Rehema Barry from Multicultural Development Australia (MDA) shared her personal story of inclusion in Rockhampton. Rehema was studying in Brisbane for over three years when she met her husband. Shortly after marrying they agreed to move to Rockhampton. Rehema soon became apprehensive about the move after speaking with her friends at university.
“I talked to my fellow students and they said, ‘You’re black. You shouldn’t go there. Everything we hear about Rockhampton is racist.’ I went home, and I cried. I was a single mum and I was kicking myself. I have a son. He is black. I have made this decision just thinking about myself and didn’t think about my son. Before we moved, my husband took me to one of his friend’s houses for dinner. He was an older man, in his 60s. We started having a conversation and I told him how I felt and where we were going. He said ‘Well people tell you what they’ve heard and in Australia it would be what they have heard through media. But my advice to you is it doesn’t matter where you live, you will find people that are good. Whether they are good to you or not depends on how you present yourself.’
“I went home feeling much better. And I came to Rocky. We moved here three weeks after we got married and my experience was there are lovely people here. I mean, I have been here since 2004 and the one-off moments when someone has said something to me about my colour is so negligent it is not even worth mentioning for me. The interesting thing with Rockhampton was there was only one other person when I came here who was African and we just made a point to connect. I was very fortunate because he was actually from east Africa which is the neighbouring country from where I am from so it felt like I had someone.
“But it felt so alien to arrive in town, in a big city, and there was only the two of us who are Africans. I am only saying this because now there are a lot of Africans but there is still a lot of breakdown in relationships because Africa is huge. When we come together as Africans, we’re still very different. The cultures are different. We all speak English when we are together so therefore a place of inclusion for the African community is a place where we can all go and get to know each other because even though we feel like we are sisters and we know each other really well there is no space to just go and get to know each other.
“So I think it would be really good if Rockhampton had a community centre where people can come together over a cup of tea. Everyone just comes in, has a cuppa. It doesn’t matter what you do. Because the other thing that has comes into play in my observations since I came to Rockhampton is that there is the migrant and the refugee. The migrant is very clear about what they are going to do. It doesn’t matter if there is someone else next to them. But their needs are different. The refugee has a very different need.
“For them to be able to be with other people who have the same story, have the same history is comforting. Whereas migrants a lot of the time have chosen to come here. For them, the community doesn’t so much have to accommodate them as such. They come in, they find their place, they find a job, they go to work. When there is a lot of hurt and pain, it is good to go to a place where people are just sitting together and it’s comforting.”