouring areas. It’s a place for people to bond and create, and to be able to use new technology everyday. ■


It was pretty cool because you could see the similarities—the parallels between people in America, people in India, all trying to create these programs. Similar sense, similar vibes.




Shafiqa Student

I came to Australia in April 2001 when I was 52. In a year from now, I will be 70. At first it was very difficult. We would receive letters pressuring us to go back to Afghanistan. They would write with an offer of $2000 so we would ‘go back to our country’. I’d think to myself, we paid $6000 to come to Australia and now you want to pay us to go back where it is not safe, why? When I arrived in Australia a social worker introduced me and a group of other women from Afghanistan to FLN. I had come with these women to Australia by boat. We had been separated during our time in the detention camps and were reunited in Melbourne. We lived close to each other in the Fitzroy units. I was in number 4, they were in number 8. Together we would come to the English classes and craft classes at FLN where the staff encouraged us to socialise and always tried to keep us engaged. Anne Horrigan-Dixon was the coordinator at FLN at the time and she helped us get to Canberra to talk about Australia’s refugee visa situation: our situation. They booked a hotel and we stayed one night and one day. FLN provided us with everything we needed and we spoke to the people in charge about our problem, including international officials from as far away as America. We explained the difficulty of us getting here. The trip went very well. We are happy in Australia. The people in Australia are all very kind. ■



Ramin Student

Ramin had been in Melbourne for only a week when he found his way to the FLN Refugee Support Program (RSP). He had been free from detention for four months and since his release had spent time in both Adelaide and Sydney searching for a place to settle. Ramin was homeless and his Centrelink payments had been suspended due to his move interstate. He was suffering from depression, anxiety and had post-traumatic stress symptoms. He couldn’t sleep, had nightmares, flashbacks, a deep sense of hopelessness and feared for his safety. The first thing the FLN refugee support worker did was accompany Ramin to the Centrelink office to have his payments resumed. It took time and many drop-in appointments to build up a trusting relationship between Ramin and the FLN support team. But eventually, he gave consent to a referral for housing support at Homeground and to see a doctor at the North Yarra Community Health Centre. After still more time, FLN was able to support a referral to Foundation House for trauma counselling. Five months later, with these support networks put in place, Ramin was in a much more stable and positive position. He was living in a transitional housing property, working in a factory and had applied for his family to come to Australia through the humanitarian program. He was still attending the FLN Refugee Support Program frequently and having regular counselling sessions with Foundation House. Ramin showed amazing determination and resilience throughout a very difficult time. ■ Ramin is a pseudonym.




FLN is very much a community hub ... they give people a sense of community and provide things that aren’t being provided by the government. It’s groups like FLN that have filled the vacuum in quite an extraordinary way.


Michael Journalist

My association with FLN has been purely as a journalist. For the last 20 years I have covered national affairs and it was through particular case studies involving people who were helped by FLN that I came to know of the organisation. The book I wrote, Free Ali: The Human Face of the Pacific Solution, was launched by Tim Costello out the back of the FLN centre. It was a happy occasion because a number of people featured in the book were supported by the Network either before or after I wrote about them. One of them was Ali Sawari, he was one of a number of people who, in a similar situation that some asylum seekers are in now, was in Australia on a Temporary Protection Visa but his wife and daughter were still on Nauru. Ali was such an extraordinary human being. He was a quality craftsman, a tiler. Even when he was preparing for the reunion with his family in New Zealand, he was still determined to finish all of his work. I interviewed his boss, a knockabout bloke who told me Ali was the best worker he’d ever had and that he couldn’t for the life of him understand why Australia was letting him go. Tragically, he died in a car accident in New Zealand. The joy on his departure, leaving and being reunited with his family,


was still something to behold and the work that FLN did in supporting him and people like him was quite inspiring. The FLN offers three crucial things. The first is material support. I think it all began, as I understand it, from a sign on the front door saying, ‘Free English classes’. When someone knocked on the door they were welcomed and they encouraged others. That was the beginning of the support for refugees. The word would go out that a space had become available in the Fitzroy housing commission flats, and word would go out that a bed was needed or this was needed, and so material and educational support was offered. The second is joy. FLN would have parties—you could almost say at the drop of a hat. They were remarkable parties. The refugees, everyone, would be involved so it wasn’t as if everything was put on for the refugees. They too would be cooking and were very much involved in co-hosting. There was one occasion: I’d been to Nauru in 2005, I was the first journalist to be allowed in there and at that stage there were 54 refugees who were into their fourth year. As a result of those stories, a number of them were reassessed, and ultimately all, but two ended up getting permanency in Australia.


They came here in groups and when the last group arrived a big party was held at the back of FLN—I vividly recall the emotion of it, the joy. The third thing FLN offers is activism and the ideas of activism. At one point, someone suggested the FLN community should go to Canberra because one of the burning issues then was that people were on Temporary Protection Visas that may or may not be renewed. They had no confidence of being able to plan their lives. So, it was suggested they go to Canberra and show the politicians; these are the people you are talking about. Low and behold, before you knew it, they’d got buses and were in Canberra. It was a very successful campaign. On those three levels, I think FLN is very much a community hub. Their whole ethos seems to be that it isn’t a top-down. It’s a collective enterprise, whether you’re a volunteer or whether you’re a client, FLN is open to ideas. The support they offer people like Ali is invaluable. They give people a sense of community and provide things that aren’t being provided by the government. It’s groups like FLN that have filled the vacuum in quite an extraordinary way. ■



When someone knocked on the door they were welcomed and they encouraged others. That was the beginning of the support for refugees. 64



Student to Teacher Before coming to Australia I grew up in a refugee camp in Tanzania. My family came to Australia in 2007 because my husband’s family was here in Melbourne. It was the first time I had left my country and the first time I had left my camp. I didn’t know where Australia was, because I didn’t know any stories or history about the country or how to read a map—like chicks following a chicken, I just followed. It was difficult in the early days when I first arrived. I had never seen traffic or roads before. I needed to have someone teach me to cross the roads. I didn’t know any English. If people said ‘Hi’ I would keep walking because I didn’t know what they were saying. The government would send people to help me do my shopping. I would always have to point a lot and was difficult to go with someone I’d never met before. I never knew who would be coming to my house. I had a friend working at the Brotherhood of St Lawrence and she took me into FLN in 2009 so I could study English. I started from a low level, similar to kindergarten, where I began to learn my ABCs. I went five days a week. My children went as well, to do their homework and learn how to use the computers. It was easy that way because it’s not far from where I live, just five minutes or so.



I started some sewing and jewellery classes to keep myself busy. I was initially doing a jewellery course, but quit because they were using silver and gold, which made me nervous. The FLN ran a jewellery class and the teacher taught me how I could continue to make my jewellery by cutting simple shapes with metal. My mother-in-law knew about a not-forprofit shop in Richmond called SisterWorks that sells handmade products by women from migrant, asylum seeker and refugee backgrounds. I went there and asked if they could help me sell my jewellery. They were very welcoming. SisterWorks even had a design mentor to guide me with how to go about creating my work. At the store there was a volunteer, also called Victoria, who saw my jewellery and suggested I teach a workshop. I initially said no because I was too nervous and didn’t want to be a teacher. ‘How can I be a teacher?’ I asked. ‘We will start with people you know in the office and then we can go from there,’ she replied. I was thinking ‘Uh oh, I don’t want to be a teacher. I don’t know how to teach.’ Victoria reassured me by


saying that she’d be there every workshop to help. This is how I started. The classes began with five students, then seven—then ten! After that they took photographs of my work to show people how I made each piece and began to sell tickets for my workshop on their website. In each workshop I explained how to use the materials and equipment, how to make each product (including how many to make) and that’s all. When I taught the workshops I thought, ‘This isn’t hard. It’s simple!’ Now if I have 20 students, no problem. At SisterWorks they also do basket making, weaving, crochet and they make food wraps out of beeswax. They buy fabric, cut it nicely, put wax on top and iron it. It’s nice for sandwiches and eggs—better than plastic. But I don’t use it because I’m from Africa and I’m scared my children will ask ‘Mum, why are we using material fabric on our food?’. ■


Anis Student

My son sponsored me to come here ten years ago with my family. I was forced to come because there was war and a lot of violence. I didn’t really have a choice. I wasn’t very happy the day I came to Australia. I came with my children and we didn’t know what to expect. We knew no English. My youngest daughter would just cry every day. When we finally settled in, my son was diagnosed with cancer and passed away. My life went from sad to happy to sad. I miss my relatives back in Afghanistan. What they’re going through right now is harsh. We’ve got food here but for them, there’s not much. A few years ago, my father passed away and my older brother and sister left. Every day, too many people die from fighting. I’m always worrying about my family because it’s still not safe. One year ago, I started learning English at the Fitzroy library with my best friend Lambata. We don’t care what class we do as long as we’re together. We came to classes, we tried but we weren’t getting anywhere. But it was fun. We still go to the community kitchen every Wednesday for cooking. Everyone shares something. Last time there was Arabic and Somali food. Learning English is hard for me. For years, I couldn’t study at school and I’m now older. I’m learning the basics which makes it easier to go shopping for groceries and talking to people, going to hospital or parks or saying, ‘Hi, how are you?’. Winter is the season I liked the most at FLN because when we came in, there were nice warm heaters inside. The


classes were really nice and when there was a lunch break, food was provided. There were coffee and biscuits. The thing about Fitzroy is it’s a tight community, everyone knows each other. You see people you know every day, coming to FLN, being in the same classes with friends and going to the library and seeing them, or even going to the supermarket and bumping into them. We’re all really close, and many of us came from difficulty, war and violence, so we have a lot in common and a lot of respect for each other. ■




Jenny Volunteer

I have been volunteering at FLN one day a week since late 2016. My work mainly involves providing advice and support to a number of local refugee women’s organisations and occasionally helping FLN clients look for work. My journey to the volunteer work I do now really started in high school. I discovered I had an aptitude and love for learning languages, which expanded into an interest in other countries and other cultures and this gave direction to my working life. I worked in Canberra as a foreign policy analyst, in London on a minority languages project and spent some 20 years with the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs in Melbourne, mainly with its settlement and multicultural affairs programs. My experience convinced me that providing good on-arrival programs and support to migrants and refugees is critical to their successful settlement and capacity to participate in the community.


After I retired I wanted to keep working with refugees and migrants as a volunteer. I volunteered for some years with the New Hope Foundation and then with the Ecumenical Migration Centre (EMC) at the Brotherhood of Saint Laurence, supporting women’s refugee organisations, running the occasional training course and at EMC helping refugees and asylum seekers look for work. I knew from my work in the department that securing employment was one of the biggest issues facing refugees. When EMC moved its office a long way from where I live, I moved my work around the corner to FLN. Although I had never visited FLN, I knew about it as I used to refer clients to FLN’s English classes. Many job seekers couldn’t use the online job application processes so I’d refer them for computer classes as well because I thought they should learn to do their own rather than having to rely on me.

You can really see the weight of worry and loneliness lift and their shoulders relax and a smile light up their face. Our gatherings are really important to our women.


I enjoy the grassroots feel of FLN, the fact that it is often buzzing with locals attending classes, asking for advice, and catching up with friends in between times. I get a great deal of satisfaction when a person I have helped gets a job and I enjoy the camaraderie of the community groups. I find that the women’s groups have a very clear idea of what they want to do and of the benefit to individuals and to their community. My role is to show them how it is done locally. I am able to help them with their applications for funding and give advice on governance, accountability and where and how to get information. I enjoy their stories of how women who are isolated, or spend a lot of time at home with children, come alive when they attend a community gathering. You can really see the weight of worry and loneliness lift, their shoulders relax and a smile light up their face. Our gatherings are really important to our women. ■



Volunteering here makes me smile. If I can keep that going and make other people feel welcome— it’s like I’m contributing to a positive cycle.



Trisha Student

I was born and raised in Fitzroy and had a happy childhood with my parents and older sister. My parents are refugees from Vietnam who were forced to flee during the war in the mid-1980s. My parents didn’t know much English when they arrived so I had a lot of problems speaking the language as a child. I mostly learnt from my older sister and at school. Sometimes I would attend extra speech classes. This made growing up in Australia challenging at times. But I made friends with other students from Fitzroy Primary School, who were also from refugee backgrounds. I first came to FLN during primary school. I used to hang out at the computer clubhouse where I learnt how to design websites and use Adobe Photoshop. I’ve since used these skills to design magazine covers and flyers, which have been really useful in my role as Vice President of the Pop Culture Society at ACU. My favourite memory of FLN was participating in the Art Show every spring or summer. There would always be a BBQ and everyone’s work was on display. It was fun to go and see what everyone had made. I’m not really sure what I want to do in the future but I would like to continue helping refugees.


I’ve recently returned to FLN as a volunteer for the Foodbank once a week and sometimes I sit in on classes to help Vietnamese students who are learning to speak English. FLN made me feel so welcome and volunteering here makes me smile. If I can keep that going and make other people feel welcome—it’s like I’m contributing to a positive cycle. ■


Annie Volunteer

When I came to Melbourne from the UK last year, I wanted to do something that would help me understand more about my new community. At the time, I was living across the road from FLN so I began volunteering in the beginner’s English class. It was lovely because it was a way for me, coming from overseas, to look out for others. The English teacher was delightful. She had a hard job because the students who were coming often had little or no spoken English, and in a lot of cases, had never learned to read or write in their native country. A lot of the written work was around learning to fill out forms; everybody has to complete government forms and that’s difficult for anyone. Even a simple instruction like: ‘read this and fill in the blank’. If you haven’t got the vocabulary for ‘fill’, ‘blank’, ‘read’ or even the word ‘this’, then you’ve got to explain things with lots of gestures and smiles. It’s humbling to sit with someone older than you who’s struggling to write their name and address—for some people, it sinks in; for others, it’s just hard work. A lot of the students are Sudanese or Somalis so there’s a lot of entertaining cross-chat within the room. For many students, it’s as much about socialising as it is about learning English. In a way, they’re breaking out of the community they live in day-to-day and coming to FLN as a safe place. They can meet people, socialise and learn some English as well. There are lots of different communities in Fitzroy and there are some tensions because it’s mixed and it’s changing.



People want to live nearer the city, so there’s pressure on housing, but it’s still got a lovely grungy, individualistic feel. FLN is just a part of what I think—well, it’s a cliché—but it’s a rich tapestry of cultures and interests. Volunteering at FLN was a salutary lesson for me. You know, I’m a ‘grownup’ Brit who’s done a lot of travelling, so I should be able to navigate my way around most places. But those first few weeks in Melbourne, just trying to get a sense of how everything works—how do I get on the tram? What are the rules around myki? And just going shopping, working out different names for things and how to find my way around—it’s not just that it’s one thing, it’s that everything is different—all those very simple things. And of course, I didn’t have to contend with language or big cultural differences. So, it really did make me think about how difficult it is for some of the migrants and refugees who’ve arrived from very different places. I knew I wouldn’t be able to continue helping out regularly with classes because I was starting a university course, but at the


They’re breaking out of the community they live in day-to-day and coming to FLN as a safe place, where they can meet people, socialise and learn some English as well.

end of the semester each of the students made a card for me. They were helped with the words but some of them also had great drawing skills. Now I’ve got this wonderful collection of hand-drawn cards—it’s very touching, and sometimes when I’ve had a bad day I look at them and they make me feel better. As the teaching sessions were quite long, the teacher would often get us singing because it’s easier to learn songs. One day, there were only two or three students in the room and there was a song with a bit of rhythm. I started tapping it out and then the students joined in and the enthusiasm kept on growing. We were all laughing and at the end we gave each other a big hug. It was one of those wonderful moments that you want to capture in a bottle. It was just fantastic; one of those bridges that you cross with other people and now we’ve always got that memory. ■


Sofia Student

I was born in Eritrea in East Africa. When I was young I only learnt a little English. I learnt the alphabet but only up until the letter ‘m’ because my family had to move from country to country. When I was in grade two, we moved to Sudan, then to Saudi Arabia, then back to Eritrea and then to Sudan again. We had to move to Sudan because of war and problems with the government. I was in Sudan for seven years before I moved to Melbourne with my husband Mahmoud, my son and my five daughters. I have one other daughter still living in Sudan and I hope she can come to Melbourne soon. When I first arrived in Melbourne, it was very hard. I hardly knew any English before coming to FLN. I needed an interpreter to go to the doctors and to use other basic services. Now I don’t need one. I’m so happy coming to FLN and learning English because now I can understand. I read all the time. I go to the Fitzroy and Collingwood libraries, where I read the children’s books because the writing is bigger and I can understand them. I’m also studying the business leadership course at FLN where I’m learning how to create my own food business. The course teaches you about food health, how to keep the food and how to clean the kitchen. I have also learnt how to cook different dishes. I use Google to find recipes. I cook pasta, pizza, lasagne and salads. My children like these meals. I like cooking Eritrean food too but it takes a lot longer to cook. My family are all learning and going to school. Three of my daughters started studying at New Hope Foundation in Footscray and my youngest children are learning at Collingwood Language School. My oldest daughter is


studying nursing at RMIT and my son and daughter are studying dental technology at NMIT in the city. I’m very proud of them. My plan for next year is to do a childcare course. I love children; caring for them and looking after them. I want to find a job working in childcare. I would like to stay at FLN to keep learning English, for maybe two days a week. There are many nice teachers and kind people at FLN. I have made many friends from different countries like South Sudan, Vietnam and China as well as from Eritrea. In Australia, the people are very good, they always want to help. ■



FLN has helped me a lot of times. Any problems I have, I come here and they fix them. I like all of the people here. It’s my home. Whenever I have time, I come here.


Ashbaadin Student

There is a big clock on the wall of the Fitzroy Town Hall and I wanted to see it. Katrina, who works at FLN, asked and we got permission to go up and look at it. This clock was electric with a bell. I like large clocks. In my home country I was a watch expert. I worked as a jeweller for almost 15 years, mainly repairing watches. My title is jewellery watchmaker. That is, I have my profession as watch repairer and jeweller. I fix watches that people love. They’re very happy and I’m also very happy it’s repaired. I can understand your watch, or your father’s father’s watch. I know how it works and I can help. Some of my customers say, ‘You have perfect eyes; you really see things.’ Once I was working in a company that imported all these watches from Switzerland so a lot of sales and labour were needed. As I am a specialist I could do all of that. Last year I started a jewellery class at FLN. My first class at FLN was for Certificate I in English. Now I have almost completed Certificate II. The English language is very important to me. I want to speak perfect English so I can understand Australian culture and how to live here. FLN has helped me a lot of times. Any problems I have, I come here and they fix them. I like all of the people here. It’s my home. Whenever I have time, I come here— even if it’s just to sit in the kitchen with everyone and eat some fruit.


My wife and I come to FLN to learn together. I want to learn everything so I can work. Whatever the course is, I want to take it. I have already learned about food hygiene, about working with food and hospitality. We’ve had many classes in the park and have had barbeques and sold food— that was before I had taken the training. If there is another occasion, I will try to do some cooking myself. I would cook sambusa—a triangle shape with meat, garlic and spices. You can eat ten pieces of that; the taste is very nice. Hot soup with injera—Ethiopian flat bread—is also very nice. You can eat them anytime, especially when it’s cold. You will not be cold if you eat it. My wife sponsored me to come to Australia. She is also from Ethiopia—that’s where we met and got married. She was already living in Melbourne when we married, ‘You have to come to Australia with me’, she said. It took a long time to process my application—three years. I never thought about coming here but she insisted and now we live here together in Melbourne. I like visiting the park. Sometimes I just sit in there or I ride my bicycle. Looking at nature makes me happy and satisfied. This world invites you in. There are good places here. ■




I feel very lucky to live in Australia. Everything feels settled now and the future feels brighter for myself and my family.



Kiwi Student

I was born in 1958 in a South Vietnamese prison, which I didn’t leave until I was about five years old. Life was difficult growing up; my twin died very young due to the poor conditions inside the prison. My mother had nine children altogether—all my siblings still live in Vietnam, aside from my older brother, who lives in Melbourne. I went to school until year six or seven, but after that I had to start work to help support my family and to give my younger siblings the opportunity to finish their education. My first job was delivering bread to houses. From a very young age, I had a talent and passion for music. For example, I’m able to listen to a song once and write down the notes. In Vietnam, I used to play in a military band but, unfortunately, we had to stop playing when the Communists took over the whole of Vietnam. In 1983 I got married, but my wife passed away shortly after giving birth to our two children. During the war, I tried to leave Vietnam several times but eventually I managed to escape in 1985 with my two-year-old daughter and one-yearold son. We travelled by foot to Cambodia


before travelling to Australia by boat. My daughter was suffering from polio at the time and there was no treatment available in Vietnam. Within 48 hours of being in Australia, my daughter had been admitted to a hospital and was receiving treatment for her polio. I remember being slightly disorientated in my new surroundings and getting completely lost on the trams in Melbourne, before eventually finding the right hospital. I was so happy when I arrived in Australia because I felt that I finally had my freedom. There was no freedom of speech in Vietnam during the war. The political system is so different here and people have better access to housing, education and health services. When I first arrived in Australia, I had no time to learn English because I was single-handedly raising two children and I needed to find work quickly. My first job was at a tailor and then I later worked at a bakery. I took any work available in order to look after my children. I started to learn English just over a year ago. I had noticed the FLN building and one day I decided to knock on the door and find out more. I now attend the English


classes Monday to Thursday. Occasionally I have to miss a lesson but even when I only have ten minutes spare I like to come to FLN to pick up some English. The teachers are all really nice and I appreciate their helping me to improve my reading, writing and conversational skills. There’s also a music room here and I love playing the instruments whenever I get a chance. Sometimes my teacher will ask me to play something for the class when we have a short break. In the future I’d like to learn photography at FLN and I’ve been told there might be a photography class starting, which would be fantastic. I feel very lucky to live in Australia. Everything feels settled now and the future feels brighter for myself and my family. My son and daughter are now in their thirties and they have good jobs. They’re planning to start their own families and I’m looking forward to being a grandfather. I want to ensure that Vietnamese culture and traditions are preserved in my family, especially our literature and music. Every year I help the Vietnamese community in Melbourne to commemorate the lives lost in the Vietnam War. I also give blood and have registered as an organ donor. I want my life to be useful. I want to live a meaningful life; I don’t just want to breathe in and out. ■



Anh Student

Anh, a Vietnamese woman, started attending English classes at FLN in 2012. Her teacher noticed she was experiencing some personal difficulties and referred her to the refugee support program. Anh and her children had entered Australia on a Partner visa but were the victims of domestic violence after they arrived. On the Partner visa, there is no access to Centrelink or any government support for the first two years. When Anh decided to end her relationship she had no income to support her family. FLN provided her with a refugee support worker to help her to access a domestic violence refuge and give her ongoing support. The family was eventually granted permanent residency, on the grounds of domestic violence committed by a sponsor. Anh and her children were given housing by the refuge. FLN was then able to register her and her children with Centrelink to obtain health care cards and a pension. Her children were enrolled in school and given access to medical and dental treatment through their health care cards. Anh continued to attend English classes at FLN despite her challenging circumstances. One day she surprised the refugee support worker with a beautiful bouquet of flowers to say thank you. Anh had arranged the flowers herself and they were done very professionally as Anh was a florist in Vietnam. The refugee support worker then contacted a local florist who had supported FLN in the past and helped Anh to get a work experience placement there. With ongoing support from FLN, Anh now has permanent public housing and after her work experience gained employment at another florist shop. She still studies English at FLN and her children continue to study. ■ Anh is a pseudonym.



Wajia Student

I was born an only child in Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan. I liked going to school; it was a good time. After high school I studied to become a teacher. In 2000 I left Afghanistan with my husband, daughter and my husband’s family. It was a terrible time in Afghanistan. There was war and bombings. I remember one day I saw my neighbour outside praying. All of a sudden, the rockets came and a bomb hit her. Her body was in pieces; it was splashed everywhere, even into the trees. Then at night the Mujahideen rebels would come into our houses to take our men. It was a very dangerous time. We decided to leave, all 26 of us. It took us one year to arrive in Australia. It was a long and difficult journey. When the people smugglers agree to take you, they don’t tell you how difficult and dangerous the journey will be. They just take your money and say ‘easy, we’ll take you there.’ Then for six months we didn’t stop—we didn’t have a place. From one day to another, we didn’t know what we were doing or where we were going. It was always a different car, a different boat. From Afghanistan they took us to Peshawar in Pakistan, then to Lahore. Eventually we got to Malaysia and then to Indonesia. From Indonesia we left by boat. It was very difficult. One of the smugglers just said ‘we are going,’ and crammed all of us into a small boat. When we were in the middle of the ocean he stopped the boat, telling us the engine was broken and he couldn’t take us any further. He left us there in the middle of the sea. We didn’t know what to


do. Eventually this smuggler came back in another boat with another man. This new man said he would take us the rest of the way in his boat if we gave him money. So we gathered all our money together, everything we had, and he took us the rest of the way. When we arrived in Australia, we were taken to Port Hedland, a detention centre in Western Australia. We were treated well there; as long as you listened to what the workers said, they were very good. We were only in there for 20 days—some people were there for six months, so we were the lucky ones. But it was still very difficult to be there. When we got out we were sent all over the country: to Darwin, then to Dandenong, then to Perth, then back to Dandenong again. We couldn’t find a place to live because none of us had visas or jobs. It took six years for me to get my visa. Nobody wanted to help us—they said it was because we came to Australia by window, not by door. Then I found FLN. Anne Horrigan-Dixon came to us and said ‘whatever you need, we will help you.’ She took us to Canberra in a big bus, with some other asylum seekers, to protest for our visas. She came to court with us as we fought and appealed. She was with us through all of it. Nobody had helped us like that before. When we first moved to Fitzroy it was hard. The culture was very different; Fitzroy and Afghanistan are like the sky and the earth. When we first came, there was no security in


FLN was like a family— our flat, people could just come and go. But gradually it got better and it’s good now. FLN was like a family—they helped us like a family. They helped my daughter change schools and they helped me complete an English course and start a course in childcare. Then my husband got sick so I stopped my course to care for him. But FLN was still like a home for my daughter and me; some of our best memories are of here. After my daughter finished school in the afternoon, she would come here and sit behind the computers. There was always someone to help her. I still love to learn English. When I’m cooking or doing anything at home, I put the TV on so that I can hear English and improve. Now I am part of an Afghan ladies group—I’m like the head representative. We meet every Friday and do sewing and different crafts. Sometimes we go on trips, like cherry picking. I am very thankful to all the people who have helped me. I’m old, but my daughter is young; she is working now. I hope that she can repay all the help we have received and help others. ■


they helped us like a family.




We feel very happy when our students find work because we want them to succeed and to live happily here. It’s important for us to connect the organisation and its students with everyone we know so we can create more positive opportunities for our community.



Astrid Staff

In a day-to-day situation, people walk into FLN needing help and we find a way to assist them. Even if we don’t offer the services they require, we refer them to somewhere that does. What we try to do here is guide people. It doesn’t matter if they don’t speak English; we do our best to help them or to at least understand what they want to say. I love it. For people who come as asylum seekers or refugees it’s really tough because they came to Australia in a position they weren’t able to prepare for. What we do is offer support to help them feel that, even if they don’t speak English, they can come here to learn or achieve something. We always try to make people feel safe and welcome. I came to Australia from Columbia. In May, it will be ten years since I relocated. It’s already been three years since I started doing admin at FLN. It started as a casual role then kept going. I began in 2012, for a few months, and was asked if I wanted to cover for an admin staff member who was going away—I said yes. The change has been tremendously positive. The people I work with know what they’re doing. I’ve learned a lot from them. We are a small team with limited resources but we’re still required to do very big things. We feel very happy when our students find work because we want them to succeed and to live happily here. It’s important for us to connect the organisation and its students with everyone we know so we can create more positive opportunities for our community.


I think it’s a very interesting place. There’s hope for everyone here.

FLN runs a Women in Leadership program focusing on women wanting to start their own food businesses. Since we started last year, the women involved have been catering for our annual general meetings and other FLN events. The follow-up on the program has been great. Even when each course ends we’ve been finding places for past participants to cater for, which is brilliant. I would love to see more of that. I’ve had so many good moments here. I love this place. Talking to our students is sometimes funny because of the language barrier. When we don’t understand we say: ‘Oh, let’s get an interpreter so we can communicate.’ But they really want to try so they say, ‘no, no, no’ and keep trying to explain something. It becomes funny because you don’t get what they’re saying and they don’t want an interpreter. I think FLN is the best place to learn because it’s a safe space and everyone is very supportive. The organisation isn’t only about English classes—it’s about getting involved and meeting new people. FLN is a very welcoming place where anyone from anywhere can find support and someone they can talk to. I think it’s a very interesting place. There’s hope for everyone here. ■



Tuan Student

I moved to Australia to escape the civil war in Sri Lanka. I’m Indonesian but I grew up in Sri Lanka with my mother and father. I went to university and was working in a bank. I had a good life and job. As the war got worse I knew I had to leave. The country was being destroyed. People I knew, my friends and cousins, had been killed. After I moved to Australia I developed a mental health condition that meant I couldn’t work and I became homeless for a while. My doctor referred me to FLN in 2011. I joined the weekly sewing classes where I was taught how to make and alter my own clothes. I now work as a classroom support volunteer for the sewing class. The teacher and I are showing students a variety of techniques including knitting and crochet. In the future we hope to produce clothes to sell at the Fitzroy Market. I also fix my family and friends’ clothes and have even taught some of my friends to sew. To me, sewing is an essential life skill everybody should have. It helps me manage my illness better. When I am sewing I feel calm. ■


I’ve realised that other languages are like Australian traffic rules—everything has been marked and sign posted, whereas English is like driving in India. There are cars, bicycles and people everywhere and you have to be clever to manoeuvre as you drive. It’s a lifetime learning process.



Ahmad Student

I came to Australia by boat in the year 2000 but I ended up in the Woomera detention centre. I’m a very optimistic and positive person. I wanted to study literature in Russia because that’s where all the big names in literature have come from. But when I got to Australia I thought: this is my country now and I should prepare myself with all the tools required to live a comfortable life. And language is the best tool. All the other detainees were unhappy, asking ‘why aren’t I getting my visa?’ ‘Why is it taking so long?’ I decided that instead of wasting my energy thinking negatively I should learn this tool, so I started memorising words. I would learn new words every day with the hope that one day I could connect them into a sentence. I found this really difficult. English has a horrendous structure and is the world’s most difficult language. The language background I have is structured; once you learn a rule you will never make a mistake. I’ve realised that other languages are like Australian traffic rules—everything has been marked and sign posted, whereas English is like driving in India. There are cars, bicycles and people everywhere and you have to be clever to manoeuvre as you drive. It’s a lifetime learning process. While I was in the detention centre I also kept a small garden of six or seven flowerpots. The soil in Woomera is terrible, it’s all rock, so I had to dig very deep with my hand or a branch to get to the soft soil. I would put it in a pot with


any greenery I could find. A lady who saw this also brought some plants for me. They grew in the pots which I hung beside my door and by the path leading up to my container. During Easter in 2002 there were riots at the detention centre. It completely broke down; people fled, someone torched the laundry and toilet facilities and the special police came in with cannon fire. It was a war zone. There were searchlights everywhere and it was completely bright. Eventually the chaos subsided and slowly they rebuilt the toilets and laundry but it had drawn mass media attention. There was a lot of pressure from refugee support groups. One day the officials brought in four or five visitors for a tour. They were trying to say ‘look everything’s good! We have fixed things and everyone is happy’. At one point I saw them go to my container to show them my garden. They were saying ‘look, they’re gardening. They’re not prisoners here; they are tidy and happy’. I got really angry when I saw this and when they left I destroyed the flowers. They had used my personal hobby and positivity as a propaganda tool and this made me really unhappy. The garden was mine, I had nothing else to do all day except two tasks—memorise the dictionary and work on my flowerpots. I didn’t have a support service like FLN when I was released. Four of us were left high and dry at Rundle Mall in Adelaide in the evening. I remember holding my remaining belongings which had been confiscated at Christmas Island in a garbage bag and thinking, ‘should I go left or right?’


The way the government treated me was horrible, but people compensated for it. I didn’t have trouble finding friends or people who were willing to support me with my education. I went to Thebarton Senior College as a mature age student and though I was too old to sit the Higher School Certificate (HSC) they gave me their own version of a HSC. Then a friend of mine who was studying at RMIT told me they were offering scholarships. I moved to Melbourne and began studying social sciences and international development. I love learning about cultures and learning how people are different. In the beginning, I had difficulty with my assignments. Though I had a lot of material to talk about I was struggling to understand the questions. Academic language, I realised, is quite different to the language we speak every day. I was also looking at the questions with a different worldview and understanding. At the time, I was living in Carlton and actually went for a walk to find support services. I was wandering around the back alleys of Fitzroy when I saw this bold sign on a building saying ‘All Refugees Are Welcome’. I opened the door and found people who could help me. The teacher at FLN helped me to understand the question—not just by explaining the words but by putting the question in a bigger context. She would say, ‘Well, you need to think about it


like this…’. I’m really grateful to her because she helped me find the key. Once I unlocked the question it was easy for me. I realised that coming from a different background and having a different view was actually my strength. And believe me, once I understood the question, I got distinctions every semester. After a few months learning at FLN I started teaching and working at FLN as well. I was helping clients with their accommodation, setting up bank accounts, Medicare and Centrelink support. One day there was nothing to do so I decided to run a class on how to get a Victorian license. There are so many challenges when you are helping people to resettle in a new country. We compare everything to where we were born, this is a natural thing and it’s good to compare. But, you need to convince clients that they are in a new country and to try to live physically and emotionally in Australia and that can be very difficult. I am lucky to work in this area today with the Brotherhood of St Laurence. I’m helping newly arrived migrants understand the job market and find employment. I know the challenges because I came from a similar background. I’m glad that whatever the government did to me is in the past; people in Australia were a contrast to that. All the opportunities and scholarships I received came through people. And I’m grateful for that. ■


Heather Volunteer

In about 2000 when the Federal Government started releasing asylum seekers from detention on Temporary Protection Visas, many of them were accommodated in the Atherton Gardens housing estate, a short distance from the Fitzroy Learning Network (FLN). One of them discovered the sign outside FLN which said ‘English lessons here’ and asked whether he could learn English at the centre. When assured that he could, within a day or so he’d brought about 50 other people with him. I first became aware of FLN after I retired. I started in the adult computer class in the middle of 2001. Not as a computer whizz but as a sort of teacher’s aide who sat with students. I’d been an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in the secondary school system for 28 years and I’d had a lot to do with people in different circumstances. I felt very sympathetic. I’d tutored university students before that and I was used to teaching adults. After a year or so of assisting in the computer class, I was also asked to be part of a group of volunteers who organised a weekly lunch at FLN for students, staff and anyone else who was visiting. The idea was to let people practise their English and get to know each other and share experiences. At the end of 2003 I joined the FLN Board of Management, eventually becoming Secretary. I remained on the Board until the end of 2014. In the middle of 2004, asylum seekers who had been in immigration detention on Nauru, and were caught up in the Federal Government’s ‘Pacific Solution’, were finally allowed to come to Australia.



Again, many came to live at Atherton Gardens, by then FLN had a very effective support system for new arrivals. I remember the night when about 20 of the men arrived. We welcomed them with a dinner and they sat around the big table in the front room, smiling but looking absolutely gobsmacked at just the fact that they were being welcomed. From then on I and many others helped out with practical stuff. There wasn’t just one thing you did. You just sort of leapt in if somebody needed some assistance: whether it was with Centrelink, setting up bank accounts, visiting medical centres or just helping to explain documents. The longer I was here the more people I got to know and who got to know me. Some have remained very long-term friends. Not everybody who comes here is a refugee but they all need help. Most need help with their English. There are courses preparing them for work and things like that. There’s now even a women’s business group who run a little catering business for local community organisations. There is a sewing class, a couple of times a week, where part of the aim is learning English but also teaching people skills. There were quite a lot of women who came who had never even touched a sewing machine and probably


didn’t know what one was. They were women with quite large families who wanted to make clothes for their kids and possibly sell things. FLN has a family feeling when we’re all involved. We enjoy each other’s company a great deal; staff and volunteers and students.

When there’s a cause you all believe in—and we do believe in it—it really makes coming worthwhile.

We’ve had great parties here in this space, and sometimes special classes, public lectures and things like that. It’s something we enjoy doing, and that’s why we keep coming. We enjoy meeting each other and being involved in something. When there’s a cause you all believe in—and we do believe in it—it really makes coming worthwhile. Most of the office staff have changed over the years, but there are whole groups of people, staff and volunteers, who have got to know each other as friends. We still get together from time to time and have dinner, which is always a lot of fun. A place like this depends on volunteers. No Neighbourhood House has lots of money to spend on staff so a lot of what is done has to be done by volunteers. I still know quite a lot of people around the place, so I guess that’s my role now: being available if somebody wants me for something. ■




Lambata Student

I came to Australia in 2007 with my children, to join my husband who came here in 2000. He came to Australia by boat and he was sent to Nauru. He participated in a protest called Freedom or Death. He and four other people stitched their lips together for 40 days. They could only have liquids like water and milk. He got really sick and couldn’t walk. He lost a lot of weight. People in Australia tried to help them. They were at a point where, because it went on for so long, they needed to eat something or they would die. After 40 days they were released. My husband lived in Australia for two to three years by himself. He could then apply for a visa for us. We arrived by plane in 2006. My husband was living with a couple called Barbara and Chris. She welcomed him as her own son. She helped him learn English and find a job. When we came she helped us a lot as well. She took our kids to the movies during school holidays. We still see her at family gatherings and we have big meals together. She brings food to our house and when we go to her house, we cook our traditional foods like rice, meat and soup. She’s a really nice lady. I’m happy here in Fitzroy. I feel the people here respect me, my kids and my family. One thing in Fitzroy that unites all of us is Cubbies. It’s in Atherton Gardens, next to the childcare. It’s called Fitzroy Venture Playground run by Save the Children. It’s a playgroup for the kids and they love it. The mums go there. We get free coffee to drink while our kids just run around and play on the tyres or swings, or play sports. I think that Cubbies is one thing that unites Fitzroy the most. When it’s not open on Sundays it feels like there is nothing to do in Fitzroy. I go there nearly every day it’s open.


My husband had been coming to FLN to learn English. We had a barbeque here when we arrived. And from that day we felt close to the FLN community and got to know everyone. I felt so happy and welcomed by the staff the first day I came here. I met my friend Anis in class and we enjoy learning together. When we have the same class we sit together. We learn English, writing and how to apply for jobs. Our teacher is great. He is an old Italian guy and he is very nice. When we study, we never sit down formally to learn, we are always laughing. He’s always joking and laughing. I want my English to get better and for my kids to grow up so I can start working. There’s a group I go to now where we make necklaces and armbands. I also have a patch in the community garden where I’m growing spinach and chilli for everyday cooking. I love FLN. It’s helped us learn English and given us many opportunities. ■


It’s a place of compassion and kindness where no one judges anyone. To me it is an example of how we should be living in the real world, where we all come from so many countries and backgrounds with different stories, problems and attributes, but still manage to get along and help each other.



Refugee Support and Volunteer Coordinator Originally from France, I migrated to Australia in 2005 and began to work for the community sector as a community development worker. For some time, though, I knew I wanted to work with refugees. In 2016 I started volunteering with the Fitzroy Learning Network (FLN) in a classroom support role before doing some casework—helping people to resettle, to understand the Australian system, to secure public housing, Centrelink support, and so on. I then worked there full-time for two years in a role that combines volunteer coordination as well as refugee and community support work. FLN is a safe haven for people going through different things at different times. It’s a place of compassion and kindness where no one judges anyone. The Network feels very warm and friendly. To me it is an example of how we should be living in the real world, where we all come from so many countries and backgrounds with different stories, problems and attributes, but still manage to get along and help each other. The courtyard is the centre of what we do, which is, helping people to connect. I didn’t have a typical day at FLN. My days were very different so my role was always interesting. I participated in a lot of community engagement work, which involved developing initiatives and recruiting volunteers with a variety of skills to help bring them to life. FLN volunteers all come from different backgrounds—helping me with the casework was an architect, a lawyer, someone who works in education and I had an intern doing a master in social science. They got to see how government policies impact people, for instance, how it’s really difficult for people applying for immigration. As well as FLN’s English classes and refugee support casework there are programs aimed at providing learning


opportunities for people that complement literacy. To assist women getting familiar with the Australian workforce and finding alternative ways to working, there is a Women in Leadership program. Arts and crafts courses have expanded, too. I truly think art is a great tool for self-expression, development and social change. During my time working at FLN, I worked with adults and youth from a culturally and linguistically diverse background. Some of them have been through different levels of trauma. I realised that the Western way of healing, developing and expressing the self (like counselling) might not be appropriate for them. Some FLN community art projects and programs we designed and implemented have shown to be very helpful and effective as the practice of telling stories, playing music, singing, dancing, drawing or painting acknowledges people’s feelings, background and traditions all at once. I was involved in fundraising to expand our community development work. It’s just natural to want to get this organisation out there. To me, promoting the work that we do and a statement of social cohesion through a social & cultural event like our Bridges to Harmony festival was so powerful, special and beautiful. We wanted to show that no matter where you’re coming from, we can meet in harmony and with each other. The success of this festival (and FLN in general) mainly comes from peoples’ generosity, kindness as well as passion and commitment to making everything happen. It was such a privilege to have witnessed the invaluable support that so many provide to the organisation and on a regular basis. We wanted to ensure that people in need who come to FLN feel safe, free to learn and connect. We also wanted the residents of Fitzroy and City of Yarra to understand that these people are welcome in the community and that FLN is there for them. The most rewarding part of my role was to meet such amazing people from different backgrounds as well as having the privilege to hear their stories and being a part of some of



their achievements. I’ve had people calling me or coming to see me out of the blue to say, ‘Hey Ama, I’ve got a house’, ‘My children are in childcare’, ‘I’ve got a job’ or, ‘Ama, I’ve got my permanent residency!’ and that’s incredible, it’s priceless. My responsibilities included actively engaging FLN students and members in addressing their resettlement problems and needs such as immigration, housing, social security, healthcare and family. I always knew I was not going to be able to save lives, but if I could provide a bit of support and relief based on what people wanted and needed, then that was a good job done. I put my heart and soul into all the work that I did there. It’s just incredible to reflect on how so much happened in just over two years. I never thought that I’d end up in Fitzroy working for such a great organisation like FLN and being a point of contact for so many people. I deeply connected with the organisation’s vision and values and my experience working there was priceless. FLN helped me to learn so much about myself and others. The best things happened to me in those two years and I will never forget the people I met, the opportunity and the challenge I was given. That’s me in a nutshell, I guess. ■


Farhad Student

An emerald is very sensitive. You can’t push it. A diamond is stronger so you have more options to set it. You have to know the different qualities of the stones and then you have to know how to clean them and how to polish them. I was a jewellery maker in Iran for about 11 years. My job was to set the gems in gold, silver or whatever metal it was. I would have to make a place in the metal for the gem to exactly fit, so it wasn’t too big or too small. The gems might be diamonds, rubies or blue sapphires. If you want to learn everything and gain experience in jewellery making you have to spend three or four years studying. After two years you can start to run your own business but you can’t do everything. I spent four years studying because I wanted to learn everything. I passed some courses and I learnt from a really famous jewellery maker in Tehran. I worked for him for more than three years. When he had taught me everything I started to run my own business. I would get some orders from shops and sometimes I just made jewellery by myself and I would sell it.


I was happy. I had a good job, good family. Everything was good, but then I had some problems with the government in Iran. The problems got worse and the government caught one of my friends. His Mum called me late one night and I collected my stuff and left. I was able to get to Malaysia and had to decide where to go. I asked others and eventually realised I had to go to Australia. I went to Indonesia and after three days there I took a boat to Australia. In Australia I started to work as a painter. Not as an art painter, as a building painter. My dream is to run my own jewellery making business in Australia. If I want to work for someone else they should know me. It’s not like painting, one brush fifty bucks. They have to trust you. I have to improve my language. It’s not an easy job because I have to deal with customers. I might not be able to make something expensive with diamonds, but I could make what I call ‘fake things’. I call them fake


because for something to be called jewellery in Iran it has to have gold, diamonds, rubies, blue sapphires, or something like these. If not we don’t call it jewellery. In Australia everything is called jewellery. It doesn’t matter what it’s made of. I came to FLN to improve my English. It’s very useful for someone like me because when I am here I gain more confidence. I make more friends. Before I didn’t know many things about Australia but now I know a lot. It doesn’t matter who you talk to at FLN, whether it’s a teacher or another student you can learn something more. I love to learn about other cultures. A good thing in Melbourne is that there are many festivals. I love everything—food, dance, music. In Iran we have many types of food. It’s very traditional. In Australia I’ve just found sausages and a barbeque, that’s it. The most important thing in Australia is that it’s easier to live. A bad thing is that it’s far away from everywhere. I would love to stay in Australia and run my own business. I hope I can soon. I wish I could go to Iran just to visit my family and then come back to Australia. That’s it. I would like to stay here. It’s good. I don’t have any problems here. ■



I don’t do the classes anymore but sometimes I come here to see the classrooms and visit people. I like to show my children that this was my class for a long time, ‘I studied English there’, and they say, ‘Mummy! This is your class? Oh, it’s so beautiful!’



Thuraya Student

I am from Afghanistan. I left my country in 2008 because of the war. I was 27 years old when I came to Australia. My husband had already moved here—we met in Afghanistan while he was visiting. After we married we came to Australia for a new life. The first months in Australia were hard. I had to use my hands to try to talk, pointing and making hand gestures because people couldn’t understand me. I would sit in my new home thinking about my old life in Afghanistan and just cry. My husband had come to FLN before he got his job, so he told me to go to FLN to learn English. I was nervous going to my first class. When the teacher told me I had a test I was shaking because I didn’t know any English, but I was okay. We started learning numbers and then the alphabet. I was happy. I had class each morning, Monday to Thursday at nine o’clock with just one day off on Friday. I had beautiful teachers. The first time I came to FLN I didn’t have any children. Now, I have two boys—Daniel is six and Zayne is four years old. I don’t do the classes anymore but sometimes I come here to see the classrooms and visit people. I like to show my children that this was my class for a long time, ‘I studied English there’, and they say, ‘Mummy! This is your class? Oh, it’s so beautiful!’ I like it here at FLN because new people are constantly arriving and they meet each other. In the break time, all your teachers come and chat, chat, chat. They have barbeques and sometimes throw parties. When I was a student here we used


to go to gatherings and museums around the city, and even the zoo. It was good, it was very, very good. You’re free. You’re not stressed. Everybody talks. It’s relaxing. I used to do the cooking classes too. Some days we cooked omelettes and other days we cooked rice with vegetables. I cook every day. My friend says to me, ‘Afghan people, every day, are cooking, cooking, cooking’, and I tell her, ‘If we’re not cooking then what can we eat!’ My children don’t like McDonald’s or outside food. They like home-cooked food— meatballs or chicken. FLN is very helpful for people coming to Australia. Lots of people come here for help with literacy, Centrelink, for information about housing or school, to learn how to type—anything. I know I will come back here again because there are things I have forgotten. I want to do the computer class because I’ve forgotten everything about computers. But I also want to travel. I’ve only been to Melbourne and I hope to visit Sydney one day. I want to see Australia. ■


Sarah Student

My family and I escaped the cruelty of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2000 when I was eight years old. It was not easy—we left everything behind in the hope of finding a better and safer future in Australia. FLN helped my family in many ways—to get permanent residency, to learn English and in teaching me computer skills and most importantly making me feel a part of the community. Anne Horrigan-Dixon, who was then at the heart of FLN, played an important part in this. In 2009, I submitted a movie I made through the FLN Clubhouse for the Victoria Premier’s Spirit of Anzac Prize. This prize is about what the spirit of Anzacs means to young people today. I was one of the lucky recipients of the prize. This gave me the opportunity, as one of ten students, to go on an overseas study tour to sites where Australians have served in times of war. This experience inspired me to stay determined in achieving my goals and give back to the community. Coming from a country where the rights of women have been diminished, I wanted to immerse myself in my new community, and experience the freedom and opportunities I had in Australia. I wanted to work hard and give back to this beautiful country which has given me a second chance at life. I also learnt from the experience the most important values I aim to live by: integrity, compassion, determination, generosity and kindness.



I graduated from university with a Bachelor of Pharmacy in 2016 and started working as a clinical pharmacist. As a pharmacist, I’m given the opportunity to help others in need. I currently work in an oncology ward and I’m able to use my knowledge and skills to help families cope with the stress of hospitalisation by explaining the treatment regimens, potential side effects, desired outcomes and what to expect in terms of medication therapy. I’ve discovered a career that allows me to work directly with the public and make a difference. I believe we are all in this together, and we need to remember to support each other. Life has so much to offer if we remember to look beyond ourselves. In May 2018, I was delighted to be awarded a place on the Premier’s Spirit of


Anzac Armistice Tour 2018. This recognises previous participants who continue to embody the Spirit of Anzac in their lives today. The Spirit of Anzac—their courage, determination and their stories—will continue to inspire countless of generations in the same way it has inspired me. The tour is a one-off delegation of ten participants from the first ten years of the study tour. We will represent Victoria at commemorative events in October and November 2018 marking the 100-year anniversary of the end of the First World War in 2018. FLN has been part of my life for the past 15 years—always supporting me and my family when we needed help. I am an adult now and Anne Horrigan-Dixon still supports me whenever I need her, so I am very grateful. ■

I understand that we are all in this together, and we need to remember to support each other. Life has so much to offer if we remember to look beyond ourselves.


Anne Horrigan-Dixon OAM ‘For service to the community of Fitzroy, and through support of refugees’

I’m sitting here surrounded by photos and newspaper cutting from my 12 years at Fitzroy Learning Network. So many happy memories of such wonderful people I worked with: students, refugees, staff, volunteers and a huge network of community supporters who make the Network such a dynamic place. The years of the boat people 2000-2005 were a rollercoaster of hope and despair, happiness and heartbreak immersed within a supportive community to catch those in trouble. All skills and experiences built over my life were needed in a very intense period when the boat people walked through the door of the Network in 2000. I’m an extrovert so communication is part of me. I love cooking, sharing food and meeting new people. Building communities to be stronger, healthier and more inclusive is an essential part of my life. I can only work as part of a team. I have always been privileged, surrounded by talented and hard-working people. This began with my parents, Marge and Jim Horrigan. They were friendly and outgoing. Our Irish Catholic background, which had suffered centuries of discrimination, meant fighting injustice was part of my DNA from early on. My mother worked in the Jewish community with Holocaust survivors and the stories she told me had a huge influence on me. Her workplace was multicultural, so I was always comfortable in a non-English speaking environment. In the early 1970s I went to Monash University to become a secondary science teacher. This is where I met my future husband Brian. He was an activist who shared many of the same views on politics. It was important to us to join causes we believed in. We both felt we had come home when we moved to Fitzroy in 1976. We joined the ALP in 1978 and quickly became immersed in a new world of local politics.


The next phase in my life was the happiest, when my children Amelia, Eamonn and Sarah were born. My world expanded and we made lifelong friends with a community of other parents. During this time we worked to set-up the Holden Street Neighbourhood House. We also established a book club, which is still running to this day. I call us the ‘Activist Book Club’ as together we have saved the Fitzroy Pool and Fitzroy High School and built the North Fitzroy Library. They were great supporters of the Network. I don’t know what I’d do without them. In 1993, I worked for Victorian Government Minister Barry Pullen, where I learned how politics works. I definitely needed this at the Network. In 1993 I joined the Fitzroy Learning Network as the volunteer co-ordinator. The following year I was employed to close the organisation as the funding had been cut drastically. With the help of volunteers and support from the Fitzroy community we completely turned this around. Fundraising became part of my life.


My 13 years at the Network The Fitzroy Ball and The Fitzroy Women’s Dinner Raised hundreds of thousand dollars to meet new and emerging needs. Scott Thornton—The Father of the Network In 1997 Scott Thornton joined the Network as a volunteer. He had incredible administrative and financial skills and a heart of gold. He enabled the Network to grow and expand. Hmong Girls Education Program The Hmong women wanted to learn English, be part of the community and ensure their girls had better lives than them. We succeeded in achieving this. The Fitzroy Computer Clubhouse Creating opportunities for education and work for thousands of kids which would never have happened otherwise. The Boat People-Refugees and Asylum Seekers In August 2000 my life was changed forever when the first refugees arrived at the Network. Over the next five years thousands of asylum seekers and refugees flowed through. I felt a great responsibility that no one would be returned to their war ravaged countries of Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. During this time I heard heartbreaking and traumatic stories from the refugees everyday. It was hard work managing the day-to-day activities and generating funding. I managed hundreds of volunteers who made the Network a welcoming friendly oasis. Everyone was met with a smile and a cup of tea. We set up flats, found beds, made beds, and held peoples’ hands through their sad and tough times. Upon reflection, I feel privileged to have met such great people who came as refugees who are living happily with their families now. Kan Yama Kan and Refugees Say Thank You Australia The play Kan Yama Kan and ‘Refugees Say Thank You Australia’, a National Delegation to Canberra in 2003, were a highlight of my working life. I had a team of loyal and dedicated staff, along with hundreds of volunteers we worked to advocate to release people and children from detention. We formed partnerships with Actors for Refugees, Circus Oz, and Rural Australians for Refugees, churches and schools. We went and told the stories of the boat people wherever and whenever we could. The highlight was in 2004 when the refugees were released from Manus, Nauru and mainland detention and we settled them in Victoria.


My 13 years at the Network were the most productive and happiest in my working life. I was able to use all my skills and work with the very best people. This small neighbourhood house in Fitzroy was a catalyst, which influenced national politics. From local we went national, breaking down barriers across the nation towards our wave of refugees who came by boat. After I left the Network I decided to find my father’s family as he was adopted. After my experience with refugees who lost contact with their families in transit I thought it important to find mine. It took three years and I met my cousins in Christchurch in 2009. I am so happy that I found my cousins. It’s great completing the circle. ■

Reflecting on my life, it’s true that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things. Having a cup of tea in a kitchen can change the world if we all work together.




Acknowledgements Many people have contributed their time and effort to making Faces of FLN. This book is a celebration of stories and we thank you for joining us and for wanting to be part of it. The Fitzroy Learning Network (FLN) would like to thank all members of the FLN Board for their approval and empowerment of the project. With special thanks to Mark Madden, FLN Chair; Alysia Antonucci and Amandine Baillet, FLN’s Living Histories project coordinators; Jamal Ahmet, former CEO and pioneer of the Living Histories project; Sarah Midford, FLN editor and pioneer of the Living Histories project; Anne Horrigan-Dixon OAM, for insights into FLN’s history; and to Heather, FLN volunteer, for providing archival material. This book has created a special bond between FLN and the Bowen Street Press (BSP). Sincere thanks to Annie Chapman, BSP mentor and FLN volunteer, for bringing the two together under the guidance of Tracy O’Shaughnessy, BSP Publisher, with the support of the entire editing team at the Bowen Street Press. To Shane Bell for his wonderful portrait and Bridges to Harmony photography and coordination of the Photography Club. To Alexander Mitchell for photographs of FLN, Fitz Riz and Bridges to Harmony, and to the FLN Photography Club for sharing their talent. Thank you to the FLN staff who contributed archived photographs to this book. Sincere thanks to Alex Ellinghausen for his photograph of Michael. Thanks also to Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) without whom some of these stories would not have been heard. The most important and heartfelt thanks to our storytellers, for their fearlessness, trust and beautiful contributions without which Faces of FLN would not exist: Ahmad, Ama, Anh (pseudonym), Anis, Anne Horrigan-Dixon OAM, Annie, Ashbaadin, Astrid, Aziz (pseudonym), Farhad, Georgina, Heather, Jenny, Joseph, Kathryn, Kiwi, Lambata, Larry, Mark Madden, Michael, Mohammed, Mona, Nanette, Ramin (pseudonym), Salwa, Sarah, Shafika, Sofia, Theresa, Thuraya, Trisha, Tuan, Victoria, Wajia and Zahra.


Image credits *Bridges to Harmony images were photographed by Shane Bell and Alex Mitchell. pp. ii–iii Jacob Pilkington; pp. 2–3 (left–right) Alex Mitchell, FLN archives, Justin McManus, FLN archives, Alex Mitchell, Alex Mitchell; pp. 4–5 (left–right) FLN archives, FLN archives, Shane Bell, Alex Mitchell, FLN archives, FLN archives; pp. 6–7 (left–right) FLN archives, FLN archives, FLN archives, Alex Mitchell, Jelleke Vanooteghem, Bridges to Harmony; pp. 8–9 Shane Bell; p. 11 Shane Bell; p. 15 Shane Bell; pp. 18–19 (from top left clockwise) Shane Bell & FLN Photography Club, Shane Bell & FLN Photography club, Bridges to Harmony; p. 21 Alex Mitchell; p. 23 Shane Bell; p. 27 (from top clockwise) Shane Bell & FLN Photography Club, Alex Mitchell, Alex Mitchell; p. 29 Shane Bell; pp. 30–31 (from top left clockwise) Alex Mitchell, Alex Mitchell, Bridges to Harmony, Bridges to Harmony; p. 33 Shane Bell; pp. 34–35 Shane Bell; p. 37 Shane Bell; p. 41 (all) Alex Mitchell; p. 43 Shane Bell; pp. 44–45 Shane Bell; p. 49 Joseph; pp. 52–53 Bridges to Harmony; p. 55 Shane Bell; pp. 57–58 Bridges to Harmony; p. 63 Alex Ellinghausen; pp. 64–65 Bridges to Harmony; p. 67 Shane Bell; p. 71 Shane Bell; pp. 72–73 Bridges to Harmony; p. 77 Shane Bell; p. 79 (all) Alex Mitchell; p. 81 Trisha; p. 83 Shane Bell; p. 87 Shane Bell; pp. 88–89 Shane Bell; pp. 92–93 (from top left clockwise) Bridges to Harmony, Alex Mitchell, Alex Mitchell, Shane Bell & FLN Photography Club; pp. 94–95 Shane Bell; p. 99 (all) Shane Bell; p. 101 Bridges to Harmony; p. 105 Shane Bell; pp. 106–107 Alex Mitchell; p. 109 Bridges to Harmony; p. 111 Astrid; pp. 112–113 Shane Bell; p. 115 Shane Bell; p. 121 Shane Bell; pp. 124–125 Bridges to Harmony; p. 127 Lambata; p. 129 Shane Bell & FLN Photography Club; p. 132 Bridges to Harmony; p. 137 Farhad; p. 139 Bridges to Harmony; p. 143 Sarah; p. 147 Anne Horrigan-Dixon; pp. 150–151 Alex Mitchell.


How this book came about A FLN and Bowen Street Press collaboration

The production of the Faces of FLN has been a collaboration between the Fitzroy Learning Network (FLN) and the Bowen Street Press (BSP). BSP is an independent, student-led, industry-focused publishing house working out of RMIT University’s city campus. The publishing house runs as part of the RMIT Master of Writing and Publishing program. In 2017 Annie Chapman was volunteering with FLN when she was introduced to the Living Histories project. Volunteers had previously begun collecting stories from the FLN community, but resources were limited to complete the project. As BSP focuses on non-profit publishing, the opportunity to collaborate with FLN to produce this book with an accompanying set of digital resources was a perfect match. For FLN the partnership provided much-welcomed resources and for the RMIT students the project has provided an authentic industry experience in learning the necessary skills of publishing: interviewing, editing, design and production were all completed as part of their course work. The Bowen Street Press is honoured to be part of this project.

Student quotes Justina Ashman: Heading into beautiful Fitzroy to meet the amazing individuals at FLN was a fantastic experience. It’s such a welcoming and friendly environment and it was a joy to hear the stories of this community! Cassandra Bulman: Working with a non-profit like FLN was an amazing opportunity and I feel privileged to have been a part of telling these stories. Ben Callinan: It was a joy to go through the process of interviewing people and turn what they said into meaningful stories.


J’aime Cardillo: The collaboration between BSP and FLN has helped me establish my career aspirations as an editor and has reaffirmed the power of language. Rachelle Dekker: It was hard to capture the feeling of FLN without going in person so that’s what we did. Talking with everyone and just being there gave so much life to the stories we were gathering; this snapshot of the comings and goings in such a friendly and welcoming place. Isabella Lloyd: Working on this book showed just how spirited and welcoming the home of FLN is. I’m so excited to share these uplifting, human stories from the people I was lucky to meet and many more. Lauren Magee: Working with the stories of students and volunteers of FLN and their history has been an incredibly positive experience, inspiring the thought of future involvement with non-profit organisations. Gemma Pass: An organisation filled with unparalleled optimism, kindness and generosity, my time working with the FLN community has been heartwarming and insightful. Jacob Pilkington: Working on Faces of FLN has taught me there is a great support in the community for refugees and new Australians and I feel better knowing that they are not alone. Alice Wilson: Working on The Fitzroy Learning Network’s Living Histories Project has a been an enriching and formative example of Melbourne’s multiculturalism and diversity and is an experience I feel very grateful to have been a part of.




Faces of FLN celebrates the stories of students, volunteers and staff of the Fitzroy Learning Network, drawing on the diversity and generosity of the community of Fitzroy as their backdrop.




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