Home is everything to me

Taressa Mongta, Surry Hills tenant
Taressa Mongta, Surry Hills tenant

By Taressa Mongta, Surry Hills tenant

I grew up on the Northern foreshores of Botany Bay at the La Perouse Aboriginal Reserve AKA ‘Lappa Mish’ in the 1970s and 1980’s.

It was great growing up there. The sea was our backyard – 6 beaches, National Park Lands. We had plenty of space and freedom. Everyone (mainly us girls and a couple a boys) had a horse. In the words of Mr Greg Blaxland “there were that many horses, in the end they were tying them up with string!”

Girls wore their hair long and free or in pony tails. Boys had surfboards and went out fishing and diving often and played a mean game of football and the communities men sat in fish camps and fished seasonally.

It was a close knit vibrant community. Even the dogs were free (registration wasn’t compulsory and may I say we had more than one!).

My first work opportunity came as a laundry assistant at the Prince Henry Hospital. It was great. I started early and knocked-off in time to head straight to the beach. I was then called in by the Commonwealth Employment Service (CES) to sit the Public Service exam. I was successful and chose employment in the CES.

I have been living mainly in the inner city for the past 17 years or so. Firstly in Redfern and now in Surry Hills.

I have a 3 bedroom home which isn’t big enough for us now as I have had an additional 3 children and we number 5 to 6, sometimes more when family come through to visit.

But, I love living here now  because I am close to everything including the pulse of Aboriginal life (Tent Embassy at the Block and various thought leaders) and services we can access that our people fought for. Also, there is support for the kids such as after school and vacation care nearby. There are active church communities, which I utilise. Also, I know my neighbours. They hail from overseas and they are very good neighbours.

Before that and before I had my kids and obtained housing I was living with extended family and shifting from house to house, I did a lot of couch surfing and spent time in hostels and refuges, I lived an itinerant life of sorts while I pursued education. It all stopped when the children came along.

My 4 children are aged between 9 and 15. They are growing up differently in high density inner city living. I am sad they will miss the settling influence and instruction of Aunties and Uncles who would share responsibility for them. But we (the community and our family) make community where we are now – as we can.

Taressa with Merinda Dutton
Taressa with Merinda Dutton, Aboriginal Legal Officer at the TU in 2015

Stephen Fields from the Greater Sydney Tenants Advice Service (GSATS) in Redfern has been helping me out with a tenancy issue that I am having, regarding damage my kids allegedly caused around property. He has been great in tackling my issues holistically.

That’s important because some days we can get knocked around by life a bit. And it’s important to be sensitive enough to offer support when we are impacted by ‘sorry business’ and overwhelmed by the conundrum of living in a city and maintaining and enacting responsibilities for Kin and Country.

I have recommenced work on a project started some 20 years ago called ‘Djalaringi’ (which means ‘something that belongs to us’). It is a play about the story of La Perouse, the 1988 Long March AKA   ‘the March for Survival’, the Great Depression, the Koori Knock-Out, the Church and the Sea. I want to consolidate the work done by so many and hope it will be a catalyst for solidarity and unity to stand up to give our people dignity.

I wrote the following with the advice and assistance of other community members back in 1994, forever capturing our peoples desire to maintain our role in the Long March of 1988:

“The experience of the Long March found our community smothered by an immense sense of history, a very strange feeling that we may possibly experience only once in our lifetimes. We waited many days for our families from the coast and country areas and for tribal people to arrive. We knew very well that the gubbas would celebrate their great achievements and pioneering spirit on this day. Sadness and anger, staunch pride and resolution mingled together and when our people finally arrived many tears did flow. But, we were so happy to see each other and our children held tight to the black arms and hands of tribal people who we did not really know as if they were holding on to life itself.”

Having a stable home means for me-peace of mind. My home is everything to me, its protection, comfort and a stable base for my kids. It shields me against the world. From home I can venture out and begin to create and contribute back to my community. If I didn’t have this home I wouldn’t be able to achieve half as much as I do.

I want to finish this project I’ve been working on; it’s been my life’s work. Because I believe it is important to all of us as 1988 was a Landmark occasion in our Nation’s history.  And I am grateful all the time for my home and community; they are the base camp so I can climb my mountain. I feel sorry for people living rough and I know that means the great majority of us.

So many of our people are overcrowded and/or reluctant to go through the bureaucracy required and they despair like I did, but hang in there, it is worth it! It feels horrible sometimes to be unsettled and homeless. But, with help and if you can maintain study or training or employment you’ll get by. It’s most important we maintain our focus to get housing and we need the help of services like the Greater Sydney Tenants Advice service and staff like Stephen and his colleagues and tenants.