We often miss the vital signs of political activity in our public life. Elections matter, question time matters, legislation matters, press conferences matter. Politicians are meant to be representatives, but in our media we too often fail to see representations of the workers at the coalface. In other words, we fail to value our community where the real politics happens, and settle instead for the inauthentic and distant believing that this is where power lies. We must not only argue the issues then, think about ideas, but also highlight the positive everyday work ‘ordinary’ people are doing, what real people, the real Australians who say welcome, are doing. This is where the political is personal.
I have volunteered with a number of grassroots organisations over the last fifteen years: the ANU Environment Collective, Penn Against War, Books Through Bars, Food Not Bombs, Philadelphia Community Gardens, Witchcliffe Progress Association, Herdsman Lake Wildlife Centre. This is in addition to being a worker in ‘political’ organisations – not for profits, a union and Indigenous organisations. What characterises this type of voluntary political engagement is the density of social networks and the type of labour. Strong friendships are made through collective effort because people believe in a better future. Making that future is a type of daily labour, often involving repetitive tasks, and it is made possible by how much energy people invest in the local. This is, of course, not to dismiss elections or politicians, but to highlight that we need to care about our community, that we can make change happen with our own two hands, whoever we are.
At Peril we believe that we can help our community care for each other through highlighting grassroots work.
In Australia today there is no more vexed issue than refugees. Wild Dingo Press and Mascara continue to create a space for writing from illegally detained people, but on the whole we lack positive stories about refugees. This week I caught up with Dori Ellington, who is behind Melbourne’s Tamil Feasts to change that and to discuss what they are doing to change Australia.
What is Tamil Feasts?
விருந்து – Tamil Feasts a social food project supporting asylum seekers through the celebration of food and culture. Tamil Feasts provides immediate employment to long-term detained Tamil men – giving them an opportunity to gain valuable kitchen, hospitality and personal experience in a comfortable and welcoming environment.
Proud Tamil cooks Sri, Nirma, Niro and Nigethan are keen to share the food heritage of their Sri Lankan homeland. Diners feast on traditional banquets of curries, chutneys, vadai, dahl, kormas and masalas. It is a rare chance for diners to experience the vibrant colour, spice and flavour of authentic Tamil cuisine, that’s rarely found outside Sri Lanka.
When did you start?
We started in May 2015. We were just going to try 2 feasts to see how they would go, and they sold out in 5 days. Every feasts has sold out since then – we have held weekly feasts at CERES in Brunswick East every Tuesday.
How did you start?
We had known each other for about 6 months and when Sri and Nirma were released at the end of February, they were looking for jobs and I knew they could cook. Nirma is quite business minded and Sri is an amazing cook so without any start up funding or anything, we popped up a Trybooking link, started a facebook account and hired the CERES community kitchen.
Why did you start?
Tamil Feasts was a knee jerk/ must do reaction. These guys have had 6 years of their lives taken from them – providing a kitchen has provided a voice for them and a way to connect with people that want to meet and support asylum seekers but don’t know how. It also informs people that detentions centres exist in Melbourne – 15km from where we are having our dinners in Brunswick East. But at the same time it is about celebration, welcoming and new culture. That’s the amazing thing about food; it can encompass all of this.
What does it mean to you?
For me it means seeing some of the most resilient and inspiring men every week – and when we sell out it gives me amazing hope that people do not reflect the government’s stance on detention and its asylum seeker policy.
What is Tamil Feasts doing now?
On September 28th we opened on Mondays as well, which will also expand our menu to seafood and meat. Our team expands as more men get out of detention, so our opening hours have to. The more experience, the more culture, the more catering jobs we can pick up.
Tamil Feasts is simply one example of people doing great grassroots things. It offers a way for the community to come together in a positive environment and share in one of the things people like best – food. Find out more here.