We Are Brimbank Stories

Tadros Hanna from St Albans

“They said, ‘Do you want to paint a piano?’

I said, ‘Yes, sure.’”

‘Yes, sure’ is a familiar refrain for those who have met Tadros Hanna, a man who will happily collaborate with any artist of any age, and who gives his time freely to help others create for the community. He paints on canvas, on walls, and even on pianos. He seeks out opportunity, and when offered a chance to create, he accepts it whole-heartedly.

Hanna had been interested in art from a very young age but his personal art took a backseat to his professional work: architecture, interior design, and the management of projects. Over time, he began exploring painting again, first with watercolours, and then with acrylics.

He arrived in Australia in 2015, leaving Egypt after a crisis left his family feeling unsafe. He was a single parent of two children, who moved to a new country where his qualifications and twenty years of experience would not be accepted. This was a big life change.

Tadros Hanna

“I was doing very well and had a good life and suddenly you lose everything. You have two ways in your life: to be negative or to be positive. So, I think that because I saw the value in my children, they gave me that. I want to do something good for them. I cannot fall down. I cannot leave them. I cannot. I have to protect them and to be supporting them. In the same time I had to risk our lives. So I came, I don’t know how I got the courage,” said Hanna.
 

After landing in Sydney and finding no rental homes available, the family moved to a house in St Albans, Victoria. When his son Youssef came home after his first day of school asking, “Who are these people?” Hanna realised he needed to get involved with his community so that he could find the answers for his son. He began volunteering at Youssef’s school, the Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, and Melbourne Artists for Asylum Seekers (MAFA). In 2016, Hanna became a Harmony Ambassador for the City of Brimbank.

What’s ever present in Hanna’s artist’s journey is a willingness to advocate for his art. His first Australian solo art show in mid-November 2017 came by way of a conversation during an art class at St Albans Community Centre. Sitting with a staff member during a break, Hanna remarked on the existing exhibition, and enquired about how he could have his own. A space in the schedule had become available in two months’ time, and elated, he set about successfully inviting the Mayor to open the launch. Many of the City Councillors from across Brimbank attended in support, and friends from the community brought presents and food to share.
 

“Other amazing people who created the [food] table. It was a festival of harmony, of how people can come together to support an artist in St Albans, in Brimbank,” said Hanna.
 

Harmony is at the core of Hanna’s motivation, and art is the tool he uses to express, connect, and encourage others to find their own passions. His beautiful painted piano, which has held a place of pride in Alfrieda Street in St Albans, is indicative of this. Approached one day after giving an art class, Hanna started working on the piano without knowledge of the exhibition it was for. It was only after he had completed the artwork that he came to realise he had joined artists from across the world on the ‘Play Me, I’m Yours’ art project by Luke Jerram. Hanna recalls the day he realised the impact that his piano has had on his family and community.

Tadros Hanna's Play Me, I'm Yours piano

“When your daughter comes to you and tells you she’s proud of you, maybe I’m not powerful, I’m not rich. I cannot…give them the luxury they had before in Egypt. So it means a lot to me that I did something. That’s why I say it’s the achievement of my life. When I see the impact on the people in the street. When I see the impact on the project of the City Council,” said Hanna. 
 

Harmony is the main theme in Hanna’s collaborative Watt Street mural, which was created with local artist Sebastian Fransz and young people from across Brimbank including Hanna’s daughter, Carla Tadros. Hanna explains that the ten panels represent fingers, each unique like the diversity seen in our community, connected by a heart, above an orange harmonious land and under the blue sky of Australia. He stresses that a key component is the unfixed nature of the panels, embodying freedom of creative expression and ideas, values that Hanna holds dear.
 

“I want every Australian to know something. They have a very big privilege to have a voice. Anyone can listen to you. Having a voice, having the freedom of expression, for some other people all around the world can be a luxury – no one can have it. This is something amazing,” said Hanna.

Artists in front of the Watt Street, Sunshine mural.

Hanna’s collaborative spirit and enthusiasm for new projects has led to his work being retained in the Victoria Museum’s permanent collection, has seen his work displayed across Brimbank, and now has led to his first virtual exhibition.

‘The Home of 2020’ is available virtually until Sunday 21 June 2020, and showcases the work he has created over the last five years. Using brightly coloured acrylic paints, he visually describes his journey from pain to hope. Hanna is enthusiastic about exploring the use of a new digital medium to display his work, and the breaking down of geographical barriers that the virtual exhibition creates. 

What’s next for Tadros Hanna? He says the big dream is to one day have his work in the National Gallery of Victoria, and on the way he’s looking forward to being inspired and inspiring others.

“You have the right to dream. No-one can take from you any dream,” said Hanna. “Believe in what you’re doing and try your best and what happens will happen. But at least, try. Do your best. Just do the art.” 

Tadros Hanna with some of his work.

Social Support Team offer window visits during isolation

200 calls a week are made from Brimbank’s Community Care team to make sure that vulnerable clients and their families have what they need during the statewide coronavirus lockdown. While many of Brimbank’s residents have been able to make small trips to collect essentials, use social media to stay in contact with friends and family, or pop out for a bit of exercise, other members of the community have needed to stay physically isolated. For some, this has led to social isolation. 

Debra Foss, Council’s service coordination team leader, says that it was during social welfare check-in calls that their team discovered some people needed a little extra help.

“We were finding that our clients who we know to be living alone, with mental health disorders, or who have major chronic health concerns were finding it very difficult to be away from what is generally their only social aspect for the week,” Debra said.

Council staff began offering window visits to provide support, newsletters, activity packs, and vital social contact. The idea started from an online call with Alzheimer’s Australia who described the benefits they had seen from volunteers connecting with clients through dining hall windows in an aged care facility.  

Grace Mifsud, program leader of the Social Support team at St Albans Community Centre says that many of the residents usually attend Council’s social support groups several times per week. These groups have had to been cancelled due to social distancing restrictions. Some residents have little or no family contact, and others may not have been able to leave the house since social distancing started back in March.

“When we are chatting with them they’ll ask, ‘When are you going to come and visit?’” Grace said.

Social Support staff communicate at the front door or porch for between 30-60 minutes depending on the need of the individual. These visits revealed that some people had not been coping as well as they claimed during phone wellness checks, allowing staff to provide them with links to additional services. Consultation with carers has been undertaken for clients living with dementia to make sure that the window visits were helpful rather than harmful.

Some clients are assisting with projects from isolation including a knitting group that has been working on hats, scarves, and blankets for the community. Council provides packages of wool and knitters provide their time and skills. Others have been engaging with Council’s online activity programs including Italian, Croatian, Arabic, and Egyptian language news, as well as simple cooking sessions including spanakopita, curry, and scones.

Brimbank residents with their activity packs

The social support team is hoping to visit each client at least once during the social distancing period. For the rest of us, it’s a reminder to reach out to loved ones whether they’re young or old, to see if they need a little extra help or someone to talk to. 

If you or someone you know needs help:
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800
MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 46 36
Headspace: 1800 650 890

 

Kristi from Community Care, Brimbank City Council

For many staff the COVID-19 pandemic has meant we’ve had to adjust to life working remotely, but for a large portion of the Brimbank workforce the impact of COVID-19 on work life has been very different. Brimbank’s frontline workers who deliver essential services to the community have continued to work in the community each and every day to maintain the health and wellbeing of some of our most vulnerable community members.

Kristi Coburn is a Community Care worker who has worked for Council for 17 years. In her role, she provides services including Home Care, Personal Care, Respite Care, shopping and meals preparation. A typical work day for Kristi starts at 8.30am and ends around 3.30pm.

In this time she will visit the homes of three to four community members, some of whom are regular clients, and others who are not. She is always open to change – something Kristi says is key. Kristi will spend anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours at each home.

“When I get to a house I spend the first five minutes getting a run-over of the client so that you know what they need. They might not be feeling well on that day – so you make sure they’re OK before you start to work,” Kristi said.

Aurora Kurth. Image by Len Paneki.

 

Work can range from anything from household duties to meal prep or cooking, supermarket shopping, respite care or helping with their personal needs like showering, grooming or shaving. Kristi says every house is different, but she approaches each with the same positive attitude. “If I’m positive it helps put them in a happy mood.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, life as a Community Care worker has changed. While the friendly chit chat remains, there are no more coffees with clients and a home visit now includes questions to determine whether the client is well and whether they have been in contact with anyone who has been unwell. With the exception of providing personal care, Community Care workers are now required to maintain personal distance within the home, and the use of gloves and strict hygiene measures are a must (gloves have always been a staple). 

Kristi says the extra hygiene measures are important for protecting the client, herself and her family - an important consideration she and other Community Care workers think about each day they are out in the community.

“It has been a huge risk for us to be going into homes. Not just for ourselves, but we’ve had to consider our families as well. You can ask all the questions… but there has been that doubt, they still want you to come in to do their cleaning and self-care. Am I putting myself in danger?”

But Kristi says trust goes both ways. “They have to have trust in me that I have been doing all I can to keep myself healthy and safe to keep them well and safe.” When it comes to personal care, Kristi said maintaining social distancing is not possible. She now tries to get each client to do what they can while she assists, and her methods of providing personal care has been adjusted to avoid the possibility of situations where she might be coughed on for example. 

While COVID-19 has had an impact on staff, it is also impacting clients. Kristi said that most of her clients have been excellent during the current pandemic, but some are scared and uncomfortable to let someone they have never met into their homes. She recounts two recent examples of where clients have made the decision not to let Kristi complete her work because they were not comfortable to have her enter their homes, but she says these reactions are completely understandable and the feelings and wants of each client is her number one concern.

“I just do the best I can and hope that we come out of it at the other end. Just keep going. They’re relying on us to deliver whatever service we can provide them. You just try and do the best you can to keep it going,” Kristi said.

Some clients are feeling isolated in their homes with no access to Planned Activity Groups and a lack of contact with friends, but most are doing well. Kristi said the extra phone calls from Council’s Community Register has been fantastic for clients – breaking up their days. Kristi says it’s been a huge effort on everyone’s behalf to make it work. 

“Everyone’s been working exceptionally well together from management to team leaders to rostering staff to carers on the ground and the clients. We’ve all been in this together.” 

To the rest of the Community Care team, Kristi says while the pressure is on and everyone is dealing with the current environment differently they are all doing an amazing job.

“I would congratulate each and every one of them. They’re doing an amazing job… It’s been an overall outstanding effort.”

For Kristi, it doesn’t hurt that she loves her job: “It’s been good for me... I love my job – it makes a huge difference. Everyone needs to be commended for working so well together. It’s been a real team effort.” She is also appreciative of the support received from team leaders and rostering staff who she says have done everything possible to keep staff safe, and the clients as well.

Elena from Sydenham

Elena Konikkos had high expectations for her final year of high school: it was going to be the fun, big year where she was going to rule the school as a senior student. She then found herself studying from home like so many others after the coronavirus pandemic changed everyone’s year.

Never one to be defeated, the music performance VCE student decided to use her talents to bring light and joy to her community by performing songs in her driveway. “You can do so much with singing,” said the Brimbank teenager, “It’s another way of talking; your emotions and connecting with other people.”

The young vocalist was inspired by artists half a world away in Italy and sought to replicate the experience for her own street. Though initially worried that her neighbours may interpret the sounds as a party and call the police, she quickly discovered others on the street who were missing live music. 

Aurora Kurth. Image by Len Paneki.

“When someone’s walking by, they’ll stand for a minute or two and then they scream out ‘wonderful’ or start clapping, and then they just continue doing what they do. So, I’ve got a lot of support from my neighbours,” Elena said. 

Studying from home has been a challenge for many, and though Elena misses the structure of attending school in person she has loved the freedom of working at her own pace. With supportive teachers, she and many others are persevering and making the best of the situation.

“[The teachers have] definitely been amazing. They always take the time to make sure that if anyone has questions (or if you want to ask questions) they’ll end the call and they’ll call you. It’s been really good,” Elena said. 

After completing her VCE, Elena is hoping to make progress on a long-term personal goal by taking her equipment and voice busking on Melbourne’s busy city streets. In the immediate future though, she’s looking forward to heading out for a meal with the friends and family that she’s been missing for the last few months.

“I’m looking forward to going out and eating food! Restaurant food. Visiting my family. I miss them quite a lot…I’m just worried. More socialising means more communicable diseases go up. I’m scared for that because I do have vulnerable people in my family and I don’t want to be a carrier. I am quite concerned. I might wait a really long time until I see my grandparents,” Elena said.

Elena’s sure that the music scene will be coming back, and she will be ready to join other performers in celebrating once it’s safe to do so. In the meantime, you don’t have to live in the neighbourhood to catch a show: you can follow her on Instagram and Facebook where she will be performing via livestream.

VCE students have returned to school settings in Victoria this week.