Belgium Avenue Neighbourhood House worked with members of the community and Public Art students from RMIT to create the Space Between Light Festival on the Richmond Public Housing Estate. This video outlines the community development process behind the festival.
I’ve been living here since 2016, so four years this year. I’m an artist and a rapper, and I do an event called High Rising Hip-Hop with the Collingwood Neighbourhood House down at the underground car park. I guess I saw a gap with a lot of hip-hop and open mic stuff, there was a place nearby but it was really white and just dudes. People would assume that I was just there to watch, I’d be queuing for ages and I’d just be pushed out of the way, and the one time I did get to go up people would just be real sleazy to me. There’s so many amazing artists that I know that live on the estate, and so many amazing programs for young fellas to do hip-hop around here and I just thought it’d be cool to have something that bridged that gap. I feel like a lot of other spaces are really competitive and quite negative as well, there can be a lot of dissing culture and stuff like that. I heard about what a friend of mine was doing over in Footscray with positive rap battles and I thought that’d be a cool thing to incorporate. High Rising Hip-Hop is a space where people can mess up and practice doing freestyling and practice some of the stuff they might be writing or working on as well as come together with more established artists and adult MCs and perform together and make those connections so they can start getting paid gigs.
Isolation has been up and down for me. I really like my weekly structure so losing that has been the hardest thing. I have been visiting some elders to take them their food, just dropping it off on their doorstep. It’s meant I’ve been able to visit them kind of regularly from afar and that’s kind of kept me connected to community.
I was born on 20 August 1948. I came to Australia in 1996 to get married. I was married for 10 years but then we got divorced because there was some domestic violence. Now I live alone. I have been volunteering for the Vietnamese Women's Association of Victoria for 12 years. I have received lots of certificates from the City of Yarra and the Vietnamese Association. At the moment I’m not doing any volunteering jobs because I need to rest for my health, but I am sewing masks for people in my community.
I am normally a very active person, but COVID-19 has limited this. I feel bored because I usually join a lot of activities in the community, so at this time I feel a little bit isolated because I can’t see and talk to everyone and I can’t go shopping either.
I’ve lived on the Collingwood housing estate now for three years; it’s actually the longest I think I’ve lived anywhere. Previous to that I did a lot of travelling around the world, I’ve had many adventures. I have a project called United Struggle Project, which is a music, arts and theatre based collective. We do a lot of social justice theatre, art and music. I’m also in a political hip-hop group called Combat Wombat.
I have four kids, Amper Sonic, Nunei, Sambewa and Bassi. I’ve been a full-time Mum for 16 years, so the lockdown hasn’t been anything too out of the ordinary for me. I am really concerned about my friends overseas who are living in a lot poorer conditions and don’t have access to the medical and welfare that we have here. I guess that’s my biggest concern in the pandemic, how they’ll survive isolation when for a lot of people isolation means starvation.
During this time for us in Australia, most of us are living quite comfortably, we’ve got access to community and support, but for refugees, people in detention and people in prison, life is a lot harder and they’re at a lot more risk than the rest of the population.
I came here from East Timor in 1975 when I was 28. I’ve been living in this apartment for 40 years. I never moved. When they fixed it up I told them I wanted to come back to this flat because it has a good view and it’s up the top, nobody makes noise, so we can sleep well here. All my children grew up here, I have 3 children, my eldest is 38.
I’ve been to England, Portugal, China and Macau. It’s very nice but it’s not like Australia. Australia is a lucky, lucky country, Australia is the best.
I’ve worked a lot of different jobs. I was a kitchen-hand in Chinese restaurant and the boss taught me how to cook Chinese food. Every week I made $100. $20 AUD in my country is like $1000. When I went back to Timor I told them “I’ve got money now, I’m rich”, and I bought them lots of gifts. In my heart I’m very happy.
My grandfather was Australian Aboriginal. He lived in Timor where he was a boss, like a king, but not rich like the King of England, but it meant people respected us. We went everywhere, we travelled. When we walked outside we were safe and people knew who we were.
In the 70s and 80s I couldn’t go back to Timor because they were still fighting and I was scared to go there, but after that I have been back every year. This year I can’t go because of the travel restrictions, maybe next year I can go back.
During the lockdown I’ve been staying home, but going to the supermarket and gardening. I do have lonely days, but every Thursday I do gardening with Cultivating Community. I grow yams, sweet potatoes, vegetables and chillies.
I live here with my ex, he’s still my best mate, he was my first love too. I’m the youngest of five kids and I grew up on a 40,000 acre property in Cunnamulla. I didn’t have a lot of time to explore who I was or what I loved so much growing up. But I don’t regret it because I got the knowledge of the land of Australia and animals. When I was 17, I moved to Sydney and I was sort of thrown in the deep end. I’m 28 now and I’ve probably been homeless about ten times. I’m not a bad housemate or anything, it was just certain unfortunate circumstances. I had two suicide attempts at 19 and 21.
This apartment is my first place to call my own. I guess people think the homeless need a bed or an actual room, but in my experience people just need a safe place to rest their head, that’s why I’ve taken in about 80 people to stay here in the 2 years that I have been living here.
Coronavirus has taught us that placing so much value outside the body in material things isn’t good. When people are chasing all their own wants and their needs, they then forget to aid the needs of others, needs such as medical, home, food. Once people stop chasing money so much they’ll do what they really love and what brings them happiness, creativity and passion.
I think the media is such a strong force. It can be used to tell the truth but also incite fear. It’s a real feeling but it’s not a real thing, because your fear is usually for the future and the future hasn’t happened yet.
I’ve been living in this unit for about 20 years on and off. I was my Dad’s primary carer here before he passed away. I grew up on the estate, from when I was about 14, so 22 years. I turned 36 in June.
I run the Collingwood Underground Roller Disco, which is an all-inclusive event in the underground car park on the estate. I’m also working on a new event to celebrate Tavares Lane, which was named after my late-father Antonio Tavares. It’s the first street to be named after someone of colour, the first non-colonial name and the first name of someone from public housing, which is cool.
I’ve found isolation a bit difficult. I’m a professional musician, a singer, and all of my events have been cancelled. It’s been sort of nice to have a break from gigs, but I guess the break without anything else to do is like “oh ok, we’re all in forced lockdown”. I guess we’re pretty lucky to be in Australia. I’ve been watching a lot of Netflix, playing video games. I have been working a little bit.
I’m 45, I’ve lived in Collingwood for about a year and eight months, and I’ve been in Melbourne for 18 years. I'm originally from Adelaide. When I was 20, I went to the Gold Coast, stayed there for about 7 years, worked there, that was great. And then I came down here and there’s been a bit of trouble down here, it’s hard to get work. I’ve just been put on the pension and it’s hard, but you get by. I live by myself, I’ve got my own place. I go to the Neighbourhood House when I can, when I remember. Sometimes they do bacon and eggs, it’s good.
The lockdown has been pretty hectic, it’s pretty weird and bizarre. I don’t mind keeping self distanced, but outside it’s like a ghost town, so it’s a bit scary. It’s full-on weird. It hasn’t affected my own life much though.
NICK, LOULA AND ROBBIE
Nick: We met in November 2017 and little Robbie was born two months ago, right as the lockdown started. I suppose the lockdown was in some ways a blessing as it’s meant that a lot of the crazies haven’t come round, you know? The downside has been that my Mum was in Melbourne a week before he was born, and it was almost two months before she could actually see him until they relaxed the visitation stuff. So my Mum and my sister came around and met Loula and Robbie for the first time, a few weekends ago. They spent a few hours here, my Mum spent most of the time very close to tears, but still it was cool.
Loula: I’m from South Sudan, I’ve been in Australia for 12 years. Robbie is my fifth baby; I have five boys aged 9, 7, 5, 3, and 2 months.
Nick: I’ve been living in this flat since December 1st, 1999. When they got renovated I was up on the 20th floor for a little while, then I’ve been back here since. I actually moved back in here on my son’s 18th birthday, so we celebrated his birthday in here, the same day that we finished putting all the furniture back in.
I came from Vietnam to Australia in 1991. I didn’t come as a refugee, I came here for a family reunion, because some of my children had already moved to Australia as teenagers.
When I first arrived I wasn’t working. My daughter was 5 at that time and she had a disability, so I spent my whole time taking care of her and my children. I looked after her until she was 23 years old, when she was killed. It’s taken me a long time to not feel stressed about it. It really affected me and my mental health. Time flies so fast, it’s already been twelve years since it happened.
My life hasn’t changed much during COVID-19. I take care of my husband who is sick. We receive a home care service so we have a support group carer come once a week. She helps us with shopping too.
I’m 16 and I’m still at school, but it’s all online at the moment. It went online at the start of this term, they cancelled the last week of school last term.
I’m terrible at art and music but I’m good at PE. I’ve stopped doing any sports right now but I want to get back to it at some point. I’m in Year 11 at school so it’s an important year, that’s why it’s even harder doing it online.
I’ve been in Australia for about 15 years, I came from Mexico in 2006 because my first child was born here. I seperated from my partner about 5 years ago but we are still friends and I see my kids often. One is 10 and one is 14 now. After we broke up I was pretty much left in the streets, homeless, I didn’t know where to go. Someone told me that there was a squatting community in Bendigo Street where I could go to live so I went there and I found some good friends, like family. I had full time work at that time, I was an engineering welder and boilermaker. It was a hard time, squatting was pretty tough. It’s good, but tough.
I was squatting for pretty much 5 years, but there was always police there, they were trying to kick us out, but it was good for me to stay there because it was a good community, you know, I was not feeling alone. I got this apartment about a year ago, so I’m happy. It was hard for me to say goodbye to squatting, because there’s a lot of good things going on there.
Up until February I was working in a good job for a steel company, working on the metro tunnel. I was welding and making structures. It was a very good job. When Coronavirus hit Australia they said there’s no more work. I also play music, drums, percussion. I’ve been playing for a long time. I also make jewellery, handmade jewellery using organic materials, using macrame. The lockdown has been OK for me, I am using the time to be creative and make jewellery and music. I like running and juggling. I’m keeping myself busy.
My kids are on a farm in Warrnambool with their Mum, so it’s good for them. I haven’t seen them for 2 and a half months. I have to keep myself busy. Their Mum usually lives in Melbourne, they went there to get away from the virus, she’s very responsible. I know I can’t be there because we’re not together. But I wish I could be with my kids. When I see them we just have so much fun, and I call them, to see how they’re doing, and it sounds like they’re having a great time, they’re doing well. She says about two months, I say woah, another two months! As long as they’re happy and safe, it makes me feel ok. I just have to keep going with my life.
Kate and Sally
8.5 and 6 years old
It’s been fun being home. We jump everywhere. We’ve got our own computer and we write some things to our friends. We don’t really miss school!
I came to Australia in 2004 for marriage. I live here with my husband and two children. When I first came to Australia it was hard for me because of the weather, the winter times! I couldn’t do anything and the language barrier was really challenging for me. I’m from Cambodia, but I also speak Vietnamese. I learned Vietnamese in Australia, from going shopping and meeting people. They told me to not be scared to make mistakes speaking, so now I can speak Vietnamese fluently.
COVID-19 has affected my family a lot. I feel very stressed. Before the lockdown I sent the children to school, but now they are learning from home. The lockdown and home-schooling has been really stressful as I don’t have good English skills to help them with homework. It’s very hard to go shopping and there is limited time to go outside. I try to lock down in my house. I go outside maybe once a week or once a fortnight to buy food. Now I know that Belgium Avenue Neighbourhood House has food relief donations, I can go there instead, I’m very thankful for that.
I’ve got a lived experience with mental health. I got diagnosed close to 20 years ago, I was on medication for 10 years, and have been off it for about 10 now. So I’m always trying to learn ways to help identify and manage my stuff. When I was on medication I wasn’t really looking at my mental health, I was just taking my medication. Now I live with it, rather than in it. Daily reflections and practising mindfulness is really helpful. Being grateful and humble for what I’ve actually got. My diagnosis was depression, anxiety and agoraphobia, but it’s systemic from post traumatic stress from when I was little. But I feel pretty good now! I do school crossings for the City of Yarra. I’ve been doing that for just over two years. I’ve been living in this place for close to 10 years now.
Isolation has been OK. My job as Crossings Supervisor was put on hold and then we weren’t sure if we were going back, so I think that three week period there I was starting to go a bit stir crazy towards the end because I wasn’t sure if I had a job to go back to. My gym had closed down so I wasn’t able to go, that was part of my regular routine, and mental health.
Actually for me – it might sound weird – but it’s actually helped me that society has slowed down. I can get caught up with keeping up with the pace of society, so everything quietening down has actually helped me and enforced my journey about where I’d like to go with my mental health.
I was born in England, I came to Australia when I was fourteen, and finished my education in Australia. I went crazy when I was about eighteen and have been in and out of psychiatric hospitals ever since. I feel I’ve put something into society because I’ve had a lot of people study my case over the years, you know nurses and doctors, they thought I was a bit interesting. I’ve lived here 20 years, I like Richmond.
The COVID-19 situation has been a bit hard, it’s not as good as normal. I can’t go and do my music and table tennis, I can’t go and sing in the choir. I’m missing that but I’m managing. I miss going out for coffee with my friends. I go out for coffee about three times a week usually, and the Camberwell Market, once a week regular as clockwork. I’m missing all that.
I came to Australia as a refugee from Vietnam. After my family and I crossed the border from Vietnam to Thailand we spent seven months in a refugee camp before we finally came to Australia by boat in 1982.
The lockdown period has reminded me of the hardships I faced when I first came to Australia. My daughters have advised me to stay at home and not go out. I’ve felt a bit lonely because I can’t go to the neighbourhood house to join the music activities but I try to keep healthy and think positively.
Isolation for me was a double whammy because my spinal injury limits my ability to go out and meet people. If it were not for the Meals on Wheels people, I would have very few people coming in to see me. I think the health workers are to be admired for all the wonderful work they’re doing. And for all the complaints we have for our politicians, compared to overseas I think they are doing a brilliant job.
I’ve been switching off the news and watching as much comedy as I can instead. We’ve got to learn to laugh and enjoy the things we have rather than lament the things we don’t have.
JIAN Y ZHANG
I’m from China, I’ve lived in this house for nearly 20 years. My brother lives in the building next door. We came here together from China to Australia in 1988. When I arrived in Australia I worked at a shoe factory and at a restaurant. Then I studied English for a few years. I’m living in this house because I’m sick, I’ve got diabetes and I can’t sleep, so I can’t work, I had to stop working.
I have been staying home to stay safe from Coronavirus. I like singing, so I sing at home, and I rest.
The Chinese community here is very good. I go to church in Richmond every week - Saturdays and Sundays. It’s closed at the moment due to Coronavirus, but it will reopen. Now I only stay home.