Tag Archives: Sean Porter Photography

36. Sam Hamilton

18 Feb

greenstickI spoke with Sam Hamilton a couple of weeks prior to the debut of his miniseries, Greenstick. During our chat I became extremely excited (and impatient) to watch the show. I thought it would be best to watch the debut episode of Greenstick first before writing up our interview. It was a two-parter that ended on a cliffhanger, so I waited till the next episode to find out more. Guess what happened? I got sucked in, again…

It’s now been a good two months since the finale of season one, and I’ve only just collected my thoughts and put the proverbial pen to paper. In a way, my slackness is a compliment – I just really liked Greenstick.

Sam is a driving force behind the show. He wrote the script and produced the miniseries. To get it off the ground, Sam started a crowdfunding campaign through Pozible to raise a modest sum. The funding target was exceeded, showing that there was real interest in a project like Greenstick.

Put simply, Greenstick is a web series based around the themes of youth depression and how young people deal with grief and loss. The substantial, homegrown cast includes characters who are 17 or 18 years old, they’ve just finished year 12 at high school and are trying to figure out where to go from there. Sam elaborates; “The show starts a few weeks after the characters finish high school. Suicide is a big theme of the show, and as a direct result of this we also try to cover themes of youth mental health and substance abuse.”

I asked Sam about his inspiration for the show. “Growing up, there weren’t that many shows I related to. I wanted to create a show that was relatable to older teenagers.” Pondering some more, Sam added; “Every single story (in Greenstick) is drawn from personal experience, even if it is often embellished in some way. I think a show like this would have been really useful for me at that time.”

Growing up, Sam was always interested in writing, but it took some time for him to get serious. “From year 11 onwards I started putting together proper pieces, beforehand it was mainly bits and pieces, mostly embarrassing stuff!”

When talking about the future, Sam has a clear goal. “My main ambition would be to write for a commercial television series, or be a producer.”

In the meantime, Sam hosts a radio show on Syn FM, which he likens to a real life episode of Greenstick. “People call in about a variety of things, some of it is pretty heavy; we talk about topics like mental illness and sex, mainly with a youth focus.”

Sam has the ability to pull the community together, evidenced by the fact that I didn’t interview Sam alone, Greenstick actresses; Laura Lillywhite and Felicity Townsend joined us, illustrating the group effort that made Greenstick a reality. Felicity quipped; “Sam sourced volunteer make-up artist and graphic designers to help with the show, everyone pulled together to make it happen.”

In the time post my interview with Sam, Felicity and Laura, I’ve been keeping up with all things Greenstick. A second series has been promised. I for one, am looking forward to it.

You can watch episode one here.

Like Greenstick on Facebook.

Words: Carl Thompson

Photo: Sean Porter


34. Amma Boakye

21 Jan

_MG_9964-EditBorn and raised in Australia, Amma Boakye’s upbringing was no different to the majority of teenagers her age. Although a trip to Ghana with her family in 2002 completely changed Amma’s perspective of the world.

As we sat down for an interview, the seventeen year-old Loyola College student described what the current situation in Ghana is like. “The country itself is breathtakingly beautiful,” she said, “although it lacks many basic services such as a good public health system and easily accessible roads.”

Amma’s parents, Cecilia Yeboah and Nana Boakye were both born in Ghana so the trip in 2002 was the first since their settlement in Australia. Being their first trip, Amma says that the experience was a culture shock for her and her siblings as they were all used to the Australian norms. “We found the Ghanian culture, which is completely different, a little confronting,” she said.

As overwhelming as the experience was, she believes that it was just as educational and insightful. “I saw Ghana as a country with great potential for future development,” she said, “because of its access to natural resources like gold, cocoa and fertile land.”

Amma’s aunty lives in a rural town near one of Ghana’s larger cities called Seikwa. According to Amma, the journey there was long, bumpy and rough. “A trip by car which should have taken about 15 minutes ended up taking about an hour due to poor road conditions,” she said.

On arrival, Amma’s family was surprised to discover that her aunty, Veronica Appiah- Kubi and uncle, Akwasi Appiah- Kubi were the sole basic medical care providers for the small community including maternal and child health. Amma’s aunty is a qualified midwife and a nurse practitioner, but almost all of the services that she was giving were free of charge.

With little financial support, the funds come from Veronica and Akwasi’s own pockets. “Witnessing the simple care provided by my aunty, my parents initiated their support by donating some money to help my aunty with the great work that she was doing,” Amma said.

“After our visit, my parents continued to periodically send donations,” she said, “although on our second visit to Ghana, I came up with the idea to create a charity organisation to help with the running costs and improve the condition for my aunty and her few helpers.”

Since returning back to Australia, Amma has kept her promise to pursue this charity. “My involvement in the charity is, through networking with friends and their friends, and also other experienced charity workers, is locating and contacting organisations who are able and willing to support us by donating money or healthcare equipments,” she said.

Every two years, Amma and her family return to Ghana to deliver the goods and funds that they have collected through their charity, Nyarkoh Family Health Fund. Amma says that these goods may include nappies for the infants, stethoscopes and other medical tools and of course, money to help them support themselves.

Leading a busy lifestyle, it’s surprising that Amma is able to fit the charity work into her schedule. Although she said that she is relieved that her friends offer their support for the charity whenever they can, often assisting in contacting local businesses.

Amma has just completed her year 11 studies and is currently enjoying her final holidays before she begins year 12. She admits that she is a very creative person, so subjects such as textiles and studio arts will be a breeze. With two languages already under her belt, Indonesian is another subject that Amma says she should do well in.

“I usually dedicate my spare time to sports such as athletics and basketball but have stopped participating regularly to try and keep up with my school load,” she said. She has also completed drama and acting lessons over the duration of the year.

When asked what she wants to do when she’s older, Amma has more direction than most. “I have always dreamed of becoming a professional actress,” she said, “but I wouldn’t mind going into the law profession due to the social justice appeal of it.”

Amma is a strong believer in charity work and endeavors to encourage more Australians to get involved. “Charity work could possibly be the very thing that makes people feel worthy in society and therefore turn into better people,” she said. “I think it’s something that would help them appreciate what they already have and make them generally more sympathetic to the needs of others.”

Amma’s ambitions are certainly not minor. She plans to take a break from the charity throughout year 12, but will resume straight after, hoping to expand and develop it to achieve more to help not only Ghana but the whole of West Africa. “I believe that if more Australians were involved in charities, we would be a step closer to making, restoring and creating world peace.”

Words: Joely Mitchell

Photo: Sean Porter

27. Amy Bryans

4 Apr

amy bryansEver heard that saying “children should be seen and not heard?” and stopped for a moment to contemplate what little relevance it holds in this day and age. It is already well known that Gen Y are the ones who will soon be taking over from the ‘Baby Boomers’ and fixing the mistakes made by those gone before us. This being the case the idea that children should “not be heard” makes no sense, as those belonging to Gen Y need to have their voices heard if we are to have any chance of making an impact on our world.

Meeting annually, YMCA in conjunction with the Victorian Parliament have created a program that does just that, giving  the youth of our generation a chance to speak out and have their voices heard. In a bid to improve the lives of Australia’s youths the YMCA Youth Parliament program gives those aged between sixteen and twenty five a chance to come together and vote for bills that they feel strongly about. In 2011 the amiable Amy Bryans participated in the program and was voted by her peers to be the Youth Premier.  She explains to me just how big an impact the program has made on her and what it offers for those wishing to join.

There is an unmistakable confidence brimming from this polite well-mannered young woman who has just emerged from a meeting at the Banyule Council where she is planning for a series of speaking engagements she will deliver in schools. Her warm personality makes her easy to talk to as we slip into the interview, in which she explains what first started her involvement in the Youth Parliament program. “I really wanted to gain leadership and experience” she says as she informs me of the YMCA camp that first brought the program to her attention.

Unlike some youth based programs, YMCA Youth Parliament requires a lot of time and dedication, “it take around six months to decide on the issues we want to bring to parliament” Bryans says, “after all the bills need to plausible in order for them to work.” There are around twenty teams that come together, the option of joining being entirely of one’s own volition, with groups from all sorts of schools, universities and scouts coming forward to take part in the program. “It gives people a chance to put their voice forward, and best of all you could have zero interest in politics and still have a great time.”

So what has this experience done for Amy? Already an outgoing character, she has seen Youth Parliament as an outlet to further explore her skills in leadership training. Now having already shouldered such a responsibility as Youth Premier she found the role not only “gave her something to do” but also gave her “somewhere to go”. Having become a part of Youth Parliament to gain leadership and experience she has found the program fulfilled all these hopes and expectations, teaching her how to handle responsibility and properly lead a group of young keen individuals, having allowed her to put her own voice and ideas forward.

Although she admits she never saw herself engaging in politics she is eager to return and further her skills. “This year I am a part of the Youth Parliament Taskforce on the Media and Communications Portfolio” she explains. When asked about her coming plans, “I hope to get lots of great media for the program” hoping to encourage more to come forward and participate. As well as this Bryans plans to further her love for theatre, “I hope to become a theatre director” she says, “I even returned to my old high school to assist in the school production.”

“I’d rather be busy than bored” she smiles “I have no problem doing a thousand things, it keeps my life interesting.” It’s no surprise that when asked about her life in high school she happily explains how she was school captain for year twelve, “I loved high school, I was always heavily involved.”

Crediting her love and inspiration for getting out and leading the public back to Youth Parliament she admits just how much it changed her life. “It inspired so much confidence in me, I was selected to develop my leadership skills and it’s really helped me grow as a person.” Now having such an ability with the public, when asked whether she values her reputation over speaking her mind her answer shows a level of sophistication and maturity one can only attribute to her experience with Youth Parliament. “When I was younger I would’ve said speaking your mind was more important, but now I think it’s more a balance between the two, and knowing how to interact with people.”

Coming from a family of divorced parents she explains how one shouldn’t let what happens around them be a product of who you are. Her family also run their own drama studio, which is what first inspired her desire to pursue a career in acting. “Working in performing arts” she says, “it makes life so interesting”.

She is a truly remarkable young woman who should serve as an inspiration to all who come into contact with her.

Words By:Rachel Nixon

Photo by: Sean Porter

25. Harry Prout

21 Feb

Screen Shot Harry crp[We had heard a lot about the impressive accomplishments of Brother Harry Prout, yet as our interview commenced, I don’t think either of us were prepared to be quite as blown away as we were by the amazing tales of a life of generosity and compassion that Harry had to tell.

Raised on a dairy farm, Harry’s own life had modest beginnings. His family life consisted of simplistic things such as growing potatoes, or “spuds” on their farm, looking after their flocks of sheep and riding bikes around – “we were generally pretty feral actually!” Harry jokes. But his childhood was also one of work, as he recalls having to milk the cows early each morning and then head off to school. On his return from a day of classes, Harry continued working, taking over the milking from his mother before dinner time. Such dedicated, hardworking attributes shone through early in Harry’s life and it is easy to see how he has carried this selfless attitude into later life. Not only that, but growing up on a farm enabled Harry to gain “a sense of nature, and God’s presence in nature”, what with new life surrounding him all the time, as calves that were born came into milking and eventually had babies of their own.

Harry’s strong beliefs and a desire to find a new life led him to join the Marist brothers. The institute of the Brothers was created in 1817, originally with a focus on educating poor and rural children in France, an aspiration that is still true of the organisation nowadays. Harry describes how their goal was to help the poor and the powerless. For Harry himself, he had always felt a particular pull towards helping the outcasts and the poor amongst society, “standing up for justice” in the same way that his other family members did. His charitable instincts could perhaps run in the family, as his mother was a nurse who cared for Aboriginal mothers who had their children taken away, while his father worked in Aboriginal Affairs.

Helping the young did not stop with his involvement in the Marist Brothers. Throughout Harry’s life, he has been actively involved in retreat work all around Australia, particularly at school camps. Harry believes that this sort of experience has enabled him to realise that sometimes it is necessary to just stop and ask an individual how they are going in life. The response to this question is sometimes shocking, particularly when it comes from such young people who are incredibly ambitious, aspiring individuals who have unfortunately suffered throughout their lives.

Harry has a background of teaching and has taught in 4 different schools across Australia. With a chuckle Harry acknowledges that aside from a smattering of English, History and Religion; he used to teach dance and movement for a while. “One of the things I miss most, actually, when I gave up teaching, was producing musicals… Such a great community building activity [where] the natural talents of kids really shine through.” Through years of being a teacher, Harry gained an understanding of the importance of education and learning being present in a child’s life – making him all the more valuable in his current position. When asked how he came to be in West Heidelberg, Harry explains that he had been working at a retreat centre in Mt Macedon, in a position of leadership. When he was approached by a woman named Sister Sally, who was accompanying a group of students, to come and work in their community, Harry felt ready to move on from his current position and accept a new challenge. Moving into the new area proved to be a big change for Harry, not merely because of the different surroundings but the people he lived with were not just other Brothers, but people from around the area. Harry notes, “It was actually the first time I had lived with women, so that was a big learning curve for me!”

Harry’s initiation into the community wasn’t easy. He had grown up and lived in a middle class society; therefore this new environment was confronting and at times “awkward”. He reminisces on the very fond memories of being assaulted up as he tried to intervene in a fight between young boys. It was a long journey for Harry, but he eventually built a good rapport with all groups in the community. These relationships have led to a lot of mutual trust and respect; they would all do anything for each other.

According to Harry, coming to West Heidelberg has helped increase his sensitivity and compassion towards those with disabilities. It has given him “a richer” understanding of mental illnesses, something he considers a “blessing”, and has also been in close contact with other less fortunate people. “In the neighbourhood, 20% of the population are Somali refugees”, remarks Harry, and it is because of this he has come to understand a lot more about their plight. A quiet kind of pride seeps into Harry’s voice as he recalls the Somalian refugees he has had contact with. He notes that unfortunately, in war-torn countries, usually it is not the poor and the disadvantaged who manage to escape, but those with a higher standing and some wealth. Therefore the refugees who have settled out here are the ones who already value education. “They know about education and they aspire to education.” Harry conveys to us a sense of their bravery and resourcefulness in making a life for themselves in Australia, and explains how even though they have known what it is to be educated, often out here they cannot afford such luxury and this can be very degrading for them. We, two privileged young girls who have just successfully completed Year 12, were stunned to hear about the ongoing conditions for these refugees and the fiery passion that Harry harbours in regards to looking out for those who come from war-torn countries was nothing less than inspiring.

West Heidelberg, the suburb that Harry currently resides in, is one of the most disadvantaged areas in Victoria. The level of poverty experienced by the town is very confronting. The number of individuals who have or do suffer with mental illness, abandonment, divorce, or alcohol and drug reliance is extremely high. Harry believes that sometimes bad experiences lead to even worse experiences, for example a single mother may consume unhealthy amounts of alcohol in order to “numb the pain” of her situation. This domino effect only contributes to the cycle of poverty in this small town.

Harry informs us that one major issue in the community is increasing obesity, particularly amongst youth. Living conveniently close to many fast-food restaurants has resulted in the community’s large consumption of foods high in saturated and trans fats. This unhealthy diet leads to the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and many other health problems later in life. In order to tackle this issue, Harry has proactively promoted healthy eating by teaching them the convenience of healthy alternatives. He opens his house for “drop in lunches”, providing healthy meals to the community. Harry also raves about the Summer BBQs which are regularly held in his backyard. Harry believes that the popularity of his services has merely been spread through word of mouth. The number of people who drop by Harry’s house for lunch continuously increases, enough so that the visiting list has extended to over 300 families.

It took Harry a while to adjust to his new lifestyle, but he quickly learned that what was needed most in the community was someone to listen and allow the local people to give voice to what they really wanted. “I soon came to see that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason, so I did a lot of listening.” Most of the young people claimed they just wanted somewhere to go and “hang out”, so the house Harry lived in, the very house we sat in for our interview, became like a place of refuge and rest, where all were welcome. It was touching to hear Harry describe how the house would sometimes hold big gatherings with up to 20 people, who would all come along to enjoy a meal and support each other. When prompted to talk about winning the Jaga Jaga Australia Day Award, he quickly asserts that it was awarded to “the whole community”.

“[It was] just a recognition of the volunteer work we do,” Harry modestly tells us. The award was presented as a token to acknowledge how he and the other workers managed to “identify with people who are poor, to see if we could help them in anyway. … We just wanted… to journey with the people… understand what it’s like in their boots.”

The small, modest house that we sat in for the interview was the home that Harry had slept, cooked, showered and invited people into over the past few years. It was a very small abode, although it had a cosy, welcoming atmosphere that everybody who walked through the door felt. Harry explains how his home and the many neighbouring houses were built over 56 years ago for the Olympians of the 1956 Olympic Games which were held in Melbourne. Harry acknowledges that the houses in the Olympic Village were not “built to last”, resulting in many maintenance issues, mould and extreme temperature conditions during the hotter and colder months. Despite this, Harry graciously lives in his small home, taking advantage of the luxuries that his life has been granted with.
Harry’s work amongst his community is very important. Sadly, education isn’t regarded as a priority like it is for those in higher socio-economic areas. Very few in Harry’s area actually finish year 12. There’s not a lot of encouragement to go to school, and even if they do, they don’t achieve very high results. Harry believes that education is the “key to confidence” and in order to promote learning amongst the community, he wanted to provide a safe haven away from the chaos and mess at home for young kids to get their homework done to a sufficient standard. This eventuated in the local homework club, which enabled children to get help with their Maths and English at a proper working table. The club grew, although Harry recognised that the kids who desperately needed the help weren’t coming and taking advantage of the amazing services. In addition, hardly any kids are involved in sports, despite Harry’s best efforts to start up a netball team a few years back. The cost for the right footwear and uniforms is just too expensive, and some children don’t even have access to a car to go to the games or parents willing to go along and encourage them. Harry therefore helped push for the creation of the Bike Shed, a project funded by the council that enabled them to loan out bikes to children, and maintain the scooters and bikes that kids already owned. It also provided a designated destination for young kids to feel welcome to come and bond with Harry and other volunteers over their bikes and scooters, allowing them to open up about their circumstances at home.

Harry sounded very excited to report that they recently received a grant from Bendigo Bank for a whole new selection of scooters. The benefits of such a program have been astounding and while he waves away much of the praise that he is given, it all comes down to the hard work Harry has put in to making his community a better place.

Words By:Annabelle Pendlebury and Joely Mitchell

Photo by: Sean Porter

20. Loren Reid

2 May

“You should be able to be you, without judgment”

Legalising gay marriage is probably the most controversial topic discussed in today’s society. Loren Reid, graduated from Eltham High in 2010. Having been open about her sexuality throughout high school, she was given the opportunity to spread awareness about her views, and consult other students. She’s always been comfortable with herself, and her peers were all well aware of this. Attending Eltham High, they had always encouraged all students to stand up for their opinions and were ever so understanding of such difficulties young people face especially during this period in their life.

It all started when she was approached by her welfare c0ordinator. She was asked to consult a year 7 student, who was confused about their sexuality. Being able to understand their position, she thought it would be great to help them out. From then on, she created this mentoring program at school for those students who just wanted someone to talk to about their sexuality.

Loren’s passion for such an issue has impacted the school and the wider community. During her time working on the mentoring project she was approached by several different organisations that provide support and a social environment for same sex attracted or transgender young people. One of these being EGG; The Eltham Gay Group that caters for young people in Banyule and Nillumbik who are gay or questioning their sexuality. She has been working with EGG for some time, supporting same sex individuals as well as spreading awareness about the impacts of bullying.

Currently Loren’s working on a project on behalf of EGG in association with The Banyule Council, in creating an anti-bullying campaign. In collaboration with Banyule 100’s Sean Porter, the aim is to create a series of short videos ads taking on a satirical view on different forms of bullying. Their plan is to send it to schools aimed at students between Years 8-10. After watching the ad she hopes to create small discussion groups, dividing boys from girls and allowing students to tell their stories, giving them the opportunity to be heard.

Loren went through a few difficult years when she was just starting high school, during that period in life she looked up to a few Youtube stars. ‘That really got me through at the time’ She hopes to promote her anti-bullying campaign via Youtube, and other social networking sites such as Tumblr.

She’s currently being approached by schools to talk to students about sexuality, and hopes to take life as it comes step by step. Her hopes ideally are for people to learn to accept that sexuality isn’t a choice, but a part of life.

Words By:Lucy Zhao

Photo by: Sean Porter

© Sean Porter 2011

19. Stephanie Livingstone

5 Mar

Stephanie Livingstone has an interesting theory. She considers education to be currency. It flows naturally that her investment into bettering the lives of individuals in the developing would be through teaching. At the age of 20 and with no formal training Steph realized that a love of teaching as a skillset could be more valuable than a merely financial contribution to combatting some of the challenges faced by the small Indonesian community of Sembalun on the small island of Lombok.

Steph’s induction into helping others came into its own in her local community. Volunteering in the St Vincent De Paul Society and serving as the Diamond Valley division’s Vice President set her apart from many people her age – volunteering in a soup van for the homeless as well as helping out at holiday programs and kids days. It was through this experience that Steph first learnt about UN Youth. UN Youth had at its core an educational purpose, and anyone that watched Steph in action will agree that she truly did justice to UN Youth’s tagline to “open young eyes to the world”.

Graduating quite quickly from facilitating workshops in classrooms to organising them Steph was delivered a significant challenge.  Reflecting on her experiences she describes the process as an opportunity to learn about teamwork, leadership and to channel her passions into real outcomes. Her passion for the plight of Asylum Seekers and Refugees influenced her choice of theme for two day long events for Year 9 students, attracting over 400 attendees. Steph remembers standing nervously in front of “a stadium of young faces” trying to start up a conversation which is often sensationalized by politicians and figures in the media. Regardless, Steph relished the challenge and has soared to great heights utilising the skills she has developed along the way.

Steph’s most recent and exciting project has developed since returning from a month long visit to Sembalun, Lombok in 2010. The village is located precariously at the base of a Volcano and has been the catalyst for a major realignment of her world view. Steph says that her “whole perspective on life was turned on its head”, returning she harboured “a resentment of Western Culture, stayed away from shopping and was unable to take part in consumer culture after watching friends of mine living on less than $4 a day in Lombok”. Personal friendships formed and a feeling of welcome have aided Steph’s ability to build her project in Sembalun. At home in Australia Steph continues to teach English classes by Skype with a classroom sitting around a mobile phone on loudspeaker.

Steph radiates positivity and enthusiasm. What’s the secret? “Focus on something that resonates with you, take opportunities to take that spark or frustration and do something about it” oh and another thing “you can never dream too large, get a team together and strive for ten times what you think is possible”.

Steph’s big dream for the future of the Skype program is for it to go National and has already begun building capacity here in Banyule conducting a pilot program at St Martins of Tours Primary School in Rosanna. This component will have primary schoolers taking part in letter-writing and creating storybooks that can be used by Steph as a teaching tool and foster a greater understanding of the lives of kids in Indonesia.

Steph and the Skype program are taking off but not without the support of her community. So far the program has had a positive reception in schools as teachers and students recognize the real opportunity to experience cultural exchange. Individuals are encouraged to contact Steph to register their interest in supporting the program, “Support comes in many forms but really it’s what people are capable of it could be money, or donation of resources but the more important thing is education and awareness”. Listening to her speak I am endeared to her cause, her moral obligation to enhance kids access to universal and basic education. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And we’re all hoping that simplicity spells her success.

Steph can be contacted at Stephanie_livo@hotmail.com

Words By:Anna Carrig


Photo by: Sean Porter


© Sean Porter 2011

17. Emma Brett

30 Jan

Setting her sights on serving our community as a police officer at a young age, before sparking an interest in wildlife from beloved family camping trips- Emma Brett; a 22 year old chocolate and Brussels sprout lover, has a profound passion for responsible food purchasing.

A recent graduate and honours student of Deakin University, Emma is keen on sparking awareness in the community as to how our everyday choices can have a lasting impact on the world- both positive and negative.

In her second year of University she went on an Environmental exchange to Canada. Upon her return  unshe started a questionnaire with the assistance of her University lecturer. She asked one thousand people from five different suburbs if they ever considered where the food that they put into their mouths each day came from. When the results came in and weren’t what she fancied, her desire for change emerged.

When asked how she lives an eco-friendly lifestyle, she responded by stating that she’s “trying to eat more in season food… and won’t buy food from overseas”. Whilst she agrees that these tasks may be difficult as she isn’t living alone and has to share a lifestyle with others, she is still an admirable role-model by making her own bread, planning her weekly meals ahead of time, growing her own food at home, and eating as a vegetarian. She even looked into fostering a local community garden in a vacant block of land and whilst she was unable to because the land was privately owned, it still remains an interest of hers.

Her goals for the future are high as she hopes to pursue her passions by continuing her research, returning to Canada for permanent work and “educating people by running a university subject or working with kids in a school”.

Her advice to people of all ages is that “You don’t have to be a hippie” to “do your own research” and “know what’s in season”. “You can look at any books from the library or websites which will tell you what’s in season and try to work around that”. Whilst you may not feel as though your actions are contributing, “even if it’s one person, you can make a difference”.

Words By:Annalisa Cercone

Photo by: Sean Porter

© Sean Porter 2011

16. Cheryle Michael

20 Jan


Cheryle Michael is the Youth Planning and Policy Officer at Banyule City Council.  She has worked in Youth Services at Council for a number of years and in addition to the planning and policy role has had other positions including the Employment Education and Training Officer role and has worked as a Team Leader.

Cheryle also worked at the Banyule Community Health Service as a JPET (Job Placement, Employment and Training) worker based in Greensborough and West Heidelberg. JPET was a program to assist homeless young people to find accommodation, training and work.  Most of the young people she assisted came from the northern suburbs. Cheryle has fond memories of working at the Community Health Centre as all the staff were really friendly and keen to help whenever and wherever they could. The best thing about working in that environment was knowing that the people you were referring your clients to were helpful and respectful of young people. This meant that young people could feel confident and comfortable about the help they got and that they were able to ‘get back on track’ quickly.

Prior to her time with JPET she was a secondary school teacher and student welfare officer at a number of local schools. Cheryle found her work in schools very rewarding, particularly enjoying the planning of school camps and outdoor adventure activities. She has been from one end of Victoria to the other and interstate toTasmania and NSW.  From horse riding in Gippsland to canoeing down theMurray, she’s done it all.

Cheryle volunteers her time to sit on the Board of Management of Catchment Youth Services which is a youth refuge and accommodation support service for young people who are homeless. Cheryle described the refuge as a ‘home’ for these young people. Residents have their own room, share chores and share the space with 5 other young people. She also volunteers her time to sit on the Board for PRACE (Preston Reservoir Adult Community Education).

Back when Cheryle left school she was planning to be an Occupational Therapist but changed her mind a few weeks into the first semester. She then changed to Social Science (Economics, Politics and Sociology).

Cheryle said she enjoys working with young people. They are honest and grateful! Sometimes she feels young people have taught her more than she has helped them. ‘Young people have taught me to be tolerant, non judgemental, respectful and grateful and that everyone can achieve their goals, no matter what the barriers are.’ Some of the best moments of her career have been the thank you cards, the letters, the hugs of appreciation and the smiles.

In April of 2012 Cheryle is due to retire because, as she explained, it is time to achieve some of her other goals that she can’t achieve while continuing to work.

Frances Gianinotti, Cheryle’s Co-ordinator at Banyule Council, says Cheryle will be thoroughly missed by many people including residents and colleagues from across the community sectors. “Cheryle has enormous capacity for work and is tireless in her commitment to the Banyule community. Cheryle is very community minded and committed to positive outcomes for young people and the community. She has built strong partnerships across the service sector and is respected by her colleagues and peers”.

Words By:William De Maio

Photo by: Sean Porter

© Sean Porter 2011


15. Ming Kang Chen

21 Dec

Ming Kang Chen was once a Mayor of Banyule. ‘But he’s so young’ I hear you saying to yourself, and I guess in response I should start by explaining where his journey began.

Ming Kang’s mum stumbled across an advertisement in the Banyule Banner looking for a young person living in Banyule to put themselves forward as a Young Mayor for the 2009 Banyule Youth Express, a Youth Summit otherwise known as the BYE. The role of the Mayor as Ming Kang explains is to help organise the event and assist with the running of the day, a sort of Master of Ceremonies. 2009 was actually the first BYE event, focused on the theme ‘Mental Health and Relationships’. The BYE is designed to bring young people with broad ranging views and experiences together to have input into the council’s decision making. A perk of the job for Ming Kang on taking it up was the opportunity to present the findings to Councillors and the Mayors at a Council meeting. Probed on whether he has ambitions to be mayor Ming Kang smirks, “It’s not on my short to long term outlook, but you never say never right?”.

What are his plans then? Ming Kang’s not absolutely sure himself, the future holds many opportunities as he muses that “I could be overseas, I could be here, I could be starting my own business”, the world is definitely his oyster. In the meantime Ming Kang is contently studying Marketing at theUniversityofMelbourneand he’s keen to try to put his skills to good use. Ming Kang would like to apply his skill set to good instead of simply “driving consumption”.

Beyond the requirements of University Ming Kang still stays involved with Council as a member of the Banyule Youth Participation Network (BYPN) and is involved with MUDS- the Melbourne Uni Debating Society. In his capacity at BYPN Ming Kang has supported the Banyule 100 project. Banyule100 has helped open his eyes to the variety of things that young people are doing in his community “I had no idea that there was a young person in Banyule composing operas… it really highlights the diversity that exists amongst young people”.

Ming Kang’s involvement with debating had opened his eyes in a different way and taken him from local competitions inCarltonand Clayton to international championships inKorea.  Just a short while ago Ming Kang travelled toKoreato the Australian debating Championship, commonly known as ‘Australs’. Ming Kang says that the thing that is most valuable about young people getting involved in debating is the ability that it fosters for people to better understand the world, to “understand why things are, or aren’t, the way they are”. Other skills you develop along the way aid confidence and prepare you to think on the spot- a skill that is put to use during our interview.

Ming  Kang’s funniest debating memory takes him back to an afternoon in high school when his teammate started a debate on conscription asking “Why did the chicken cross the road? Because he chose to”. Needless to say they didn’t win the debate, but the fun of it is what keeps him going back.

One thing that I greatly respect about Ming Kang is that he harbors a strong set of values which comes across in his humble, warm and unassuming manner. Somewhat boldly I enquire what it is that drives Ming Kang. After some confusion he consolidates this to a simple philosophy as he tries to “focus on what I feel is right”, particularly the focus on “finding the good in people”.

Ming Kang isn’t your typical young leader. Not particularly outspoken, his care for global issues is none-the-less there, a “quiet campaigner in my own head”. The example that Ming Kang sets is one of the variety of things that young people in Banyule are involved with and their capacity to break the prejudices that many adults hold toward their younger counterparts. As he says, “we’re not just complainers or radical or naïve”. A hope that Ming Kang and Sean Porter, the mind behind Banyule100, hope that projects like this will do is highlight the depth and breadth of young people’s experience and contribution. It’s young people like Ming Kang that help us to escape the overly simplified stereotypes. And on a side note- I think Ming Kang would make a really great Mayor one day.

Words By:Anna Carrig

Photo by: Sean Porter

© Sean Porter 2011


14. Kosta and Johnny

16 Nov

Johnny and Kosta met in a juvenile detention facility and identified the need to create a program that would discourage young people from committing offences. They understand how making the wrong choices can change your life and are the founders of ‘Word on the Streets’ a program designed to keep young people out of the youth justice system. They recently received a grant from Youth Foundations Victoria West Heidelberg (YFV3081) which will enable them to visit schools in and around their community to spread their message.

Whilst Johnny and Kosta are trying to move on and become positive role models within the community,  moving forward with a criminal record attached to your name makes it difficult to leave the past behind. The aim of the program is to prevent young people from entering the criminal justice system and to deter them from making choices that could lead them to that path. They thought it would be good to share their insights with young people and talk about their experiences. They believe it is important to help young people stay out of trouble and stay connected with schooling.    

They believe that young people need to hear a positive message about school and the importance of education. They feel that it would have been highly beneficial if someone could have pointed them down the right track when they were younger. Kosta asks ‘why do you have to be locked up to get your point across?’ This is essentially the drive behind ‘Word on the Streets’.

It offers young people the chance to engage with people who have experienced the youth justice system first hand and will hopefully deter young people from committing offences. Johnny and Kosta plan to offer advice and guidance to those who might be at risk to prevent them from entering the youth justice system.

 They also understand the implications of hanging around the wrong people. Johnny admits that the people he once associated with were leading him down the wrong path. He wants to explain to young people that hanging around with the wrong crowd will ultimately have consequences. The ‘Word on the Streets’ program hopes to show young people that they have options and should value their future. If they don’t, Johnny says that they can easily ‘go down the wrong path’.

Johnny explains that detention is not a place where you want to end up. He says ‘you don’t want to end up inside, it’s not a place you want to ever see, it’s not a place where you want your family to come and see you’. Johnny’s brother was involved in a car accident and it was three months before they gave him permission to go out and visit him. He says that ‘you don’t get to do things you want to do, your freedom is gone’.

He also talks about how young people quickly fall back into the cycle of reoffending. He recalls how he saw eight people leave the centre and come back within the space of three months. However, time in detention did have some positive aspects on his life. He improved his reading and writing, was taught to respect, and learnt some important life skills. Now with detention behind him he feels ‘older and wiser’. ‘You learn from your mistakes’, he says, but the crucial message for kids who are beginning to do the wrong thing is simple – ‘just don’t do it’.

Kosta explains that he wants young people to ‘do the right thing, stay out of trouble and steer clear of that life’. Life in detention meant that Kosta was unable to see his family as often as he would have liked and opened his eyes to the ‘real world’. He completed a TAFE course whilst in detention and is currently furthering his education at a local TAFE. He says the project is a great way to ‘share a part of your life with someone you don’t know’ and he hopes that the project will teach young people that ‘If you get locked up you’re just wasting your life and the time that you have been given’. He sums up the experience by saying that its ‘better to understand than judge, we all make mistakes some are just bigger than others’.

Words By:David Joiner and Stephanie Neville

Photo by: Sean Porter

© Sean Porter 2011