It was a chilly Friday morning, scarf wrapped around my neck, as I walked to Redfern Station where I would take a train to Fairfield, rolling through the suburbs that were so familiar to my childhood growing up in Sydney’s outer west. I was on route to Carramar where I would meet with Jasmina from the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS). This was not an ordinary day for the few I would spend in Sydney.
As the train pulled out of Redfern I’d received a call from ABC/JJJ asking about Home Lands v2 and my involvement with the Hazara. They’re producing a series of interviews with young people who had been affected by the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre, or rather, suffered the consequences of what followed. We were interested to source synergies between their project and mine. This may yet unfold.
The train rattled past Guildford park where I’d played soccer as a young boy. I recalled the fun some of us had on the “hill”, a mound of dirt that had been shovelled to the edge of the field, that seemed a rather pitiful sanctuary from the rougher kids who rambled threateningly across the poorly kept green. I looked out over the park as the train sped on. It seemed bare. Dull. Colourless. I recalled quite a few more trees and play areas for younger kids that were brightly painted in former times. The bowls lawn. The elderly people’s home where Oma had spent some weeks. The beer garden. As the train pulled out of Guildford Station I left my memories there and considered the day ahead.
I got off at Fairfield and looked for a taxi. The streets were quieter than I recall last time I’d been there. Mind you, it was at least 20 years since I’d been any where near this part of the world, though I was expecting far more street life. The driver was Cambodian and knew the route to STARTTS. He confirmed that life had changed in the area since a more diverse mix of nationalities had arrived. I recall it being quite rich from former times, but for some reason, he suggested, the present demographic kept more people indoors than it did out. Our conversation lead us to Cambodia and the drivers disappointment in its present government and their inability to bring to account the remaining perpetrators of the genocide during the four year rule of the Khmer Rouge. Australia was home, though not home land.
At STARTTS I met the Bosnian born Jasmina Bajraktarevic who is deeply connected with the Hazara community in Sydney. Jasmina further confirmed the commitment the Hazara have to education and initiatives that broaden cultural knowledge within their own communities and beyond. She introduced me to Arif Nabizadah, producer of the excellent audio series, SADA – Reflections in the mirror of hidden voices, that brings together differing generational points of view from the Afghanistani community in Sydney. Arif was awarded the Prime Minister’s Australian Youth Forum Challenge for his work on SADA, created with support from the Auburn Community Development Network. No sooner had Jasmina mentioned Arif she had him in the phone and we planned to meet in Auburn within about an hour or so.
I was whisked from Carramar via back streets to Auburn by the enigmatic Felix Ryan, STARTTS Enterprise Facilitator, who provides support to local entrepreneurs with refugee and refugee-like backgrounds wishing to start or expand existing small businesses. Also known as Mr Hazara, Felix is also well connected and respected within the Hazara community. The drive to Auburn wasn’t long enough. We clearly had a lot to talk about. Passing nearby the Villawood Detention Centre where my folks had seen their early days in Australia, it too stimulated our discussion.
Arriving in Auburn I was met by Arif at the STARTTS office. We immediately took to the streets. I was eager for a Hazara’s tour of the area. Having grown up nearby, Auburn wasn’t the friendliest of places during my youth there. It had changed. Significantly.
We stopped by a couple of shops where daily goods were sold. Anything from DVDs, rice and cooking utensils. These two stores are popular meeting places for the Hazara and have been important to them since the first batch of Temporary Protection Visas were issued in the early 2000s. From the outside these stores looked like any other mixed business you’d find any where in the world. Inside the story was some what different. The warmth and generosity of the folks who ran them, including the few who stood by and chatted, was infectious.
The afternoon was cooling quickly so we didn’t spend too much more time outdoors, but Arif did point out the places elders in the Afghanistani community would sit on warmer days. The low-brick walls of the central open mall weren’t so inviting, but I could imagine on most cheerful days they would transform into arenas of calm, reflection and counsel.
We completed the afternoon in a relatively new Turkish restaurant run by Afghanistanis. Again the mood was friendly and welcoming. It was here that we discussed Hazara political history. I listened. There was much more, so much more to learn. We moved on to his SADA project and how it bridges issues not generally, or easily discussed across generations within his community. I was keen to see if it was possible to make use of this work back in Melbourne, if only to add to a database of Home Lands v2 media resources. No problem. He was keen to see the project find a larger, broader audience.
After having been given two copies of the CD I asked about the pattern that was used on the cover. Arif described that this was a traditional fabric design, perhaps the first of its kind digitised. These designs represent the story of Hazara women and are particular to not only regions, but individual villages. He was clearly proud of having carried over an old design into a digital format. He assured me there would be more to come, but the work is difficult, if but some what complex.
Arif described this as being the beginning of a Golden Age for the Hazara. Education, the one thing they had sought for centuries, is now accessible to them and they’re making the most of it. Arif is involved with an international mathematics competition and along with our friends in Melbourne, whom he is well known to, provides after hours tuition to hundreds of young Afghanistanis in Sydney.
I was invited to join him later that evening to an event bringing together many local Hazara to listen to one of their elders visiting from Canberra. I’m told, perhaps one of the first Hazara to arrive in Australia. However, I’d had dinner planned with my daughter. We have our own communities to nurture and be nourished by. That said, I’m convinced the more the Hazara and my world get to know each other, they will some how cross-over, if but enough to evolve far deeper empathy and friendship. I look forward to every single day I work on this project.