Parliament on King: A counter-narrative

Ravi chops a cheese toastie into several strips and disappears out the back to deliver it to his daughter.
An inner west local takes a beer from the fridge and cracks it open. He looks to pay with his credit card and is gently told that Parliament only takes cash. He is invited to have the beer anyway and bring the cash later.
The barista tells me, “It’s the refugee chefs and the cooks that are working, doing catering or in the café, that have the stories that are important to be told and heard – to create the human interest that will shape policy.”
Parliament on King, a small café at the Erskineville end of King St, breaks down the traditional barriers that exist in the strict separation of home, work and community. In my early visits to Parliament on King, I noticed three dominant narratives that were challenged by this space.
Firstly, Parliament provides a counter narrative to the dominant narrative of separating personal and public space. When I was first welcomed to Parliament, Ravi the owner greeted me as he ran a cheese toastie out the back to his daughter. I experienced for the first time the intersection of personal and public space at Parliament. Growing up in Sydney, I’ve witnessed western home culture that is filled with gated communities, homes encircled by fences, and a clear distinction between those on the inside and those on the outside. There’s an entitlement to personal space, an obsession with having a space that is your own, and a focus on the nuclear family before those beyond. Parliament on King has shown me that this separation of home and work, family and the wider community, is not the only way to live.
Parliament is like a communal living room. There are vibrant conversations and a sense of familiarity amongst strangers. ‘Customers’ pick books off the shelves to discuss the insights pencilled in the margins. A woman in a pink velvet dress is out the front playing a ukulele rendition of Satellite of Love. The café’s windows are open to allow voices to enter, along with the stream of bubbles coming from further up King St. The unplanned sounds, the masses of books, the aroma of coffee and the delivery of toasties to Ravi’s daughter all help to create this sense of home. This is demonstrated at an even deeper level in the way Parliament actively seeks to facilitate a sense of home and belonging for refugees and asylum seekers in Sydney. When I think about my friends and myself—many of whom are in the process of moving out of home for the first time—it makes me wonder how we can reconceptualise ideas of home and community to be more like this.
Secondly, Parliament provides a counter narrative to the dominant narrative of consumer capitalism. The local beer drinker was astounded by the offer to pay later and came rushing back from an ATM up the road fearing he’d forget. The barista at Parliament had turned a clinical transaction into one that built trust and community. He had personalised a depersonalised experience. The customer’s discomfort and confusion with the situation highlights the radically generous and community-oriented posture of Parliament. Again, Parliament was able to demonstrate an alternative to the traditional experience of the customer service industry, which is so quick to turn customers away when money isn’t paid in the moment. In my visits to Parliament on King I have seen numerous customers struggle to find cash to pay their bills – myself included! And each time, I have seen the staff’s consistent trust in the customer’s integrity when they don’t insist on payment then and there – or sometimes even at all. On my first visit, Ravi pointed to the ‘Pay It Forward’ teapot under the passionfruit vine and said, ‘Someone’s already got you covered’.
This counter narrative also manifests itself in Parliament’s rejection of growth and scale as the predominant markers of business or commercial success. At social enterprise conferences, Ravi has engaged in countless discussions about growth and scale of change. Ravi reflected, if Parliament grows to the point that we’re not actually able to sit down, be present, listen and talk with people, what’s the point?
In an interview, the barista at Parliament also commented on scale: “Well, yeah I think it’s a small place changing things for some people. We can only affect the lives of so many people who are working here and who have opportunities. At any single time that’s about ten people. And that’s massive, because you’re changing ten people’s lives.”
I love that. I love that Parliament is not all about scale, growth, expansion and productivity. In the world of social enterprises and social change, Parliament has helped to reorient my understanding of ‘productive’ social change from the quantity of lives changed to the power and beauty of being present and listening to a person, even just one.
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And lastly, Parliament provides a counter narrative to the dominant political discourse around asylum seekers. Politicians such as Dutton, Morrison, Abbott and the like, have used their political profiles and platforms to label asylum seekers “illiterate”, “illegal”, “burdens” and “fake”. Amidst these voices, Parliament provides a space in which all people can come and be trusted. Ravi said to me:
“The assumption when you walk in the door here is that you are a good and trustworthy and kind and honourable and decent person, because most of us are . . . If you look at the world and the way it works and the rules that are in place, everything is set up because of our distrust of a small minority. It just makes more sense if the rules were set up because of our faith in the majority.”
Parliament provides a space that affirms all people and counters the narrative of fear and exclusion with acceptance, community and joy. But not only is Parliament on King a welcoming café space, it is also a social enterprise catering organisation that trains asylum seekers in hospitality skills. The work they are doing at Parliament is relationally-focused and counter-cultural. As I attempt to co-construct one part of their public history, I hope that I can represent their stories with the same authenticity they have shown me.

Rugby in Union?

Over the semester I got to work with the Woonona Shamrocks Rugby Club to uncover the club’s history for their 50th anniversary in 2019. I helped out with the club by assisting on a Thursday morning when the older members would mow the field and paint the lines for the coming home game. In this time, I got to interview several members of the club and had the opportunity to be granted access to look through the restricted Illawarra Rugby Union archives which informed me on the early history of the club. Initially, for the project, I aimed to help with writing the book for the 50th anniversary, however, I quickly learned that this task was too large, and I would not be able to complete the book within my timeframe. While continuing to assist in creating the 50th-anniversary book, I decided to create a Wikipedia page for the club, this was a great way for me to contribute to the club in the short term and allowed me to create a digital archive that can be used to assist future researchers whilst also promoting the club. Creating the Wikipedia page and assisting with the 50th anniversary book are all ways in which I assisted in helping the club directly.
The second part of my project does not directly benefit the club but is a way in which I can use all the information I have gathered to present a finished product that not only will promote the Shamrocks but benefit the greater rugby community. I have decided to create a videocast or vodcast. I initially decided to just create a podcast, however, I felt that it would be more engaging if there was a visual element to it. I audio recorded rather than video record the interviews as I felt it was too invasive to video the people being interviewed and wanted to showcase the truest perception of the club that I could capture. The vodcast concentrates on the decline of Australian Rugby, the common argument is that this decline is the cause of the neglect of grassroots rugby. The vodcast uses the Shamrocks 50-year history as a case study on a local scale to highlight issues and changes over time on a national level. The overall message is that clubs are built with social connections, with the neoliberal influence of rugby it is losing this social aspect. The Shamrocks from 50 years ago to now is similar, however at a junior level cracks are starting to appear with one participant stating there will not be a junior rugby club in 10 years. Australian rugby is not dead there is still a pulse at a grassroots level and it is these people that I have spent this semester with that is keeping this pulse to continue beating, not because Australian rugby is helping them but because they are helping each other. And this is not indigenous to the Shamrocks but many clubs around Australia. The way to fix Australian Rugby is for rugby to be in union, meaning that this sense of local community needs to emulate from the grassroots to the Wallabies. The last line of the Shamrock songs encapsulates the motivation of the club to continue the struggle through the decline of Australian rugby, ‘until we hear that bell, that final bell, Shamrocks will fight like hell!’.
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Vodcast –

Chifley High + University of Sydney Essay Competition

On the 26th of October, Bridget Neave and Mike McDonnell attended the annual Chiffley high school humanities award ceremony. The day marks the culmination of a year of hard work for the senior Chiffley students. Students are awarded in areas from business studies, to society and culture, and history. Bridget and Mike were there to award the students for the essays they wrote as part of the University of Sydney’s Essay Writing Competition. This competition has been held jointly by the University and Chiffley High school for the past 5 years.
When it was time for the history awards, Mike was invited to give a talk to the gathered students, teachers and parents on the merits of tertiary education for people of all walks of life. Following this, the highly commended and best essays were awarded. The essays were judged by a number of the history staff including James Tan and Frances Clarke. This years lucky winners were Holly Towner and Grace Major. After, Bridget gave feedback and commendation on two high achieving Personal Interest Projects (the society and culture major work). Which were of an impeccable standard this year.
Following the ceremony, the students, parents, teachers and guests enjoyed a pizza lunch together. Discussing the future plans of the year twelve students. Lucky for us, many of them plan to go to the University of Sydney next year.
The social inclusion program looks forward to working with Chiffley college again in 2019!
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