This photography project I started in the beginning of 2018. I am dedicating it to the people of Australia. It tells different stories from various people are ingrained in the society of this country. Many people don’t notice each other and know nothing about one another. They might work together or study together, but they never ask to know the true feelings and thoughts of the person next to them. I hope that my photographs help people feel the life and journey of others.
I was inspired by Issa, a refugee who came here by boat. I met him in an English class at TAFE.
I had the wrong understanding of his culture and country before I met him. Stereotypes, I mean. The information we get from the TV or internet is not always right. It is wrong to judge people by their ethnicity. My interactions with Issa changed me. I had never seen someone who had such a strong spirit. After all he had been through, he worked to live a happy and peaceful life.
I found people from different countries, immigrants who are living in Australia. Each person has a different experience to tell. A story to capture. I believe that my project can help others to empathize and gain a deeper understanding of the hardships of immigrants in Australia.
"I was born in north part of Ethiopia called Mekele, Tigray region. My mother was a cook on the army campus and my father was a soldier. We had to flee when a civil war broke out. That was the last time I saw my father. I never knew what happened to him. It was very difficult time for my family. We fled to another village on foot where we tried to build a life. Later, one more tragedy happened in our family. My mother was coming back from a friend's funeral in another village when she was involved in a bad car accident. She sustained severe injuries and died the same day. We never got to say goodbye. My baby sister and I were all alone. I was only about 5 and a half years old when we lost our parents. We were moved around, staying with different people until our aunty, who was 16 years old, came to get us to live with her in Addis Ababa.
Soon after, we were sent to an orphanage because our Aunty was too young to care for us. We spent a year and a half in the orphanage. By luck we were adopted by an Australian family. We travelled together in Ethiopia for three months before moving to Australia. We learned about them and they learned about our culture. They were very supportive of us retaining our heritage. We moved to Australia and our parents started an Ethiopian language school with the Ethiopian community in Brisbane. Later, they started a dance group called the Ethiopia Bahil for us to stay connected to our culture. When I was 12 years old, I felt that something inside me was missing. I could no longer remember what my parents face looked like.
I had a reoccurring dream of their voices and places that felt familiar, but couldn't see their faces. I told my adopted parents I wanted to go back to trace where my family came from. I wanted to find some remnants of family. We flew to Ethiopia, going on a road trip to Mekele from Addis Ababa. In the first village we stayed in, we found a young boy who knew friends of our mother. This lead us to Mekele where we met our mothers best friend. She invited us to her home where she had a picture of our mother on her wall. This woman's husband also served in the army with our father. We found many relatives in this village. Australia gave us a beautiful family, a home, freedom and amazing opportunities in life. Now I work in a lot of creative projects which allow me to work closely with the African community. I also do dance workshops around QLD teaching and educating about African culture and traditional African dance. My life is rich, and I am a very happy person."
"I was born in Manchuria in the north of China in 1945 just before World War Ⅱ ended. When the war ended, Japanese people had to leave China and go back to Japan. I lived there as an infant.
My home town in Japan is Hirosaki in Aomori prefecture. It is a very cold place on the island of Honshu. I finished primary, high school and university there. I started to learn Japanese tea ceremony when I was 12 years old. It was very popular among girls. It became my hobby. I started to study Japanese history at university. I chose this subject because I wanted to learn more about the background to tea ceremony.
After university I moved to Tokyo and worked as a clerk in a company. I continued to study tea ceremony in Tokyo. One day, my teacher told me that my tea ceremony school was looking for a person who could go to Australia to teach tea ceremony. The University of Queensland wanted to establish a tea ceremony club as a part of cultural studies to complement the study of Japanese language. I was recommended by my teacher and I got this job. It was a 3-year contract job.
For the first 3 years I was to be a full-time tea ceremony teacher, but in order to obtain a visa, I had to have a position at UQ. They created a position for me. I was a tutor of Japanese language and literature. It was a part-time position. It helped me to get a temporary visa and later to obtain permanent residency. In addition to teaching Japanese language I taught tea ceremony almost every day. UQ used to have the biggest department of Japanese Language and Literature in any university outside of Hawaii University. We had a few hundred students.
After 10 years in UQ I left university and opened a private school of Japanese tea ceremony in my house. At the moment I am supported by the head school in Kyoto and I have 15 students. It is difficult to believe that I got a contract for just 3 years when I was 29 years old, and I stayed in Australia to this day. I am enjoying a peaceful time and freedom here".
“I was born in a poor suburb in Tehran, Iran during a revolution. My childhood was tough. We didn’t have enough money to survive nor to get food or clothes. We were a family with 7 kids. One of the children passed away during this hard time. There were times where we had sweet tea, bread and cheese for three meals. The war between Iran and Iraq began when I started school. Iraq dropped bombs on cities, fields and took out entire industries. We lived in fear and under intense stress. Most of the time we had no electricity, light, oil, gas or water.
One day the Government sent my dad as a solder to the War. Sometimes my Mum didn’t allow us to go to school because it wasn’t safe. I remember the fear we had of Sepah (The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps). They arrested or killed people without any reason once they were in power. You could be sent to jail for ever. My school teachers belonged to Sepah as well. They always carried a gun. We were always afraid of them. One teacher took me and my friends to the head office one time and hit me a lot, threatening to kill me because I didn’t attend for praying and I was too curious about other parts of the world. I had got a family magazine with colourful pictures. I wanted to know about life outside of Iran. I wanted to understand why we were living in this bad situation. We had nothing to tell us about the outside world, only a TV with two black and white channels. Once, the teacher took us to the public square to watch people get hung. It was the punishment for the unbelievers. I was 12 years old. It affected me greatly.
By the time I grew up, my life was work, sport and home. One day I decided to change my life. I wanted to be far away from my country. I found offshore work by chance. I started making some of my first friends outside of Iran. They were from the UK and Poland. They opened my eyes. We would talk about their countries where life was safe and happy. I couldn’t believe it. I asked them to bring magazines from the country and record videos. I became more open. I started talking more with other people. I went back home and I was motived to change my country for the better.
I became part of an underground community which was against the Government. We protested on the streets. Many people were injured while protesting. Some even died while others were arrested. People were fighting for democracy and the government would kill them or take to the jail, people like me. I decided to change my family’s life and mine. I had a tough life for the next few years and a long story how I got to Australia. I was so lucky that I had a chance to move to Australia and the Australian Government gave me an opportunity to build a new life. I got a chance to learn English at TAFE. I was able to study Welding after finishing my English course. Then I started working for an engineering company as a boiler maker. After a few years, I decided to open my own business as a second job. It is a car wash.
My biggest goal is to have a family and buy a house. I want to live in a peace without any stress anymore. I want to help people and help the Government that helped me to be in this point.
"We were born in the same city. Coquimbo, Chile. It’s in northern Chile. We were close to the sea and it’s a very beautiful area. I was a preschool teacher and my husband, Eduardo, was a businessman. Eduardo has a family business back home which is a food distribution service. The business was started by his grandfather. They have a huge warehouse with lots of fridges inside. They work with lactose products. We met each other in University where we were both studying Administration and Business.
We started our relationship after ten years of being friends. We began to think seriously about moving abroad when our daughter Amanda was born. Eduardo had a friend living in France. We thought he could get a job in his friend’s company. We prepared all the documents and were ready to move, but the terrorist attacks in Paris happened at the same time. My family worried for us and were hesitant to let us go there.
We decided to take time to think about what could be done. It turned out to be a little longer than expected. Eduardo and I got married during this time. I was pregnant with our second child. We wanted to open a Montessori school. Almost everything was ready, but we didn’t sign the contract. We wanted more time to make sure we were doing the right thing. Eduardo worked all the time already and couldn’t see his children that much. We decided on moving to Australia instead. I study English at TAFE Queensland in the mornings while my husband works in the afternoons. Everyone has a chance to spend time with the kids. It is a safe country. We hope to give our family a better future."
"I was born in Arequipa, Peru. It was an amazing time as a child in that city. I had lots of friends. Children enjoy more of life. They don’t think about responsibilities. I worked for the biggest milk company in Peru for 10 years. The factory produced a number of different milk products.
I started as a cleaner when I was 19 years old. I learned about the production process, the machines involved, building relationships with clients, promotion and the inner politics of the company. I got the job because the owner personally asked me to work for his company. They gave me a uniform and I worked my way to earning a management position.
Out of the blue, a friend spoke to me of life in Australia. I became interested in traveling there because of the people and the culture. I had been planning on studying in Peru, so I figured why not study in Australia. I applied for a student visa and I was moving to Australia shortly after. I studied English first and then moved on to a Diploma of Business. I learned so many things in that program. This education will help me to open my business in Peru. I want to open an organization that helps poor people. I want to improve their quality of life and give support to them.
I am happy in Australia. This country has given me incredible experiences and many good friends, but I feel I will be more useful in Peru."
“When I was 2 years old, a catastrophic nuclear accident happened in Chernobyl. After the accident, children were sent abroad every year to be part of international health programs. From childhood I traveled extensively. I think this is why I went to study languages at University. I graduated from the National Aviation University in Ukraine. When I completed my Degree in English Linguistics, I moved to Vietnam to teach English. Whilst in Vietnam I found a job as an interpreter and stayed there for 7 years.
I worked with English, Russian, Ukraine and German languages. Currently I am learning Spanish as a hobby. My life in Vietnam was amazing – lots of traveling and meeting many different people. One day I decided to completely change my life and learn how to fly helicopters. I’ve always wanted to be a pilot and I used to study at Aviation University. I chose Australia for studying.
I came to Australia for holidays a few times and I really fell in love with this country. It was difficult to move to a country which doesn’t accept your education and work experience. I had to start everything from the beginning. Now I am studying at flight school to get commercial pilot license (helicopters). This will allow me to work in the tourism industry, as well as police or search and rescue”.
"I was born in Walnut Creek. It’s a smaller city outside of San Francisco. Not much happens there nor in Lafayette, which is the town I grew up in. I always loved writing from an early age.
My grandmother was my biggest fan. My family and I would go over to her house for dinner and she’d always ask what story I was working on. I’d cheerfully read every word I’d wrote even dawning my best voices to pull the characters I’d created into reality. The smile on her face pulled my creative fibers to the surface with each shout and roar. My skin crackled with electricity and I realized I loved performing for her. I tried to read my stories to my parents, but most of my readings ended short. They would either lose interest or tell me that I should be doing something better with my time.
I was heartbroken when my grandmother passed away. I’d lost my sell-out audience, the arena where my writings were prized. I wanted to hear her laugh when I’d try to sound like a snide villain with an terrible British accent. I needed to get out of California because home reminded me of what I had lost. I traveled to Germany on my first solo trip, alone and afraid, but excited. I took my writing with me because she had always told me never to stop writing. It was confronting and scary, but I was happy. I jotted down my highs and lows in a journal I purchased before leaving. It was the place I reflected. On myself and my experiences.
When I came back I became a Nanny. Life was good. Then I started asking if this was what I wanted. Did I want to stay in the US? What more was there to life? The answer was to travel more. I planned on going to New Zealand and then to Australia. They’re right next to each other. It seemed stupid not to see both places.
I didn’t think I’d enjoy Australia as much as I do. I remember being quite depressed when I first came here. I was comparing my experience of New Zealand to the experiences I was having in Australia. Overtime it changed. I accepted the country for what it was, not in comparison to someplace else. That’s when I started to see the beauty. I branched out and explored and regained what I had found in New Zealand; myself. Since then, I’ve felt more at home here than I do in the US".
"I was born in India in a city called Ahmedabad. My dad was a mechanical engineer, my mom was a house wife and my grandfather was a police commissioner. We had a good life there, but my dad wanted to move abroad. He wanted a better future. He tried to move to Canada first, but was unable to.
My family applied for an Australian permanent residency visa a few years later. It was approved and my parents moved here first. They left me and my two brothers with my grandparents in India. They treated us as their own children, caring for us more than my own parents. Five years later we came to permanently live with our parents. My life was completely changed. I started to understand the English language and the Australian culture.
I dreamed of becoming a doctor since I was little. Australia gave me lots of opportunities to become a better person in every way. I have received financial help with my studies. I am studying nursing and working part time at Red Rooster. I know that my parents had to go through a lot of difficulties to make life better for me and my brothers. I appreciate it so much".
"I am Ali Elahi and I am 23 years old. I was born in a small village called Dahmardah in the Jaghori district of central Afghanistan. It is in a province called Ghanzi. I came to Australia as a young asylum seeker on a boat in November of 2009. I was 15 years old. Our boat was intercepted by an Australian border patrol vessel just across Ashmore Island. It is a tiny island territory of Australia in the Pacific Ocean. We were transferred to Christmas Island on a Navy Battleship called the ‘Triton Darwin.’ I will never forget how peaceful it felt when everyone’s eyes were filled with tears of joy knowing we finally made it. I spent two and half months in a detention center and was granted a permanent protection visa. I was recognized as a refugee by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection with in 2 weeks of the transfer to the Brisbane Detention Center.
My family first fled Afghanistan to Pakistan in late 1998 due to the ongoing civil war. It was an extremely stressful time to be in the minority during the war. The Taliban were highly discriminatory against people with my ethnic and religious background, the Hazara or Shia Muslim. Public persecution of women and children was the new norm under the Taliban Regime. Mass killings were conducted, women were stoned to death for something as simple as farming or collecting firewood in the absence of men. Young girls would be married off to old Taliban commanders as punishment for going to school.
My family returned to Afghanistan in 2003 hoping that the situation would have improved. Foreign troops had moved in working to over throw the Taliban. I stayed in Pakistan to continue my studies while living with my older sister. In truth, when my family had arrived back, the country was worse than when they left. The Taliban would threaten villagers to get them to join their army to drive out filthy Americans and other foreign troops. The Taliban came after me twice during a visit back home in 2009. I was the ideal recruit as a teenager. Fortunately, I wasn’t home when they had come for me.
I left the village at night time heading back to Pakistan the same week.
Pakistan was becoming unsafe as well. There were assassinations and suicide bombings. Even the persecution of the Hazara Shias had spread. My mother and brother in law were forced to sell our property to arrange for my trip to Australia. The hope was to get me away from Pakistan to somewhere safe. I flew to Malaysia and took a boat to Indonesia. Then, I got on a boat to Australia."
"I was born in Juba, South Sudan. It became known as South Sudan after becoming a republic. I remember I had a happy childhood. We were a family of six kids. We always played together and with other children on the streets. The war was always there, but we had times of peace.
My father and mother passed away when I was young. One of my older sister’s had to look after us. We had to move to a refuge camp for two years because the war was getting worse and worse. My older sister and her husband immigrated to Australia in 1999 when they had two kids. She was able to sponsor me and got me to Australia.
It was hard going to school in Australia. I didn’t know the language which made learning difficult. I cried the first four days of school because I couldn’t understand English. I was away from family for the first time and I felt isolated. During high school, I saw an advertisement detailing a fashion course. I started working on a Certificate III of Fashion and finished with a Degree.
I used to cut my sister’s clothes to make outfits for my dolls when I was a child. One time my sister told me that my mum used to make clothes for us. I was so young when she passed away, I couldn’t remember that. It was an insight into how similar my mother and I are. It is something that connects us. I dream to have my own clothing line and fashion label. I feature my creations at a couple markets.
My collections are inspired by different cultures. It is difficult to find a job in the fashion industry, so I went back to school and became a nurse to support myself. I work as an assistant nurse in a nursing home. This country is so peaceful and has lots of opportunities. I want to do more to support my grandmother who is still living in South Sudan. I am planning to see her at the end of the year."
"I was born in Cebu city in the Philippines. I grew up with my grandmother and aunty in Manilla because my parents were illegal immigrants, living in Australia. My mom eventually met my step father who said he could sponsor us through a family visa. I moved to Australia in 1993 and have been here for 25 years. I suffer from schizophrenia which makes work difficult. I didn’t have my first episode until 1999. I still managed to work several jobs while staying in and out of the mental hospitals. I want the stigma surrounding mental illness to shift into acceptance and love. I have apocalyptic visions and hallucinations. My voices say it’s the end of the world. I see celestial beings clothed in radiant white robes marrying soulmates. I see the black hole meting out punishments. I am in a portal into another dimension, living between the physical reality and the spiritual realm. I am distressed, afraid of the black hole, but looking forward to my heavenly marriage forever more.
My mother and stepfather usually take me into the hospital where they sedate me through an injection. I spend a few weeks to a month there to recuperate, recover and rest. Hospitals have become my haven from my auditory and visual hallucinations. I usually spend my days there drawing, painting, making bead work. Australia is more open to people with disabilities and illnesses than other countries. I’ve never felt that I was different here. I feel privileged to be in Australia…”
I am doing lots of volunteer work with the Relaxation Center of Queensland as well as a women’s shelter. I am about to finish my certificate in Liberal Studies at Australian Catholic University. It’s under the Clemente Program. I just published a journal article with a writing group in the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing about my own illness. I am working on a book about my experience with schizophrenia."
"I was born in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. I moved to Australia in 2015 and many things in my life changed when I moved here. I never thought I’d live so far away from my country, my family and my roots. Here I am, though. My parents were very young when they had me. I call myself their best mistake even though they separated before I was born. My mom and dad were both in their late teens.
I was raised by both sides even though they were not together. Each home was full of love and support. I was always responsible as a child. I was a hardworking student and close with my family. I had to change high schools a couple of years into my schooling. It was hard for me. I felt lonely and rejected. I didn’t fit in. It forced me to make new friends and adapt to my new surroundings. I was fortunate to find an incredible group of friends who helped build my confidence. Despite that, I was still bullied. Apparently, they could see something different about me that I was not aware of at that time. I was gay and I didn’t realize that until much later.
Experiencing the political climate of Venezuela first hand made me realize that I had to move to a different country. I wanted a better future and more opportunities. It’s not as bad now as it was back then, but it seemed like the best decision for me at that time. My family fully supported me.
In 2015 my father and his wife decided to move to Australia. They received permanent residency which made it easier for me to move to the country. I initially lacked confidence when I arrived. I didn’t speak English nor did I have any work experience. It wasn’t easy for me to gain a visa even with my father having one. It took me awhile to adjust to life in Australia, but I was unstoppable once I did.
I am so grateful I’ve had the opportunity to live here. I have gained so many connections, met incredible people and built a life in which I am excited about future. I have been promoted in my job and I am just about to finish my Diploma of Marketing, Communication and Business. I’ll be pursuing my Bachelor of Communication at UQ next year which I am looking forward to. Australia has been my home for the last four years. It is the place that has supported my growth into the man I am today. I love Australia."