“We Are Here” is a world-first project with three aims: to showcase the creative talents of people who have experienced homelessness (creative goal); to explore understandings of PLACE amongst this diverse community (research goal); and to challenge stigma and stereotypes around homelessness (activist goal).
Writing workshops: in August 2018 a group of writers began meeting for a series of workshops in Melbourne, run by writer and researcher Meg Mundell. All participants had experienced homelessness.
From day one, people’s creative talents shone through. The group included new, emerging, and experienced writers. Everyone had stories to tell, and participants found themselves in fine company. Most of the creative works published on this site were written in those weekly sessions.
Together the writers explored special places, childhood memories, nature, the city; memorial sites and beaches, safe havens and lost landmarks; migration and belonging, home and its absence. We redesigned Melbourne, sniffed out the past, mapped our lives and histories.
Project partners: the “We Are Here” project was made possible by the generous support of the City of Melbourne, StreetSmart Australia, Launch Housing, Roomers Magazine (Elwood St Kilda Neighbourhood House), The Big Issue Australia, Council to Homeless Persons (Peer Education and Support Program), Affirm Press, Writers Victoria, The Wheeler Centre, Unison Housing, Deakin University and web developer Tony Neylan. Thank you to all our wonderful supporters for believing in the value of this project.
The research project: the “We Are Here” research project seeks to explore understandings of place amongst people who have experienced homelessness. Anchored in cultural geography, this multidisciplinary research uses creative writing, in-depth interviews, site visits and participant observation to elicit new knowledge about the links between place, narrative and homelessness. The results will be shared via academic journal articles, conferences and public talks. Some initial findings, focused on participants’ understandings of “home”, was presented at the Australian Institute of Geographers conference in Hobart, 9-13 July, 2019.
Most of the writing published on this site was created in, around, and between our weekly writing workshops in winter/spring/summer 2018.
A couple of pieces were also written independently before this project began.
Workshops run until mid-December 2019, with new work being created every week, so pop back soon to see what the writers are up to!
Workshop writers: meet a few of the writers who took part in the 2018 workshops…just some of the talented people featured in the book (out mid-November 2019).
Book contributors: writers & artists
Alex Presincula, in fiction, is the third dragon rider in all dragon-inclusive stories. In reality, he’s a budding writer. Alex has collaborated with musician Baz Kaybee on a biography, has edited for Phantasmagoria Magazine, and is currently working with artist Ben Coy on a short comic. Alex expanded his writing skills at RMIT University doing a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and later, at Victoria University, studied Professional Writing and Editing. He’ll collab, produce and edit for 10,000 hours, or until he can add a literary award to his biography.
Alice Star is a creative person who loves to write, sing and make art. Having experienced trauma and violence early in life, she is on a journey of recovery, healing and creativity. She now works as an advocate and educator, drawing on her lived experience to help improve knowledge and understanding around homelessness.
Andrew Bairn is quite reserved and generally keeps himself to himself; he is quietly spoken too. Don’t get me wrong, he is very friendly and quite funny. He says he is from Scotland but he speaks like a New Zealander. You can tell he is quite smart ’cause he reads books. Not sure what he does for a living; I’m pretty sure he told me he was homeless for two and a half years. He is about 50 and has messy hair. ‘Keeps to himself …’ That’s what the neighbours always say about serial killers and folks who write …
Ayub Abdi-Barre arrived in Australia as a six-year-old refugee from Somalia. Placed in foster care, he later became homeless. Ayub now lives in a share house in Carlton North and is happy to call Melbourne home. Passionate about social justice, he works as a political advisor on topics such as the Australian–African community and the environment, and assists people from low socioeconomic situations to find safe housing. Ayub also has an obsession with sports – whether watching or playing – and is happy to strike up a conversation about climate change should the opportunity arise.
Behrouz Boochani is an award-winning Kurdish–Iranian writer, journalist, scholar and filmmaker. He holds an MA in political science, political geography and geopolitics. From 2013 to 2017 he was a political prisoner incarcerated by the Australian government in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre (PNG); in 2017 he was moved to the East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre. A senior academic at UNSW and the University of Sydney, Behrouz writes for The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, Huffington Post and The Sydney Morning Herald. He co-directed Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time (2017), collaborated on the play Manus, and wrote No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison (Picador 2018), which won the 2019 Victorian Prize for Literature.
Benyam Seifu, born 1984. An artist, in pieces. An artist piecing together the jigsaw of his mind. An artist trying to make sense of the pieces. An artist trying to make peace. It’s a long road, a damn long ride. No guarantees. No easy redemptions. Benyam is a writer, musician, artist and activist born in Ethiopia, raised in Australia and living in Mexico. Everywhere and nowhere is home to him, from rural Japan to big-city Colombia and everywhere in between. He is committed to performing, collaborating and participating in as many different projects and mediums as possible, all over the world.
Bob Love: I am 76, and was raised a very proud Westie in Blacktown, Sydney. I had a slightly dysfunctional childhood and education, leaving school at fifteen, but luckily, learned to read at a very young age. Reading has been my saviour in life, getting me through good and not-so-good times. I love volunteering, helping people and living my life, trying to be fair and reasonable to everyone. I survived alcohol, mental illness and injuries with the help of many people and the great love of my life. I settled in Melbourne forty-odd (some very odd) years ago. In my early years I read and dreamt of many places around the world. In the past fifteen years, I have lived the dream and visited most of those places.
Cheryl Schalks: as a child, I thought the world was against me. I was an only child, adopted and continually bullied. My joy and escape was my championship swimming – I wanted to be the next Dawn Frazer – and my writing. I wrote poetry, short stories and my daily feelings into a journal. Losing my mum at an early age, I gave up my swimming but kept up my writing. I have had a few articles published in The Big Issue and want to finish a book I started a few years ago about addictions.
Claire G. Coleman is a Wirlomin Noongar woman whose ancestral country is in the south coast of Western Australia. Her debut novel Terra Nullius – published in Australia and the USA, and written on a second-hand iPad in a caravan – won the Norma K. Hemming Award and a black&write! Fellowship, and has been shortlisted for the Stella Prize and an Aurealis Award. Claire has written essays, short stories, reportage and poetry for publication on multiple national platforms, and is a popular speaker and storyteller. The Old Lie (Hachette, 2019) is her second novel.
Debi Rice was born and raised in Victoria’s Western Districts. She never knew her father, and was raised by her mother. At nineteen Debi became pregnant and was married for two years. Moving to Melbourne, she worked in the public service, in factories and shops, and as a disability support worker. She has survived ten years of homelessness, various mental health issues, and prolonged domestic violence. She is strongly committed to social justice, and gained a Community Development degree as a mature-age student. Now a free-spirited sixty-one-year-old, she loves her children and grandchildren, and works as a professional advocate and guest speaker.
Declan Furber Gillick is an Arrernte artist, playwright, author, broadcaster, performer, musician, recording artist, educator, filmmaker and activist. He lives between his hometowns of Alice Springs and Melbourne. He holds a Masters in Writing for Performance (VCA), and a Melbourne Theatre Company residency. His play BIGHOUSE DREAMING, touring nationally in 2019–20, has won three Melbourne Fringe awards and two Green Room awards. Declan records and performs as rapper/producer KNOMAD (debut record Love and Politics Pt 1, 2019), and works in community/youth education as a creative writing teacher and hip-hop facilitator. He’s working on a play commissioned for Ilbijerri Theatre Company, and a major stage work, CUCK: Portraits of Nation.
Devana Senanayake is a journalist and radio producer focusing on gender based violence, race and immigration. She contributes to South China Morning Post, VICE, ABC, SBS, Meanjin Quarterly, Overland Literary Journal, Archer Magazine, Voiceworks Online, Going Down Swinging, Liminal Magazine, Eureka Street and Djed Press. In 2017, she won a Writers Victoria Women of Colour Commission for her essay ‘Misplaced in Pop’, about the misplacement of South Asian actors in Western media. She has taken part in documentaries made by the BBC, Al Jazeera and ABC, and created an immigration-focused audio documentary, The Modern Odyssey, for All The Best, 3CR Community Radio and Multicultural Arts Victoria.
Gavriil Aleksandrs is a Melbourne based queer transman, bush camping enthusiast, Buddhist, conservationist and social worker in his ‘early mid-forties’. He worked in the family violence, disability, mental health and homelessness sectors for over fifteen years before pursuing his dream as a policy wonk. Gavriil enjoys writing non-fiction, fiction, essays and poetry in equal measure. He just asks that you love nature back.
George Zammit-Ross (formerly Georgia Simon) has survived being hit by a train at age fourteen, being raped and sexually abused by family members, and experiencing homelessness. Despite all this trauma, and living with an acquired brain injury, George has been an actor, model, personal trainer and disability support worker, and is now the primary carer for her wife, who suffers from Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. George has travelled throughout Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Mexico and South America, and is now writing her first children’s book and her memoirs. She and her wife live in Brunswick West with their beloved cats and a lifetime collection of books.
Gregory P. Smith was born in 1955 and surrendered to an orphanage in 1966. He was considered a problem child, diagnosed as a ‘sociopath’ with midrange intelligence, and was in and out of institutions until 1974. Searching in vain for the skills to live a fruitful and rewarding life, he became increasingly disillusioned with society, and lived as a recluse in a Northern NSW rainforest. In 2000, he decided to give society one more chance, walked out of the forest and began to explore life from a different perspective. In 2007 Gregory gained a first-class honours degree in Social Science, and in 2015 he completed his PhD. He is the author of the memoir Out of the Forest (Penguin, 2018).
Jo French works and walks beside the beautiful Yarra River in the leafy suburb of Warrandyte, where she is a journalist for the community newspaper, The Warrandyte Diary. Jo enjoys meeting the people in her community and telling their stories, and writes a regular column, ‘Corner of My Eye’, where she explores things that may otherwise go unnoticed. Her own story starts beside a river in Tasmania and meanders its way towards this place she now calls home, which she shares with her husband and children.
Jody Letts is a former defence force worker who found herself living out of a van in the Melbourne CBD while suffering from work-related injuries, illnesses and mental health issues. Jody is committed to sharing her lived experiences through the Peer Education and Support Program (PESP), run by the Council to Homeless Persons. Working with PESP, Jody educates members of the public around homelessness and advocates for positive change. She also contributes to consumer participation activities with Dental Health Services Victoria and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Jon Bauer has written stories, books and plays, some of which have been performed, aired and published. Most notable was Rocks in the Belly, which was listed for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, won Best Debut in the Indie Book Awards, was shortlisted for the International Dublin (IMPAC) Literary Award, and aired on Radio National. He now lives in England where he is a practising psychotherapist and still pretty much a writer. He’s currently working on a book for an Australian publisher and trying to avoid any mention of Brexit.
Josiane Behmoiras is the author of Dora B: A Memoir of my Mother, published in Australia, the UK, Germany and France, and shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards. Her essays and short fiction have been published in Heat, Meanjin and Island Magazine, among others. She holds a creative writing PhD from the University of Melbourne on the topic of acceleration, deceleration and the literary imagination of the future.
Katara Jade is a community worker who has been homeless many times throughout her life, starting in early childhood. Despite this, she has worked her way through university, achieving a BA in Social Science (Honours: Sociology) at Macquarie University, and has studied memoir-writing with Writers Victoria. Currently Katara works in mental health with Wellways Australia, while studying a Graduate Certificate in Developmental Trauma with the Australian Childhood Foundation (ACF). She’s enjoying the fresh sea breeze of the Bass Coast in Wonthaggi, two hours south-east of Melbourne, while saving to buy a home in the Latrobe Valley, Gippsland.
Krissy Kneen is the author of the memoir Affection, the novels Triptych, Steeplechase, The Adventures of Holly White and the Incredible Sex Machine and An Uncertain Grace, and the poetry collection Eating My Grandmother. She was shortlisted for the Stella Prize and won the Thomas Shapcott Award. Krissy has written for film and TV, and written and directed documentaries for SBS and ABC TV.
L. Hammond Lewis is an artist and teacher living in Victoria. They have completed a degree in visual arts at the University of Melbourne and exhibited their work both nationally and internationally. One day L hopes to write a book, but between art-making and gardening, it is very hard to find the time.
Liz Jett grew up in country New South Wales, in a single-parent family that moved around a lot. She has worked in retail, aged care and local government, and also has a decade of experience as a sex worker. After escaping a violent marriage, she gained university qualifications in social work. In her early fifties, she is now a mother, activist and educator.
Mariann Biron was born in Hungary and has been selling The Big Issue for sixteen years. Before that she was a journalist, but her heart is set on writing fiction. In recent years she has published a short story and several articles in The Big Issue, and did a brief stand-up routine at the Melbourne Comedy Festival. This taught her that writing funny is easier than talking funny onstage.
Mouchi Latina: I don’t know where I was born. It’s a mystery to me. I don’t know where I originate from. I know I exist. I celebrate my existence, for it’s all I have. I hope I’m not going mad. I do have a home, which is good.
Paul Harper: born 1959. Two-thirds hydrogen, one-quarter oxygen, one-tenth carbon.
Paul Berrer is an animal rescuer and devolving poet. Previously from Melbourne, he now minds houses across rural Victoria. Paul has published a book of poetry, Rats Live on no Evil Star (2012), and was the winner of the 2013 Malthouse Theatre Award for Excellence in Creative Arts. He has published short fiction in The Lifted Brow, and is now working on his first collection of short stories.
Patrick McAnelly the writer is 57 years old, and has read and written since his earliest memories. The reading outstripped the writing, and living and feeling outstripped both. Now, at the age of slow memory and clear answers to life’s complexities, he wants to try and record living, feeling and thinking. Most of all he hopes to record the wonderful familiarity and connection with the people of this place, no matter where or how they live. Equality and compassion, spread wide in language and life … if he can, he will.
Rachel Kurzyp is a Melbourne-based freelance writer, business owner, speaker and teacher. Her work has been featured in The Age, The Guardian, SBS, Daily Life, Frankie and The Big Issue, among others. Rachel is currently in the process of writing her first book, a memoir on what it’s like to overcome childhood trauma. Knowing firsthand what it’s like to be homeless, Rachel believes that everyone has the right to have a place they call home.
Roderick Waller was born in Yorkshire in 1948 to a working-class family of ship builders. In 1971 he immigrated to Australia. He has worked as a jackaroo, a UN economist and a consultant in developing Asia–Pacific countries. Two passions are nature and creative writing. Rod has read his writing publicly at The Wheeler Centre, Yorkshire Winter, Apollo Bay Writers Festival, and Roomers magazine events. Founder of the Port Vila Poetry Society (Vanuatu), he is gregarious by nature and inherited from his father the dry wit of Yorkshire humour. A staunch AA member, he’s had four years of happy sobriety.
Sharon Bowden: I am a senior citizen who has experienced homelessness. For twenty years I had a fulfilling career as a chef, but had to stop when I developed severe arthritis. Now at I live at Common Ground/Unison Housing, in Melbourne. I am lucky to be here. I really like my home and the people I have met. It is good to have a place of my own, and the security that comes with it.
Sue Tan was born in Indonesia. She followed her parents to live in former North Borneo, and more recently followed her adopted son to live in Melbourne. Having experienced homelessness, she is able to see life from other perspectives. She likes to write something real and simple about life. She hopes to contribute and write more in future.
Susan McDonald-Timms: I’ve always felt homeless, even when I had a home. Deep, deep inside. And in the end, it didn’t matter what happened on the outside, or what anybody did. I’ve lived in mansions, top hotels and dirty bungalows, been chased, ignored, loved and rejected. Thing is, I took the best ideas I could come up with to solve that inner not-belonging. And now I realise that my best solutions not only failed to heal the inner abyss, but indeed, drove me from living with this endless internal feeling of homelessness to being externally homeless as well. Oops.
Tanya Page has been writing short stories for Roomers community magazine in Port Philip for three years. She studied Anthropology and French in the National University of Ireland from 1990 to 1993, when she completed her Bachelor of Arts. In 1994 she went on to study Development Studies at the Development Study Centre, Holy Ghost Fathers, in Dublin, Ireland. Tanya has a strong interest in community development. This is her first professional publication.
Tarryn Reid is one of those grown-ups who has never forgotten that she was once a child. And so she writes about adventures in magical lands, real and imagined, and the familiar strangers she encounters wherever she goes. She defines herself as a writer, an environmental conservationist, an animal rights advocate and a feminist. Though not nearly as refined, she also accepts the title of bread enthusiast. She loves exploring the world as much as she enjoys lounging indoors with dear friends, good food and far too many books.
Thuy On is a Melbourne-based literary and arts journalist and critic. She has written for a number of publications, including The Age, The SMH, The Australian, Books + Publishing, Australian Book Review and ArtHub. Thuy is also Books Editor at The Big Issue Australia.
Wahibe Moussa is a performance-maker, writer and actor. A respected cultural/language consultant in theatre and TV, she also writes short fiction, poetry and performance installation that explores the exchange of power in our everyday relationships. She both writes from her own experiences, and collaborates with Australian Indigenous and refugee artists. Wahibe has acted on TV and in independent theatre, and in 2007 won a Green Room Award (Female Actor). In 2016 she directed the hugely successful remount production of Tales of a City by the Sea, which toured to Adelaide, Sydney and Kuala Lumpur. She is now developing her short stories and poetry for publication.
Wendy Butler started writing in 2000. She began by writing 1001 stories about her time living in the Hollywood Hotel in St Kilda. Then the Hollywood closed, and Wendy moved to the Gatwick Private Hotel, also in St Kilda, where she continued her writing, documenting life there. Most of Wendy’s writing is published in Roomers magazine, and as a loud and proud technophobe, she is delighted to know you won’t be reading her work online anytime soon. Wendy only produces work in either handwritten or spoken-word form. As she enters the ‘third age’, stay tuned for some real insights into ageing.
FOREWORD WRITER: Tony Birch is the author of four short story collections and three novels. The White Girl (UQP, 2019) is his most recent book. He works on climate change research at Victoria University in Footscray.
EDITOR: Meg Mundell is a novelist, journalist and social researcher. Born and raised in Aotearoa New Zealand, she lives in Melbourne with her partner and young son. She is the author of The Trespassers (UQP, 2019), Black Glass (Scribe, 2011) and Things I Did for Money (Scribe, 2013), and has published in Best Australian Stories, The Age, The Guardian, The Monthly, Meanjin, Cordite and elsewhere. A former deputy editor at The Big Issue Australia, Meg has worked in homelessness policy, as a nightclub DJ and as a low-budget pantomime performer.
The anthology showcases the talents of 37 writers and 4 visual artists. Themed around “PLACE”, and featuring full-colour images and artworks, it’s a powerful collection of true stories that illuminate, challenge, and re-imagine our place in the world.
“A beautiful testament to survival, resilience and hope.” – Ben Law
Along with a wealth of unsung and emerging talent, We Are Here also features new work by award-winning authors, including Krissy Kneen, Behrouz Boochani, Claire G. Coleman, Josiane Behmoiras, Gregory P. Smith, Jon Bauer and Thuy On, with a foreword by celebrated novelist and short story writer Tony Birch. The book was edited by author and academic Meg Mundell (The Trespassers, 2019; Black Glass, 2011). Thanks to a 2019 City of Melbourne Arts Grant, all the writers and artists were paid.
Drawn from real-life experiences, the writing in We Are Here is original, sharply observed and honest. From the Wurundjeri people’s traditional fishing grounds to the humid hell of Manus Island; from gentrifying Saint Kilda to the tough streets of Bangkok; from dodgy boarding houses to remote cattle stations; from dingy back lanes to exclusive art galleries – We Are Here offers fresh insights into how we experience, imagine and understand place.
By turns heart-rending and humorous, gritty and erudite, these tales offer glimpses into emotional landscapes both unique and shared. Expect a book that will surprise, delight, and challenge; an object of beauty that honours the stories within; 40+ thought-provoking tales on a topic that connects us all.
PLACE is the unifying theme. Around half of the pieces touch on personal experiences of homelessness; the rest explore place in all its multifaceted richness, delving into themes of belonging, memory, home, childhood, hope, loss, community, and city life. Contributors were not required to publicly reveal their past or present living circumstances.
Place = meaningful location.Places are where our lives happen, whereour memories are made, where our relationships form – and where they are tested. Places shape who we are, and who we become.
>How is “homelessness” defined?
In Australia, “homelessness” covers a range of experiences: living in a caravan park, rooming house, refuge, crisis accommodation, or transitional housing; squatting, couch-surfing with friends or relatives, sleeping rough or in a vehicle, or living in other precarious, overcrowded, or temporary forms of shelter.
Experiences of homelessness vary widely, but common threads include poverty, inability to access the rental market, and a mix of other structural, socioeconomic, and/or personal barriers to being safely housed. The biggest contributing factor to Australian’s fast-growing homelessness crisis is a chronic national shortage of affordable housing.
> Who funded the project?
The book project was made possible thanks to a 2019 City of Melbourne Arts Grant, which provided funding to pay all the writers for their work. Affirm Press covered the costs of producing and distributing a handsomely designed full-colour book. The entire CoM grant was used to pay contributing writers and visual artists, and to fund two public events – a sold-out launch at The Wheeler Centre, and a public reading in early 2020. Any profits from book sales will be donated to the project’s four key non-profit partner organisations, and used to fund creative programs for people who have experienced homelessness.
Place is a common thread connecting us all: places are where our lives unfold, where our memories are made, where our relationships form – and are tested. Places are emotionally loaded, and rich with stories. We yearn for lost places, retreat to safe havens, venture into uncharted territory. Places shape who we are, and who we become.
But how do people who have lived without a secure home understand place? How does homelessness shape the places and people you encounter, and the way you think about belonging, home, and community? How does being “out of place” – without a home – affect how you experience the world?
Australia has a large shadow population of people for whom homelessness is a daily reality. Numbering around 116,000 nationally, they’re a diverse group: daughters and mothers, nephews and grandfathers; older women, tertiary students, Indigenous Australians and immigrants; people who’ve worked hard, raised families, lived full lives. Yet while they share our common humanity, “the homeless” are often stereotyped, vilified, dismissed, or blamed. They are spoken for, and spoken about; their voices seldom heard, their creativity often ignored.
We Are Here sets out to change that. This exciting collection is the first book-length work to showcase writings by this diverse and overlooked group of Australians.
>Who’s running the project?
The “We Are Here” project is run by Melbourne-based novelist, journalist, and academic Meg Mundell (author of The Trespassers, UQP, August 2019; and Black Glass, Scribe, 2011). A former deputy editor of The Big Issue Australia, Meg is now an interdisciplinary researcher exploring place, narrative, homelessness and spatial justice. To stay up to date with the project, and for details of public events, follow Meg on Twitter: @MegMundell