“He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich”

Best TV show or Documentary Showing Migrants in a Positive Light
Australia’s film-makers embrace the migration narrative

By Joe Lowry

Kookaburras, kangaroos, surfing and vegemite.

What else would a group of kids from rural Myanmar need to know about the land down under? And how can a TV show aimed at pre-teens or a documentary about refugees establishing a new life in Australia, help reinforce a positive image of migration?

Here’s the thing, quite a lot actually, and quite a bit, but fun stuff first.

Thirteen-year-old Owen Small, who is a young man with big dreams and a big heart, who  is the subject of an Australian TV series called “Enquiring Minds” which focuses on helping pre-teens to be ambitious when looking at their careers.  Most of the series is taken up with “normal” stuff like being a vet or an engineer, but Owen has a passion for rights and equality.

And, having come to the attention of the producers through an essay on human rights he penned in school, Owen and his father Roger were whisked to Kuala Lumpur to take part  in an Australian Cultural Orientation (AUSCO) session run by IOM Malaysia recently. Their experience will form a special hour-long end-piece to “Enquiring Minds”, aimed at getting young people to explore migration issues, with Owen leading the charge.

Scott Richardson from TV Sydney, producer of the series explained that once they heard about Owen’s story they decided to pull out all the stops to make a moving programme on Owen’s interaction with young refugees. “It’s a great story,” he said, “and it will make kids think more about where people come from to get to Australia, and what they go through.”

With cameras rolling, Owen walked into a classroom of kids from Myanmar, ranging from 6-12 years of age, and within minutes had his peers hanging ten on imaginary surfboards, playing “duck-duck-goose” and scrunching up their faces at their first taste of Vegemite.

“This is really cool, it’s great to be in Kuala Lumpur taking part in this,” said Owen at the first break in the day’s training, part of a week-long intensive orientation which takes place just before families leave for their new lives in Australia.

“Australia is a land of migrants, and I am here because I am Australian and I want to help these people settle. Everyone should be safe; everyone deserves to be in a happy place,” said Owen, who surfs, swims and plays footie when he’s not thinking about human rights.

AUSCO has been running worldwide since 2003 and some 45,000 people from 24 countries have benefitted from this immersion course in Australian laws, values and lifestyle, which also prepares them for travel and arrival. The scheme is funded by Australia’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship, and the training delivered by IOM.

Satelah, one of the oldest participants in the children’s group said she was “very happy to be playing games and learning about Australia.” Like many of the children she was most interested in learning about school and how to make friends. And – like any young girl – she blushed when asked what she thought of Aussie boys. “Very nice,” she admitted.

We took our leave, with Owen standing at the top of the class, leading a chant that went:

“G’day mate, how ya going?”

It seems that Australia’s film-makers are embracing the migration narrative, at a time when it is a hot topic in the country.

‘New Land, New Life’, a government-funded documentary made in conjunction with the Horn of Africa Relief & Development Agency (HARDA) is about to hit the silver screen. It is billed as inspiring story of success and opportunity for the refugee community in Australia.

“This is a moving portrayal of the struggles and victories refugees face in establishing their new life in Australia,” according Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Brendan O’Connor, speaking at the film’s launch.  “The overwhelming success of these refugees is a reminder of our world-class settlement policy and services, allowing migrants to flourish and Australia to capitalise on the full benefits of migration for our society.”

The three men and two women featured in the documentary include an Ethiopian who is now one of Mitsubishi Holdings Australia’s top executives and a former child soldier from South Sudan who arrived at age 18 speaking no English, but now works as a criminal lawyer.

MP Julie Owens said the documentary not only told of the refugees’ inspiring journeys, but their hopes for the future in their adopted country.

“The documentary is not just about where these amazing individuals have come from but how they want their journeys to continue, with a special brand of humour and emotion,” Ms Owens said.

‘New Land, New Life’ provides an opportunity for the wider community to understand first-hand the contributions and achievements of these Australians, many of whom arrived as humanitarian entrants having endured difficult circumstances overseas.

“The film will educate the broader community about the positive contribution that the African community makes for all Australians.”

Australia can now take a bow and claim the IOM award for  “Best TV show or Documentary Showing Migrants in a Positive Light.”

Joe Lowry is the Senior Media and Communication for IOM