Bundaberg, QLD, July 2023
When they were little, my kids used to be bullied at school because of the colour of their skin and where they came from, so I asked the principal if I could go into the classrooms and tell the pupils about the culture in Papua New Guinea and how children grow up over there. That led to regular visits to schools and retirement homes and to the creation of an organisation called Ol Meri Wantok in 2010. The name is pidgin English which roughly translates as ‘All Lady Friends’. I can confidently say that getting the group going involved a sacrifice at the start. There was a cost in time, and I sometimes felt that I was neglecting my family.
People had mixed feelings and thoughts and there were expectations, from my own community but also others. Soon ladies from other cultures became interested in what we did, and we encouraged them to share their culture when we had stalls and displays at the Neighbourhood Centre. We would see people from different island communities or Filipinos or other countries who wanted to know about learning English, cooking classes, or sewing. We help them do something where they don't feel alone and isolated at home.
Because we work with the community, if someone new coming to Bundaberg, or people from the [local] Council, want to know something or connect with a cultural group, we try to point them to the right person so they can find out for themselves. Within a group like Ol Meri Wantok, people have different voices, they can come into the group and use the group to stand and voice their opinion. We can connect people, but we can't represent them.