Friday, May 29, 2015

Launch of Faces, Places, Races: Migrant Stories from the Hornsby Shire

My exhibition Faces, Places, Races: Migrant Stories from the Hornsby Shire was launched by the Mayor of Hornsby, Steve Russell on the 29th of May, 2015.  It was a wonderful evening and a great celebration of the stories and journeys of the 24 migrants who took part in this project. I am so inspired by the stories I heard that I plan to expand this project and document the stories of migrants around Australia.  Here, I include my speech at the opening.  

Good evening everyone and many thanks to all of you for coming along to our opening. Mr. Mayor, thank you for your kind words. We do appreciate you taking the time to open this exhibition. 

Let me begin by thanking Hornsby Shire Council for accepting my proposal to collaborate on this uplifting project for HeadOn 2015 – Australia’s largest Photo Festival!  I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to work with Council on this exhibition and wish to thank Joanna Joyce in particular—for her advice along the way, with the selection of the images and for keeping me on my toes with tight time frames.  Thanks to Michael Brown as well, who helped me with the hanging and for organising the opening.  It is thanks to Council’s networks that many of the participants in this exhibition came forward and I am grateful to the exposure created by your emails, Facebook groups and word of mouth. I am also always grateful to my partner Steven Liaros, a son of migrants himself, who is my constant support and always encourages me to push the boundaries.

Today, we are here to celebrate the stories of first generation migrants, people who were born overseas and found their way to our beautiful Bushland Shire. This exhibition would not be here without the 24 wonderful people who stepped forward to share their stories.  I want to thank each of you for your honesty, your patience and for letting me in to your lives, to document your stories and your journey to get here. 

The stories of migrants are the stories of Australia. The threads of our lives, woven together make up the colourful tapestry that is our island home.  As a migrant myself, I find the tales of my fellow travellers fascinating. What drives someone to pull up stakes and travel halfway across the world to re-start their lives?  We know it isn’t easy to leave behind our friends and family and the safety of our comfort zones. Yet, something inside of us propels us to do so. 

The stories I heard were incredibly diverse and included snippets of loss & courage, love & hardship, adventure & desire, opportunity & aspiration, and the search for a better or different life as well as a new place to call home.  Some people left because they felt there was no other choice; others simply because they wanted to discover who they were, or to reinvent themselves. 

The migrants I interviewed felt a huge sense of gratitude to Australia, their adopted home.  They are connected by a desire to give back and to maximise the opportunity that has been afforded them.  They appreciate the egalitarian nature of this country and revel in the sense of freedom and peace
they experience here in the land of opportunity. 

This exhibition celebrates the diversity that abounds in Hornsby Shire.  I have interviewed first generation migrants from every continent except Antarctica and know there are many more of you out there who may wish to share your story.  Please do contact me if this is so, as I dream of expanding this exhibition to document stories of migrants all over Australia, not just in Hornsby. 

Today, let us celebrate the lives of those who took their destiny into their hands and made a conscious choice to become Australian.  Let us not lose sight of the fact that we are a community of migrants and we would not be here without the hard work of those who came before us and that we can continue to grow with the contribution of those who are yet to come here.  Let us continue to be a society who welcomes new migrants and who eases their transition to a new life.

As a child, my mum always told me, that the more you give, the more you get back.  As I grow older and reflect on the life she led I see the wisdom in her words.  So, let’s embrace diversity, let us not be fearful of those who are different to us but learn from them. Today, please join me in applauding the 24 stories of migrant journeys that have been documented here. 

As you read their stories, reflect on these words by Lyndon Johnson.
 “The land flourished because it was fed from so many sources―because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples”.

Thank you

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