Sara Saleh acknowledges the presence of complex histories and relationships that exist in communities and reflects in the role of art to tell these stories. Sara was the lead poet in workshops at Alexandria Park Community School in 2019.
I thought long and hard about how much to divulge in this piece. I want to acknowledge the school and the space and trust given to us to work with the students, which came with its own set of challenges.
I also have a responsibility to the students themselves, and to the truth, to document and record, to question and critique.
It is incumbent upon me to also acknowledge the complex histories and relationships that exist, and that I traversed whilst being in this space. And it is precisely why it is so important in the art / practice of story-telling that we facilitate platforms to allow the voices at the centre, the community lighthouses to shine bold and bright, so that they may dissolve the barriers, the misconceptions, and take full ownership of their own narratives.
What is happening in Redfern to local Aboriginal communities has been on my mind a lot lately. One of the issues with rapid gentrification of neighborhoods is the failure to provide appropriate resources and adequate support for its local communities to keep up. They are not listened to, nor are their struggles to self-determine on a local level supported. They are denied opportunities that impact their ability to livea fulfilling and rich life. This contributes to the existing structural and systemic adversities they face and further marginalises.
Neighbouring Alexandria Park has a history of over-policing, which should come as no surprise given the history, the demographics, and its own dizzying round of gentrification.
During one of the poetry workshops, we witnessed a disturbing incident which involved the police coming to the school. We were told by students this is not an unusual occurrence.
They were visibly distressed, some more than others. This manifested in their poems, and they wrote with honesty and emotion.
“They treat us as trouble”
“The police come every day...But no one wants to explain”
“I can’t be myself here...I don’t belong here...”
This is precisely the reason why we need to ensure the students aren’t isolated or feel as though their neighborhood (and they) are being viewed through this prism of ‘trouble’ or ‘problem’. Art is one avenue to build individual and community resilience.
In places of despair, there are always those who fashion themselves into lighthouses. They ask themselves, what is the alternative?
The loud hearts took up this mantle, writing with an optimism and openness and talent I hope is fostered and expanded.