News & Insights

Reflections – Words Nourish Neighbours

by Rosie Kalina

This piece was written for First Nations in the House, a residency program as part of Refuge that invites writers from across the country to share and respond to the matter of displacement, honouring and respecting local stories of resilience, survival, loss and the future.

Upon entering Words Nourish Neighbours I felt a sense of warmth, familiarity and family.

Greeted with a deliciously sweet drink and smiling faces, the sound of Uncle Larry’s voice soothing over the speaker, bouncing around the walls of the room.

I immediately smelt the fish, and chicken vermicelli; one of my favourites, which reminded me of family and home.

Warmth and anticipation filled the air.

Seini Taumoepeau aka SistaNative began hosting with a beautiful acknowledgement to Country, to Boonwurung & Wurundjeri country of the Kulin Nation, which was sung in Tongan language and was truly special to hear, carrying deep meaning and showed respect and solidarity between First Nations people and one another.

We were encouraged to move entire tables if we already knew the people we were seated to, this shifted me out of my comfort zone. I knew that it would be enriching to meet new people and to share our stories together.

A question that was posed to us was, how well do you know your neighbours? How well do I know my neighbours? It made me think about the displacement that my family experienced from leaving the mission to mum & I moving up & down from Echuca to Melbourne, all the countless times I’ve moved, and my belonging in Footscray, the place I grew up and the community that nurtured me here. I often never truly feel comfortable or able to relax in one place, but Footscray has been a place that I feel a connection to. I know that Footscray is a place where a lot of other displaced people come to, and to seek refuge. I’m thankful that I grew up in a place where I hear so many different languages, from so many different nations around the world, eating dishes from other nations in the homes of my childhood friends, learning from each other, exchanging stories.

Several speakers introduced themselves, who they were and where they are from, what they do.

The people who spoke on the night all spoke numerous languages, from Tibet, Somalia, Iran, Colombia and Eritrea and so many more. A lot of which, had never spoken publicly before in front of that many people.

I felt grateful to be in the audience, soaking in every word of the speakers, reflecting on their journeys, of displacement, belonging, loss, community and refuge.

Almost all of the speakers spoke in English, a second, or a third or fourth or fifth language to them.

I begin to think about language, and why it is necessary for these mob who come here to have to speak English, why it is the default here, on unceded country.

I imagine the relationship First Peoples have had before colonisation with other mobs from other lands, wishing that I could speak my languages, that my ancestors spoke for thousands of generations before me. I mourn for it. Though I am determined to relearn what lies in my DNA.

It makes me think of the xenophobia these mob have to face when coming here, having their language and accents mocked, being told to stop speaking their mother tongue.

Something us mob, First Nations people know all too well, with having our languages outlawed, having our customs and cultures stolen away from us, withheld, made a mockery of.

Many of the stories told mirrored the atrocities of what has happened here.


I imagine a utopia, where we as sovereign First Nations people, speaking all of our many languages, having autonomy on our lands, could share our incredible culture and language to new coming brothers and sisters on our terms and have the capacity to exchange and grow and nurture each other, without the deterrence of colonisation.

Colonial trauma is something that binds us together in experience, yet I like to think about the similarities First Nations and people of colour globally shared long before colonisation, how we care for Country like it’s our own mother, how similar our family and kinship connections are. We’re often too busy trying to survive to stop and think about how we can relate to our neighbours.

Having the space to come together to yarn and listen to each-others similarities is so vital, togetherness and support will keep us strong which is what we need in this climate more than ever, and words nourish neighbours reminded me of that, it allowed me to imagine my utopia, and gave me spark of inspiration to continue to tell my story and my truth, to continue to learn my language and voice.




Related News & Insights:

First Nations in the House

Refuge Writers in Residence

Indigenous Wisdom

by Claire G. Coleman