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 –

Rule of Law – Project Rationale

When I began this project at the start of the semester, I was a little lost as to what I was going to do and who I was going to work with. Having only moved to Sydney this year from Western Australia and not knowing any non-for-profit or community organisations I was quickly extremely concerned with how I was going to progress with this course. After doing some research, which included a lot of googling ‘non-for-profit organisations Sydney,’ I stumbled across the Rule of Law Institute, an organisation I knew nothing about. I didn’t know whether they needed any help, let alone what my project would be should they consent to my volunteering for their organisation.
This project provided myself with an invaluable experience. The Rule of Law Institute of Australia serves a vital and important role in promoting civic education and an understanding of the rule of law for the youth of Australia. My project was based on providing the Rule of Law Institute with my most valuable asset, and the asset they lacked, time. The few staff at the Rule of Law Institute are too busy to be able to take time out of their days to focus on reading multiple articles, reports, periodicals and laws. I filled this void and did the research that was necessary for those working at the Rule of Law Institute to write an article for the journal LexisNexis.
The research project I embarked on was focussed on gathering the background information on the state of the rule of law in Hungary, Poland, the Philippines and Australia. Although this project was extremely conventional in an academic context and lacked the creativity of some of the other projects, it provided me with the skills necessary to work in a research institution or think tank in both Australia and beyond. To know that the research I compiled on the rule of law was going to serve a purpose in an academic journal was extremely fulfilling, Furthermore, before embarking upon the research I first had to learn about the rule of law itself, what it is, where it comes from, what constitutes it.
The significance of this project is where its importance is realized. Firstly, the project allowed for the Rule of Law Institute to continue focussing their work on their civic education projects and to continue spreading the rule of law. Secondly, the project will directly contribute to the understanding of the state of the rule of law globally, something that is in crisis. This project will allow for continued intellectual debate and has directly contributed to the development of the scholarship on the rule of law. Finally, and most importantly, it serves a purpose of delving into the role of the rule of law in Australia and how the Institute can mould its education and lobbying to those areas that need most attention within Australia. In my research, I found that there is an immense amount of complacency towards the rule of law in Australia, and this leaves the Australian public open to rights violations and exploitation by the government and our legal system. There appears to be a great need for rule of law academic work in Australia given this complacency, as it is only through academic work that support for the Rule of Law Institute can be developed and grow. Through my contribution to this journal article, hopefully this will be addressed in some regard, especially given the focus I placed on the anti-terror legislation that is extremely dangerous to the Australian public.
My research project has been extremely valuable, to my own personal growth as a junior historian, to the development of the rule of law in Australia, and to the Rule of Law Institute. Most importantly, it has been a tremendous and valuable learning experience, both in the information I learnt about the state of the rule of law but also in the opportunities there are beyond the realm of academia for historians.
I encourage anyone reading this to read about the Rule of Law Institute and all the vital work they do.

Rule of Law Institute of Australia

Achieving change – the Australian Himalayan Foundation

Travel and immersing myself in new and dynamic cultures and ways of life has always been a passion of mine. I also hold a great amount of respect for people and organisations that are dedicated to helping those in need to help themselves. For this reason, I elected to work with the Australian Himalayan Foundation (AHF). The Australian Himalayan Foundation is an Australian charity committed to improving the quality of life for those living in remote areas of the Himalaya. They aim to achieve this through working in partnership with the people of the remote Himalaya to improve living standards through better education and training, improved health services and environmental sustainability.
So what am I actually doing with the organisation? Well after meeting with the CEO Carolyn Hamer-Smith for coffee last week, Carolyn explained that one of AHF’s goals for this year was to create a history of the company’s major achievements since establishment. I was later emailed a list outlining what exactly the company wanted included in this list and got to work researching and constructing. I quickly realised that this would not be an easy task. Due to the lack of online data on the organisation and the fact there have been so many people coming and going through the company; both volunteered and paid, it has been very hard to access the needed information to create this list. I have arranged to go into the office next week where I will meet with the sectary who will hopefully be able to give me access to some much needed files and information that will help me with the project. I will also be able to have a further discussion with the CEO about how they are planning on using the information I gather. It has been an interesting journey thus far and I am excited to see where it takes me.

Written in the Pages

History and literature are tightly linked, and have a multidirectional, relational connection. That is, literature can both reflect and embody history, allowing for an accessible insight into the past for future generations, and influence history by bringing to the fore new beliefs, understandings and norms whilst spreading ideas throughout society.
When I was originally faced with the task of determining an organisation to work with for a project, I spent hours fruitlessly scrolling through the wide array of not-for profit organisations on my local council’s website. After realising how difficult it was to narrow down this vast array of organisations, I began to think about how I could incorporate my interests into this task. Thus, as a history and english major I decided to try to merge both sides of my degree and remembered a scheme that I had seen and heard a little bit about previously, the Street Library Organisation.
I made contact with the Street Library Organisation and began brainstorming some ways in which I could create a suitable project in collaboration with this organisation. After meeting with members from the organisation and discussing a few different project possibilities, we decided that the most suitable and mutually beneficial project to create would be a walking tour based around the Erskineville and Newtown area. By presenting this on a public platform, this task aims to spread awareness of this organisation, particularly as it aims to grow. This area of focus will allow for an exploration of some of the first Street Libraries in Sydney, providing insights into their local impact from some of the Street Library owners.
I hope that this project will highlight the value of this organisation, both in its ability to encourage reading as well as inspiring a sense of community. The reliance on books to be donated allows for a wide range of literature to be available through this scheme, with books targeting all groups in society and of all genres.

A Place to Call Home

When I was younger, I carried around a certain apprehension that was attached to my cultural identity. Growing up and living in Western Sydney, I was aware of how important my personal history was in determining every detail of my life. From my name, to the food I ate, to the language I spoke at home, it shaped me. I was constantly immersed in an understanding of my cultural identity, and the short walk from my primary school to my home would highlight little pieces of me. There was the library that contained archives of Turkish history in the area, that detailed the migration pact that allowed my family to arrive in Australia in 1971, then the men of every colour flooding the mosque for their Friday prayers, and the little Turkish café which served traditional maraş ice cream.
On the other hand, this immersion would become overwhelming, and at times, I found that the ways in which my grandmother attempted to explicitly teach me about our culture, history, and religion, felt contrived. How could I learn about myself without become disenchanted? As history students, we can all acknowledge the importance of interaction with our personal histories, and how essential it is to create a space where that can be done comfortably.
The Austolian Youth Association (AYA), is a not-for-profit organisation which aims to maintain cultural and historical connections between individuals in the local community. ‘Austolian’ is a portmanteau of ‘Australian’ and ‘Anatolian’, created to illustrate the place of Turkish cultural and historical knowledge in the lives of Turkish-Australian individuals. The group holds biweekly dance rehearsals in which members learn dances from specific regions in Turkey, gain cultural knowledge, and prepare for performances at festivals and weddings.
The AYA states that their central goals are:
• To emphasise respect of Turkish culture.
• Improve intercultural communication.
• Promote understanding across cultures.
• Become the central point of cultural learning for youth.
I’ve been allowing my project to unravel naturally, through my interactions with the association. I’ve focused on resettling myself into the association, and becoming reacquainted with members. I’ve begun conducting interviews containing open-ended questions, both with members who have been there from the beginning, and others who have joined recently. Since their current focus is preparing for the ‘Taste of Turkey’ festival, which begins on the 13th of October, I’ve been observing their process of preparation and I’ve found that their clear dedication translates to their desire to represent Turkish history in a manner which reaffirms the importance of retaining cultural knowledge. In my short time back with the association, it’s clear that these members don’t just come here to dance.

A Voice That Is Not My Own

I was told, prior to beginning this project, that we should welcome the chance to be challenged. That we, as academics, historians, teachers, gatekeepers to knowledge, will be resisted. That we may find ourselves in a position where we must cautiously navigate the work we are doing. Working with an all-female rehabilitation and recovery centre, Jarrah House, I was conscious that I may be somewhat out of place. That I may even represent an intrusion into a safe space. That I would be a would inspire suspicion, apprehension and a disruption to routine: routine which is central to feeling safe, secure and stable. These feelings of being challenged are important: they remind me of the role I play in promoting change.
In this space, I am emblematic of a system which, in part, has restricted the voice of these women. I am the dominant voice, in a space where we are all conscious of my privilege.
I was originally going to title this blog post “A Moral Oral Tale”; I was going to write about the importance of my historical method, my purpose, the ethics of talking about and with, women with addiction. I was going to write about the importance of oral history in understanding our history (PSA: it still is!). It took me a while to realise that this frame of thinking – objective, treating the people I work with as ‘subjects’ or conduits of the past – is entirely counterproductive to the work Jarrah House does. It is counterproductive to the shift we need, as a society, to reshape our understanding and stigmatisation of, and relationship with, physical and mental illness. I was going to conduct an historical approach which distanced myself, and my voice, from the lived, often traumatic experiences that Jarrah House works with. Yet, we need some of that subjectivity which History is often afraid of. We need the humanity, the empathy, the desire to understand. In doing so, we can be a part of change.
Thus, we come back to voice. Agency, autonomy and control over voice are vital to the ways we navigate our social landscapes. By all means, I will be using oral history at the crux of my project. But, it won’t be to methodically report on objective facts, statistics around addiction, or quantitative measures of lived experience. It won’t be to distance myself from potential traumas and hard realities. It won’t be to accomplish something easy and safe.
In short, it won’t be to deliver my historical platform, or my voice. This project is more than a Moral Oral Tale. It is a platform to promote the vision of Jarrah House: social justice, de-stigmatisation, the gendered experiences of addiction, feminism. A vision which should be a vision we all are striving for. It is a platform to engage with the voice of the people in this space most silenced. Silenced by systems, by bureaucracy, by their addiction, and if we’re being honest, by men.
I was talking to my father about this project and the nature of addiction itself. Let me make it clear now: I’m no expert about addiction. But it was significant to see the conversation of addiction (read: a conversation about social justice) having relevance in my life. Having relevance in the lives of others. He asked me, “Why would it help to read other people’s stories? Don’t they just make you miserable?”
Whoa. It struck me how relevant this question was in everyday conversations around this project; why would we want to share in someone else’s experiences, when it can make us sadder? This question, since then, has remained with me. Why does it help to read others’ stories?
It cannot be the old saying, that ‘misery loves company’. Misery is too self-absorbed and all-consuming to want much company. We don’t read stories for the sake of reading of them. We don’t have a vested interest in other people’s lives – the high and the low – to make us sad.
I don’t have an answer yet. Maybe this project will take a step closer to answering that question. Hearing someone’s story is, in essence, an oral history. So, in acknowledging I have no answers, I would take a stab at answering the question:
This is the way that misery does love company: People, when reading something this significant, are relieved to learn that they are not alone in suffering. That they are part of something larger. In this case, a societal plague – an epidemic of children, an epidemic of women, an epidemic of families. It promotes voice. Agency. Autonomy. Respect. It validates emotion; it reminds us of our human histories. In speaking with people at Jarrah House, it is evident that others’ experiences help with an emotional struggle. In writing these histories, we are promoting empathy; in reading these stories, we are wanting to empathise and understand. And, if you ask me, this has such a beautiful opportunity for us as historians, as teachers, as learners, and above all, as humans.

‘A Mind to Change’

When I think about what I love about history, it’s the stories that have been hidden in plain view around us. Growing up in Balmain I have always been fascinated with the suburb’s history. From photographs and maps, to stories of Aboriginal people driving kangaroos down through the suburb for food, and children sneaking through the Balmain East’s underground tram weight, local histories have always intrigued me and captured my imagination.
The Balmain Institute is a not for profit organisation that hosts public talks and discussions on topics such as science, arts, health, education, governance, economics and the environment. Established in 2010, the Balmain Institute has links to the former Balmain Workingmen’s Institute. From 1863, the Institute provided Balmain residents with intellectual stimulation, recreation and companionship throughout the years. Furthermore, the original Balmain Workingmen’s Institute saw Balmain transform from a blue-collar area to a gentrified, predominately middle-class suburb.
Last Thursday I attended the Balmain Institute’s monthly seminar. Feeling quite nervous, I was pleasantly surprised to find a friendly group of about 50 Balmain locals. All from different walks of life, these people were here to listen and learn. This month’s speaker was Dean Parkin, the Executive Director of the Uluru Education Project, which aims to drive awareness of the Uluru Statement from Heart.
After speaking with Margaret Vickers, Treasurer of the Institute, we began to develop an idea for the project. Looking at maps of the suburb, I will produce a project that will chart how the suburb has developed since it was established in 1836. Taking inspiration from the websites ‘Digital Harlem: Everyday Life 1915-1930’, and ‘Phila-place: Sharing Stories from the City of Neighbourhoods’, I will use the Leichhardt Historical Journal and the numerous maps of the suburb to develop a website showing the changing nature of the suburb. Drawing on the stories of local residents, shopkeepers and locals, I hope to create a project that will be useful for not only the Balmain Institute but also Balmain’s resident past, present and future.
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Rule of Law – 3

The state of the Rule of Law globally is beginning to consume me. Sitting in the NSW State Library on Wednesday this week I found myself being confused, perplexed and horrified all at the same time. It appears to me that the world is slowly but surely falling apart.
In Australia the rule of law is almost guaranteed. It isn’t guaranteed in our constitution like it is in the USA (The Bill of Rights, being the first ten amendments to the constitution, protects the rule of law) but it is generally upheld steadfastly by our support of an independent judiciary and the bicameralism of our government system. The upper house can more or less guarantee that no one party can hold an absolute majority and, although this has happened in the past, it does not mean that the constitution can be changed through parliament, with a referendum being necessary to change the constitution.
This is not the case in Hungary. In 2010, a disenfranchised and angry electorate elected the right wing politician Victor Orban and his Fidesz Party to power with a two thirds majority in the Hungarian Parliament. As Prime Minister, Victor Orban had a large enough majority to change the constitution through uncontested legislation. Immediately the government introduced their own constitution and took control of the judiciary, essentially creating a democratically elected autocratic state. Now having the power over the courts, there is no force with the ability to declare anything he does within the country as unconstitutional. Thus we have seen the end of liberal democracy in Hungary. This story is not limited to Hungary. Poland has introduced similar measures and has begun to systematically undermine the post-Cold War liberal democracy.
This project has begun to open my eyes to an issue of unparalleled importance and has left me feeling a sense of dread. Will this just be a case in the fledgling democracies of Eastern Europe and Asia, or will history repeat itself with dramatic consequences.


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Born and raised in Western Sydney, you could say I was a true, proud Westerner. Attending school in the Eastern suburbs of Sydney, I was exposed to complete opposite sides of Sydney, yet was always drawn to the West. My heart. My home. Even attending the University of Sydney, where a large percentage of students come from North Sydney, I had always been identified as the segregated Westerner so when the opportunity came along for me to create, design and direct my own project, it was inevitable I wanted to work within the suburb I love and am so passionate about.
I ran into more than the usual bumps along the journey of finding an organisation. I had little to no luck, with one organisation who originally gave me a positive answer initially pulling out at the 11th hour…I was in tears…literally. I sat in class in week 7 and heard the chitter chatter of my colleagues boasting about their organisation and how “amazing” they were and they were almost done and here I was, back to square one. My search began again. Exhausted, running on no sleep, I contacted as many organisations as I could and, just like that, the Parramatta Heritage Centre waltzed in and saved me from drowning in my own tears…literally.
The Parramatta Heritage Centre, located in the heart of Parramatta, houses thousands of photos, letters, articles, journals, artefacts, memorabilia and writings from convict Parramatta to current times. It allows the public to visit, view and learn about all sources within the centre, 7 days a week. I was quite shocked that a heritage centre was open 7 days a week. It truly shows that it caters to families, including working parents. To me, that’s extremely important as centres like this should be accessible to everyone, during weekdays and weekends.
First day seeing all the sources they had and I was thrown into a huge pot of CONFUSION. It was hard enough I had no idea what to do for my project, but I had a plethora of sources to choose from that it made me stress out even more. Being a natural stress head and a perfect perfectionist, I knew right then and there that I was in for a fun ride.
I met with the archivist and curator of the centre, who were both so welcoming of me and my ideas. I wasn’t sure who was more excited about our collaboration, me or them! Although I wanted to do something within the centre itself, it already had an established website and presence within the Parramatta community. So, I sent my brain on yet another intense brain storm and a huge light bulb lit up! I wanted to use the sources that the Parramatta Heritage Centre has to present the Western Suburbs of Sydney and all it has to offer. How I’m going to present this info and what i’m going to present is still way up on cloud 9 at the moment but the ladies at the centre have been so helpful in bouncing ideas off me when I’m going off on a ramble. I was, also, thinking of doing a “Then & Now” website that shows the progression of the city and how far it’s come. This can also be something that I can add on in the future or pass down and future generations can add to it. Hopeful thinking but never say never!
Despite the challenges involved with working with an organisation that is already established in the city, I look forward to working with people who have extensive knowledge and stories about the city and the sources they look over. Daily visits to the centre will assist me in my project and move further along to completion.