68. AWAG – African Women’s Action Group

2 Aug


As I sat down on a comfortable cushion and sip my deliciously spicy traditional Somali tea, I found myself surrounded by the warm smiles of the young women of the African Women’s Action Group (AWAG). They had a stall at the 2016 Banyule Youth Fest. It was decked in colour, overflowing with artwork depicting the henna tattoos they were creating for visitors. Tea and biscuits were in abundance and their good cheer was infectious.

Omayma, who has been a member of the group since its beginnings when she initially “fell in love with it”, told me that the group was formed as a way for young Somali Australian women living in Banyule, to come together and help enhance their sense of community and inclusion.

In today’s world, many women who wear the hijab face discrimination and persecution. This forms part of the reason why the young women of AWAG are eager to share stories at the festival about the positive work of their group, to counter such negative stereotypes.

When asked whether her hijab has resulted in negative judgments from other people, Omayma said, “Personally, I have not experienced discrimination. But I know other girls have, yes. I remember hearing a story about a friend who had been asked why do you wear a tea-towel over your head? I was shocked.”

As explanation for these comments, Omayma emphasised how spreading awareness is vital.

“A lot of people just don’t know what it means to wear hijab. It’s all about how people grow up.”

“We are spreading the word about what it means to be African. The group is really peaceful and we hope to share the message that it’s important not to categorise us with a small minority.”

Omayma also said “Some of the really positive things we’ve been doing include basketball tournaments, henna workshops. We think fitness is really important. For us, we do cover up… but we still want to be active and to take care of ourselves.”

Last year, AWAG organised an African Basketball Tournament, as well as working on making a gymnasium accessible for African women.


Aisha is a youth worker who is a part of AWAG. I get a chance to chat to her at a later time and even away from the vibrant atmosphere of the Youth Fest stall, Aisha visibly lights up as she talks about the work she does with AWAG. Just like Omayma, Aisha is proud of how AWAG is making sporting and fitness facilities available for girls and women.

Aisha became a youth worker because, she says, “I had grown up as a young Muslim woman in Australia myself and I guess I could have done with a role model or someone who had that experience, to help me out in my youth”.

“AWAG came about because there were a lot of Somali women in the Banyule community, but there wasn’t really a voice … or really anything happening for the Somali girls. There are a lot of recreational opportunities for the young Somali boys… but there haven’t been those opportunities offered to girls,” Aisha says.

“There are girls sports teams they can join, but nothing that would accommodate their faith as well, spaces where they could go and be comfortable to take off their hijab.

“[It’s important] to give them those opportunities to have those recreational activities where they feel comfortable. That is what we’ve been doing,” says Aisha.

Aisha has fond memories of helping to organise a weekly basketball event at an indoor court.

“Everyone would chip in what they could to hire out a court, and we would then just get plastic sheets and cover up the windows!” Aisha says, with a laugh as she remembers these makeshift facilities. “So then everyone was comfortable to take off their hijabs and really get into it.”

“Organising small things like that gave me the energy to want to… do it on a bigger scale, where it becomes normal and we don’t have to put up plastic sheets on the windows and it’s a normal thing for Muslim women to want to hire out a court and have those facilities available to them.”

Aisha said they are starting to see this happen now, with connections to the local leisure centre enabling women’s-only gym sessions on Sundays.

“It’s been received really well by young and older women! It was funded for a couple of hours a week at first, as a trial and it’s been really successful. They’ve had the gym packed out. They haven’t seen it like that in years.

“The numbers were kind of crazy – it was like sixty odd women in the gym in the first few weeks! Now, it’s not as much but it’s still a really good amount every week. That showed everyone that there is a demand and a need in the community,” says Aisha.

“We have other long-term plans like that, for accommodating Muslim women in these spaces.”

According to Aisha, “the Banyule Council has been really accepting of that and wanting to do as much as they can to accommodate the needs of the Somali community. They are respectful of the culture as it is, as well. [There is an understanding that] the needs are different for the boys and the girls, which has been really good.”

Aisha reflects on the upbeat and inclusive vibe of Youth Fest, saying that AWAG’s participation in the event was simply “the best”.

“It was nice to just be there with all the girls. There were a lot of people who … did not expect the Somali community to be at Youth Fest.  To have that [positive] response there and get in really cool conversations with people and sort of break [down] barriers, even in a really small way, was really good,” says Aisha.

“It felt like the start of something that maybe hasn’t happened before in this area. Most people were just really accepting and loved seeing the diversity that was there at Youth Fest.”

In the future, Aisha wants to continue working with young people and, in particular, young girls. She hopes to encourage them to pursue their dreams, no matter their religion or background.

“I want to inspire young girls to be able to go as far as they want in any career, to be proud and accept themselves for who they are, to be proud of their religion, their culture and their heritage and to not feel like it will stop them from getting anywhere or [making] the life choices they want to make,” Aisha says.

AWAG is certainly an avenue for making this a reality, with leadership training opportunities for its members.

“We do some leadership work with the young girls too, trying to inspire them and connect them to women who have gone through what they are going through and who have achieved lots [whether it be] at uni, or after they’ve graduated and are working,” says Aisha.

“The idea of AWAG is for the girls in AWAG to advocate for the rest of the young women in the broader Somali community. They themselves may go on to inspire younger girls.”

The young women of AWAG are impressive in their ability to handle whatever life throws their way and are spreading a message of empowerment. According to Omayma, one tricky issue can be dual nationality.

“Culture is a really important thing for me – but sometimes it’s confusing being raised in a Western culture… I stay true to myself. Just be who you are and I think it’s ok to take what you want from your culture as well as the society you live in.”

“To any girl who is afraid of wearing the hijab, go out and do it if you want. Be strong. Stand up for your beliefs.”

Words: Annabelle Pendlebury

Photo: Jason Rohmursanto


67. Skye Lacy

5 Jul


In a mere 17 years, Skye Lacy has managed to contribute so much to their school and community. Skye is agender, using they, them and their pronouns. They are an open, engaging and passionate person who attributes their journeys in the past few years and into the future to a wide variety of influences and a person who finds meaning in helping others.

But as Skye says coming to where they are today has been a long and arduous process, beginning when they moved to Victoria from Emerald Beach, a small town on the central coast of New South Wales before moving to Victoria in 2014.

“When I was younger, I had no idea about the world,” Skye says.

They describe moving from a town with “3000 max” people to 4 million as a shock, especially as they had never been exposed to the LGBT community before – something that is now an integral part of their life. They recount using slurs frequently, not knowing what they meant.

“Even when I go back there now, my friends say stuff like ‘that’s so gay’ and it’s confronting,” they say.

Skye cites Minus 18 – an organisation dedicated to LGBT+ youths – and their school counsellor as two things that opened their eyes “the world beyond what [they] knew” and their own gender and sexuality.

They recount becoming aware of sexuality before gender, coming out as bisexual first.

“I vaguely use pansexual now but I go out with whoever I want to go out with at the time,” they laugh.

“Gender came a few years after that, around the time that I cut all of my hair off and started wearing whatever I actually wanted to wear. My views on the binary genders changed to more than just male and female.”

Skye identifies as agender, meaning that they do not associate themselves with being male, female or both.

“If you’re thinking about a line as a spectrum [of male and female], draw a little dot away from the line and that’s of where I am,” they say.

As Skye began to realise and understand their gender identity, they came out to their family.

“My parents are really accepting so coming out to them was really easy and my sister, coming out to her was really easy as well.”

Skye recounts that coming out to others wasn’t as easy though as they were “forced out” of the closet.

“I wouldn’t say that it was a coming out story for the ages or anything but I told a couple of people that I was bisexual (which is what I thought I was at the time) and the next day the entire school knew… It was confronting having everyone know and having that vulnerability thrust upon me but I was at a point in my life where I thought ‘I’m just going to take this in my stride, I’m just going to deal with what I have been dealt.’”

Skye regards coming out and developing confidence in your identity as a long process that they are still going through.

“It’s been years of challenging my ideas on the world. It’s been years of people challenging me for who they think I am and who I think I am. It’s been years of facing stereotypes and years of facing judgement.”

Skye began to work with Banyule Youth Services’ Rainbow Space (formerly known as Queer Sphere) around 2 years ago, attending the weekly/fortnightly meetings, although with a busy year 12 work-load it is difficult for them to attend as regularly now.

Skye has run workshops for the Rainbow Space with other group members. In 2015, they ran one of the first IDAHOT day workshops but Skye says that it wasn’t as successful as they all hoped it would be.

“We tried to cram too much into one day,” they explain.

“The year after that, we did a poetry workshop which is probably still to this day probably one of the most beneficial things I’ve ever done in terms of poetry,” Skye says, adding that they go to live poetry events now as they love it.

“It was really interesting and what [poetry] people came up with on the day was so diverse. It was still a small group but it was such a diverse group of people.”

“We’ve made Banyule a safer space in the 3 years I was there. I know it’s been running longer than that but just in the three years I was there we’ve done so much for the community and I just can’t begin to imagine what we can do in 3 more years.”

As well as being an agent for change in a community space, Skye has been an integral member Viewbank College’s Stand Out group as part of the Safe Schools Coalition. After Skye first came out, they contacted a teacher at the school to put up anti-homophobia posters around the college. The teacher later contacted Skye to ask if they would be interested helping to create a group for LGBTQ+ students, an offer that Skye quickly accepted in the hopes of helping other students like themself.

“If I can do anything, it’s helping people – that’s what I love to do,” they say.

“2015 is when we officially came together as a group and I don’t think we had a name for a very long time. It was just me, Mr Murray and Ms Moss for about six months with the help of [school counsellor] Rose [Gray] with Ms Craze [principal] coming occasionally.”

“We went to our first pride march in January 2016 with a school banner and around 30 people, which was really awesome. We ran our first IDAHOT day [at the school] which by all means was like the first Rainbow Space IDAHOT day – too much stuff on one day. This year’s IDAHOT day ran a lot smoother,” they say.

At this year’s IDAHOT day, there was a pledge against homophobia and transphobia printed on a large canvas that was signed by the whole school, students and teachers alike. The pledge now hangs on the wall of the school library where is can be seen by everyone.

“That being signed by the whole school is a great thing to be left behind and doing Pride again this year with double the amount of people [than last year] shows how far we have come, especially with our principal marching with us in the first year,” Skye says.

“Having the head of the school marching with you at the Pride March is such an awesome experience and having people shouting things from the side-lines, like ‘yeah, Viewbank College,’ [is great because] schools are so well received and there aren’t many schools there,” they explain.

Skye has also recently been fundamental in Viewbank College’s decision to un-gender the school uniforms.

“That started with me around the time I was coming to terms with who I was in terms of gender. I started asking Rose (school counsellor) and the assistant principals if I was allowed to wear the shorts and every time I got told no. Not particularly by Rose, who was very supportive and probably one of the main reasons why I was so comfortable with being ‘out’ at school. It was being knocked back for about 2 months but [the issue] was finally pushed to Ms Craze’s desk and she said yes. I remember being pulled out of class, into the science corridor and Rose was there and she told me I was allowed to wear the shorts to school. It was one of those moments that doesn’t really sink in until later so I was walking home from school and I started crying,” Skye recalls.

“From there I began seeing more people around the school wearing shorts and I thought ‘this is awesome’. It wasn’t just guys, everyone was allowed to wear shorts. That moment of pure relief that I felt really motivated me, I wanted it for everyone.”

“When the Stand Out group began talking about wanting to change the uniform I was like ‘yes, let’s really try.’ I remember Ms Moss creating a Google Doc for us to put our arguments in and she was expecting dot-point arguments and I remember going in there and writing out an entire 1000-word essay on why we should have ungendered uniforms at school, and what that would mean in terms of physical activity and relief, I included as much as I could to make it persuasive – I looked at my persuasive techniques for English,” they laugh.

The petition was then sent to one of the school’s two assistant principals who passed the motion immediately.

“It was really relieving, her saying ‘you’ve done it, we’re changing the uniform.’”

“It was another one of those moments. I went home and called my mum and dad and said ‘listen, look at what I can do.’ It was like I was leaving something behind that everyone else can use. The next step is getting it formally published. We were all ready for a fight and the fact that it came so easily has us on edge as it hasn’t been announced yet.”

Skye cites their biggest achievement as “working hard towards something” but they have small achievements on a day to day basis.

“It could be getting 3 hours of study done without stopping, which is a great achievement for me considering how much my anxiety [can] affect my life.”

“[The ungendered uniforms] stand out as my biggest achievement for the school,” Skye says.

They also do other volunteer work outside of school for Arts Project Australia, a non-profit organisation and gallery that showcases the art of artists with intellectual disabilities. They have been volunteering there for two years, going in on every Saturday from 10am to 12pm.

“I go there and I help with everything that the two workers can’t cover at that time, whether that be assisting artists in getting paper, cutting paper, cutting out something, printing things, cleaning their workspace, getting paints, et cetera.”

This volunteer work has helped Skye to realise a future career path – Art therapy, saying that it is combining their two favourite things, “art and helping [others].”

“It’s not highly paid… it’s not the profession you go into if you want to earn a lot of money, it’s a profession that you go into knowing that you’re going to benefit the world around you. That pretty much explains the kind of person I am.”

Skye says that their volunteer work at Arts Project has taught them many things, like human differences.

“Everyone is the same, everyone just wants love and acceptance, everyone just wants humanity shown to them. I think my idea of disability and LGBT has changed so much having done the things that I have done and having met the people I have met. My acceptance of difference is probably a lot higher than other peoples are.”

Words: Eloise Derrett

Photo: Luca Johns



66. Liz Wyndham

15 Jun

DSC_0206Liz Wyndam is the community engagement practitioner at headspace Greensborough. As I chat with her in one of the light, airy rooms of the headspace HQ, I discover that her passion for her job of “providing young people with real, practical, relevant information” concerning well being is absolutely infectious. She explains how young people “energise” her so much in the social work field, as they provide a “beautiful mix of challenges, resilience, hope and energy.”

She illuminates me as to how the strength and dedication of young people is sometimes “understated” or perhaps not considered enough by people. She loves being able to change this in her job by helping to bring “resources together in the community (and) taking people’s creativity and helping make (their projects) work.”

Liz has undoubtedly had quite the journey to reach the buzzing career she has now. There is an air about her as she delves into her past as a younger social worker and juvenile justice worker.

A significant moment in her life is when she moved to Perth to help facilitate local as a family support worker. This is where she developed her niche, her passion for community development work and assisting young people with “complex support needs.”

Some of the young people that helped Liz nurture her creative side were the young custodians of the Parkville Youth Justice Centre. “Working in that structured environment can be a challenge…it makes you explore your options in terms of creativity.”

Sometime later, she began to add her spin to the Banyule Youth Services, where she was drawn to since “young people inform the heart and direction of the programs,” and everyone “uses their skills in the best way.” Liz proves to be no exception!!

In terms of what she has learnt in the field, she iterates to me that “humans can do horrendous things to each other,” so that’s why it’s important all young people have “a safe space…unconditional positive regard, (and to be) aware of the support around them.”

When I ask, tentatively, what Liz does when faced with some of the serious and difficult aspects of her youth work, her smile does not falter as she declares “keep perspective, check in with yourself, and then journey on.”

For young aspiring youth workers in university and high school, Liz advises: “find a mentor, there’s no need to have all the answers, practise self-awareness and compassion to challenges in the workplace.”

When I ask her for any final sentiments, she says “young people are brilliant. They explain stuff to me- help me stay relevant. It’s the best job in the world.”

Words: Taylor Carre-Riddell

Picture: Jason Rohmursanto


65. Barb Collard

15 May


Barb’s journey to where she is today

Barb Collard has always had a strong inclination to help and support others, which eventually lead to social work. Barb is now a passionate, seasoned veteran in her profession, with next year marking 31 years of doing social work.

“As a uni student, I worked in aged care doing dishes and that sort of thing, so I was heading towards a helping profession. Social work seemed to fit the bill,” Barb says.

In the early days, Barb says she was unsure about which pathway was right for her. After tossing up between a career in teaching and work in the Allied Health Field, Barb says she decided to chat with some social workers, who were working alongside her mother in local government.

“I actually went in Year 10 to talk with them about the work they were doing. That was really useful,” says Barb.

Around this time, Barb also became involved with voluntary youth work with some weekly youth groups and state-wide camps, which helped seal the deal when it came to social work.

After completing her HSC, Barb went to Monash to do a Bachelor of Arts and then a Bachelor of Social Work. She says she finished university at quite a young age, around 23, deciding not to take any gap years.

Now, Barb is “a trained social worker and family therapist”.

“For the last 15 years (and I’ve had some other jobs alongside this), my main job has been the Mental Health Promotion Officer at the Austin, in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS),” says Barb.

“It’s a role that is based around community development principles, but the Austin CAMHS, as we are known as, work with young people under the age of 18 who have mental health issues,” Barb says.

Barb’s role involves strengthening referral pathways and working with families, carers, schools and young people to connect them with the supportive services offered by the Austin CAMHS.

“Often we do a lot of work directly with schools and wellbeing staff … So in some ways I am doing a lot more community engagement work than, say, counselling. I also do education around child and mental health issues to schools and agencies.

 “It’s a great job because it’s really broad. Because I’ve been at the Austin for around 20 years now, I have a long history and I also know a lot of people in the networks these days,” says Barb.

Barb’s career highlights

“I always loved working with children and teenagers. I have sort of specialised in working with children, adolescents and their families throughout [my career],” says Barb.

“What I like about [this] is you can see change. I am quite passionate about trying to assist with change and giving opportunities or [providing] support. You get a lot of satisfaction or feedback when you are connecting with children, young people and their families.

“Having children myself now, you realise how challenging it is to be a parent and bring up kids. Not that I think I would change anything I would have done in my twenties or thirties before I had kids, but there is another level of empathy that I see with my middle age,” Barb says.

When I ask Barb about her achievements, the first topic that Barb mentions is how proud she is of the young people she has worked with throughout her many years in the field, as this is clearly where her priorities lie.

“When I was doing case management, there were a few stories around individual young people that would really touch you and you see change through the work that you’ve been doing with the young person and the family.

“There have been a number of stories of young people throughout the years [that have stood out],” says Barb.

 Barb is also particularly proud of the work being done by the new youth advisory group called the ‘Super Hornets’. The group of young mental health consumers (who have previously been treated by the team at the Austin and have now taken on the role of advisors) provides feedback that is used to improve the services offered.

“They have been through mental health issues and got support from our service, but they want to give back. They keep us honest really, to make sure we are relevant and doing what we should be doing. They’re a great group of young people.

 “The other side is the young people that are currently clients,” Barb adds.

“I run a group on the adolescent unit once a month for feedback with the young people that are admitted into the unit. It’s a great group.

“They give us really honest feedback about what it’s like to be there, how we can improve things and it’s just a real privilege to be able to get direct voice from young people. They’re great fun, on the whole!” Barb says.

Barb then tells me about some of the most moving work in her career.

“I think one of my significant career experiences has been the bushfires. I had the bushfire portfolio for the Austin CAMHS and so for five years I did a lot of work with the communities and schools that were affected by the bushfires. So that was a career highlight and I think that was really significant,” says Barb.

“There was a lot of trauma, but also a lot of hope. Just seeing how resilient people are was a real privilege, particularly in areas like Strathewen and King Lake West.”

Barb also notes when “you are involved so closely with people’s lives, you do take on some of the stress of that”.

“I think to be a social worker in whatever field, it can take its toll so you need to be careful to also look after yourself. To last this long in a helping profession, you really do need to make sure you’ve got good support… That’s one of the very solid things about working at the Austin,” says Barb.

The SAFEMinds initiative

Thanks to her expertise with mental health and young people, Barb was given the opportunity to be involved in setting up the SAFEMinds initiative. SAFEMinds is a learning and resource package that caters to schools and families, in order to help improve early intervention efforts and enhance mental health support through the engagement of schools, parents and carers.

“It’s Department of Education funded,” says Barb. “They contacted headspace National to get a team together to work on a project that assisted schools looking at anxiety, depression and self-harm.

“We delivered around Victoria. So I was doing a lot of travelling. That was amazing – particularly with wellbeing teams and schools,” Barb says.

“And long ago, I always thought either teaching or social work, so it sort of met both needs. I was working with schools and teachers, which I really enjoyed.”

“We’ve really picked up some of the gaps – as well as working alongside children and young people, it’s parents and carers,” Barb says.

Barb is also very committed to ensuring schools are supporting their students.

“I think schools play a huge role in making sure that they have a relationship with their students. And that’s not just around academic goals, it’s also around wellbeing. Schools are in such a privileged position to really build relationships,” Barb says.

“When a young person isn’t going so well, all sorts of things can happen – and, I mean, just adolescence is hard enough! But schools should be watching out and noticing when someone is not travelling well. They should know where to go and where to get help.

“That’s really what SAFEMinds is promoting as well, which fits well with my approach,” says Barb.

Barb’s outlook on mental health

Barb’s suggests that for anyone who is struggling with mental health issues, “make sure you are letting others know, if you can, that things are tough for you”.

On this note, Barb stresses the importance of “making sure there are opportunities for kids to know where to go for help”.

A well-versed authority on young people and mental health, Barb is as passionate as ever about seeing services in this area continue to improve.

“There are lots of gaps still in supporting young people with mental health issues – kids slip through and don’t get the assistance they should,” Barb says.

“A lot of that is to do with funding and priority of Government. I worry about the under twelves because of the lack of resources for under twelves and their families. If we can support children and young people as early as possible, [I] hope that once they hit adulthood, they can get back on track.”

In terms of her career, Barb still has a lot lying in store for her, saying “I’ve still got challenges and I’m not bored. I really like the system’s work”.

“Even though I’ve been at the Austin for many years, I’ve done different roles and had the opportunity for that,” says Barb.

Besides, Barb says, “passing on your knowledge and experience is really satisfying, when you realise you actually know something after all these years!”

Words: Annabelle Pendlebury

Photo: Jason Rohmursanto




64. George Giuliani

12 Apr

DSC_0178George Giuliani is the CEO of not-for-profit E-focus, an employment and community development centre in Heidelberg. The service aims to help people from all walks of life in Banyule, particularly youth to access training, apprenticeship and careers counselling who might otherwise struggle to do so on their own. Aside from the vision, I immediately see why the organisation is so successful- the office feels just as friendly and supportive as its CEO.

George leads me to his homely office and is keen to get to business. He says “(it’s about) really hearing what people have to say, engaging in their stories…that’s true throughout all of life.”

All E-focus’ services and programs embody this sentiment well. From the Disability Employment Services, Training and Apprenticeships, to “just helping people look at their options and talking about their ambitions,” E-focus “…blends training and support” in a way that helps people feel welcome and cared for.

George becomes delightfully animated as he emphasises that one of the key things he’s learnt in his career for anyone to gain employment is that “relationships (are) the building blocks…use networks, friends and family that you know…don’t just rely online.” He also drives home the point that a key part of not only finding a job but staying in the workforce is “transferring your passion into work.”

George lives up this idea spectacularly. He says helping people in a humanitarian way is “in his blood” as he “comes from a big (Italian migrant) family.” George completed year 12 (HSC in those days) but did not pass enough subjects to go to university. In his mid-20s after a variety of jobs and five years as an upholsterer he studied youth work and then family therapy part time which eventually put him in the position to “study a doctorate in social work…so as to have a theoretical framework (to work with.)” Such a framework has helped George connect and help people with the challenges they face and contribute to government social policy on employment / unemployment.

The challenges that Banyule faces in terms of employment and upholding livelihoods include catering for “an aging population (and) young migrant families from Somalian, Lebanese and Sudanese communities,” as well as “helping young people and people with disabilities enter mainstream employment.”

To continually meet these challenges, E-focus’ programs have evolved overtime, along with the local community, just as the “nature of work has changed,” George said. Therefore, the programs emphasis on things like “soft skills, how to keep self-motivated…how to relate to your employer” are core elements of helping people get back to work.

George is eager to discuss the importance of not only overcoming challenges that your work faces but also meeting the challenge of taking care of yourself. In finding “a professional balance…you need to care about what you do, and have solid motivation, but…also practise self-care. You need to not burn out, or else you get detached.” George says that his “family life and (having) tough beginnings” have served as the most personal growth for him, and have also given him the biggest personal rewards.

The best professional reward, George believes that E-focus successfully continues to meet Banyule’s challenges. The organisation continues to thrive and outlive George’s vision of “encouraging people to be the best they can be and giving them the credit.”

This is because George and the 75 E-focus members of staff continue to acknowledge that Banyule is diverse, constantly finding ways for “different groups to interact with each other, to gain mutual understanding and engagement in different cultures and lifestyles.” This way, George explains, “…we can be respectful of difference…listen and learn from each other…even if we don’t always agree or understand each other.”

One final piece of advice George is eager to leave me with is the idea of “finding things you’re passionate about… (and using it) to give back to the community.” With a knowing smile, he tells me “you’ll get more back from giving than you can ever imagine.”

Words: Taylor Carre-Riddell

Photo: Jason Rohmursanto

63. Dex

28 Mar


You can count the number of Viewbank locals who’ve filmed music videos in Hong Kong on one hand. Okay, probably just one finger. That’s Dex.

Dexter Cairns, known by his stage name Dex, is fresh from a national tour with Aussie hip-hop royalty Bliss N Esso. Despite glowing endorsements from the likes of Triple J’s Matt Okine off the back of his debut LP Young Zen, Dex remains humble about his journey.

When we spoke just before the tour, the eighteen-year-old deflects industry insider talk that he is on the cusp of ‘breaking’. With rap music playing in the background, he keeps bringing the conversation back to thanking his fans and mentors who helped him get to where he is today.

“I guess that a lot of people don’t want to help you in creative industries, but a lot of people will. You’ve just got to find the right people.”

“I think mentors are definitely important, because like literally if you want to learn something go to someone who is in that position. If you want to be at they are going to help you get there.”

Dex started listening to rap earlier than most. By the time he was six or seven, the highlights of long car trips with his dad and older brother Max was listening to new local and international artists.

By the time secondary school rolled around, Dex had well and truly immersed himself in the local hip-hop scene. He’d sometimes wag school to write lyrics.

“I was bored in class and I was writing raps. School wasn’t really my cup of tea.

I just wanted to be outside running around being crazy, and to write lyrics.”

“When I started putting things down I found I was getting lots of shit for it because at the start of highschool everyone’s sort of judging each other. Everyone is trying to find themselves, and for me the music was like the thing that made me find myself,” he says.

“It’s funny, people’s attitudes change a lot. I’ve seen people out and about now, and they go ‘oh you’re doing so well now!’ I’m just thinking, you used to give me shit three or fours years ago. I don’t really let it get to me, I just laugh to myself about how fake people can be”.

Dex says he doesn’t think too deeply about the writing process. He just puts on a beat and starts writing, which helps him process what’s going on around him.

His work touches on everything from normal growing pains like fake friends, dating and dreaming of the future. His LP ‘16’ is compelling listening, highly relatable and catchy. His most recent work, like singles ‘Rooftops’ and ‘Limitless’ from Young Zen, focuses on what happens when you achieve your dreams.

All of Dex’s tracks are honest, but ‘I’m Sorry’ about his Dad is heartbreaking. He deals with the “dark times” after his father’s death a few years ago in a lot of his earlier work.

“It really helped me, especially when I lost my dad, to get something out rather than just doing lots of stupid shit. I did do that as well, I did go off and do some pretty stupid shit with my mates, but that’s just normal growing up stuff.”

“It just really feels like [rap] is the thing that got me through that stage when I was 15 or 16”, he says. “I feel like I’ve grown a lot since, it’s good to talk about it but not let it define who I am today.”

Despite, maybe due to, his success, Dex is just as likely to post a tribute to a fan who got his autograph tattooed on his arm as he is to post ironic photo of himself eating a Callipo. Take a scroll through Instagram and you’ll find thousands of fans screaming at local gigs, as well as snaps from his tours in South-East Asia.

“You just take a step out of yourself and go, wow. This was the shit I was dreaming about four or five years ago.

“Now I want it more and more. I want to do bigger and better things. You just keep pushing yourself.”

Something tells me he’ll do just that.

Words: Rachael Ward

Photo: Sean Porter



62. Hannah Gandy

16 Feb


When I meet 18 year old Hannah Gandy, I am immediately greeted by her friendly and confident nature. As I soon discover, she also happens to be a very remarkable person.
Despite the challenges of her past, Hannah has achieved many incredible things.

“Coming from a single-parent, low socio-economic status family of three children, my mum had to work full time to make ends meet. As a result of difficult circumstances, at 13 years old I was enrolled in Year 8 at The Pavilion School,” says Hannah.

“This year, I am the first student from The Pavilion School to complete my Victorian Certificate of Education, receive an ATAR score and attend university.”

Hannah attended The Pavilion School, a Victorian State Secondary School for students who have struggled at or been excluded by other schools.

Not only was Hannah the first student from The Pavilion to successfully complete VCE, but she also completed the challenging La Trobe VCE Plus. This means that as part of her VCE, Hannah did two law subjects at La Trobe University – an impressive feat for any secondary school student.

Now, Hannah is off to La Trobe University to study a double degree in Law and Arts.

Hannah says she completed VCE at the Distance Education Centre Victoria.

“I did VCE subjects through Distance Education this year but I was still enrolled at The Pavilion School,” she says.

“I really liked doing Distance Ed. It allowed me to do so many things and still be able to prioritise my schoolwork, but not have to do it in a set period of time. I was able to go to work during the day and then come home at night and do my VCE work.”

The Pavilion School supported Hannah throughout her VCE experience and, according to Hannah, were “really good”.

“They really helped me a lot. They would supervise all my SACs [school-assessed coursework] for me. If I wanted any support, they would give it to me,” says Hannah.

Support would come in many forms, including “a teacher picking me up and driving me to exams – stuff like that”.

I ask Hannah whether she found this daunting, but she breezes over the difficult aspects of VCE as a hurdle she clearly was able to take into stride.

“There were a few challenges throughout the year, where I just had no time. But I just kept studying.”

“I did English, Legal Studies, Australian Politics, Health and Human Development and then I did my two law subjects through ‘VCE Plus’. They were my Year 12 subjects. I have maintained an average of ‘A’ in most subjects … [and] enjoyed every subject I have taken,” she says.

At The Pavilion, Hannah has set new standards in more than one way.

“This year I have had the incredible privilege of acting as my school’s first ever School Captain.”

Last year, Hannah decided to provide additional support to other students at The Pavilion by organising and running a peer support program.

“This included offering assistance to students undertaking all types of education including VCE, VCAL, and VET subjects,” she says.

“I help other students, assisting them to learn and talking to them about doing Distance Ed or whatever they want to do. I help students who are taking VCE subjects but are enrolled in VCAL at The Pavilion School.

“I encourage them to do their best as I see them becoming more engaged in their education… and I have formed strong relationships with these students. I have seen many of these students show significant signs of improvement, in both schoolwork and their outlook on life.

“My most cherished and important function is to act as a role model and mentor to current and future students.

“These students no longer feel like The Pavilion is the end of their journey but the one open door to endless opportunities.”

Hannah says this is similar to how she felt, thanks to the support of The Pavilion.

“I’d always like to give back to the community, with youth who have been in hard places… I really feel for them. I want other kids to see me and know that they can do that too. It doesn’t really matter where they’ve come from or that they’ve come from The Pavilion. They can have every opportunity,” says Hannah.

“The school has also seen a major increase in students enrolling in Distance Education subjects.”

Hannah received the excellent news that she had been accepted into La Trobe to study a Bachelor of Law/Arts. She says, “I’ll be doing law and I want to major in politics.”

Although law was initially not on Hannah’s mind, she decided to try the subject at school. Now, Hannah already has some real-world experience under her belt in this field.

“When I was at The Pavilion School, I wasn’t really interested in [law], but then one of my teachers said to me, you should take legal studies!

“I wasn’t sure of what subjects I wanted to take, so I took it. She [the teacher] would keep saying to me, you’re going to be a lawyer one day!

“I thought, no I’m not. That’s not what I want. Then, as soon as I began taking Legal Studies in Year 11, I absolutely loved it,” says Hannah.

“I took Australian Politics in Year 12 and became more interested in public service and was working at the Fair Work Commission. It wasn’t so much that I was interested in being a lawyer but was interested in studying law and in public service and politics.”

Hannah says that one of her teacher’s had a sister who worked at the Fair Work Commission who helped Hannah to secure a position there for work experience. Hannah was then asked to stay on at Fair Work as a clerk, working one day a week while at school and full-time during holidays. This is when Hannah’s interest in law became stronger.

“When they asked if I would keep working there, it was then that I started becoming more interested in pursuing it [law].

“This has been invaluable to my studies and assuring [me] what I want to do in my life.”

By studying two university subjects ahead of time through the VCE Plus program, Hannah feels that her transition to full-time study at La Trobe University will be “quite smooth”.

“I sort of know what it will be like. And because I did distance education, it [studying at uni] was quite similar to how I was studying anyway.”

When I ask Hannah about her experience doing two university subjects, she exudes modesty but it is impossible not to be impressed with the results she achieved.

In the two La Trobe law subjects that were part of VCE Plus, Hannah exceeded the expectations for most high school students attempting a university subject.

“I received high distinctions for [my] two university subjects … I also received the highest mark out of everyone for law in the program.”

Hannah offers some tips for other young people who are unsure of the path they want to follow.

“Take as many opportunities as you can and try to get as much experience as you can in the area, before you decide you do or don’t want to do it. I’d just say take every opportunity you can.”

Like any typical secondary school student, Hannah is relieved to be able to say “I finished exams on the 9th of November”.

Now with exams done, Hannah is focused on work and her other passions, including music.

“I play music casually at home with my brother. We play a few instruments, the guitar and keyboard. We have a music room set up and so I’m over there a lot just playing music. But other than that, I’m not doing much, just hanging out!”

Next on the agenda for Hannah is to “study next year at La Trobe, continue working and see what happens!”

With an extraordinary track record like Hannah’s, we are sure to be seeing amazing things from her, whatever she chooses to do.

Words: Annabelle Pendlebury

Photos: Jason Rohmursanto