‘I was in the bushfires on New Year’s Eve down in Batemans Bay. After the fire went through, we ended up in an evacuation centre. I found myself in a situation where I had no control over what was happening to me, it wasn’t safe for me to return to where I’d been, and I couldn’t leave. Immediately after the danger had passed there were some basic services that came in to ensure we had food, water and accommodation – even if it was the floor of the town library which turned out to be one of the best sleeps I’ve ever had after that day!
‘When the pandemic hit, I started to see what was happening in hospitality with so many people losing their jobs one by one overnight.
‘I had just closed my restaurant late last year so here I was with this premises, and I thought, there is something I can do here – let me see if I can raise some money and get some people to help me.
‘For me, it’s kind of been this reverse experience. I thought I can provide part of what I received during the bushfire crisis in this scenario by just using what I have here and what other people will support me with to do this.
‘We’re doing free food every Friday for anyone who needs it. There are many industries where people have lost work in a short space of time – hospitality, retail, travel, education – there are so many sectors that are affected. We have beautiful volunteers who prepare and serve the food and we have an incredible amount of support from suppliers.
‘There is this whole interesting idea of charity versus community. What we see here is community coming together to share the abundance that exists within that community. It’s interesting because I think people might not feel like they can take charity or they qualify for it… but everyone at a time like this, and actually always, should be able to tap in to the resources of their community to help them when they need it. That is like the ultimate equation of abundance – there is always enough.’
‘I’m an event coordinator so our industry is completely gone. I’m concerned for the future because I don’t even know if we’re going to be able to have events anymore if we don’t have a vaccine.
‘It’s scary because I’ve been in Australia for 7 years. I came here with all the energy to start a new life. I would never have imagined I would be going through such a situation. I never was scared of working or learning something new. And I wonder, where is this person? I need to find it. I feel like I’m drowning. Every time I try to hold something it’s just gone.
‘I’m sad because my friends are losing jobs and they have nothing. I have a lot of international friends and they are scared. We feel lonely because the government doesn’t help everyone. I understand, you need to look after your citizens but at the same time all these people who came here and they support the country in some way – paying taxes and everything – and now they are left with nothing and they can’t even go back to their country.
‘I just wake up every day thinking that it’s a nightmare and I want to wake up from it.’
‘We met this gorgeous young man – he was from overseas. He told us he came last night and took lentils from the box. He then asked if he could take more and we said, “Of course!”
‘He told us he literally had no food at home. I didn’t realise that – if I saw him in any other setting I would not have guessed.
‘We’ve created the Newtown Blessing Box – a community street pantry where people can leave pantry items or even toiletry items, for whoever is in need. If they can give, they can give, and whoever needs it, they’re more than welcome to help themselves to as much as they like.
‘Creating the Newtown Blessing Box has made a massive impact to my own personal mental health. I own a business with my partner. The business has slowed down so instead of only focusing on that, we decided to look around at the world and see what else is going on. We saw asylum seekers making their way to the Asylum Seekers Centre and they mustn’t have known the centre was closed. They were going there for food and we realised they would have nothing.
‘Coming out everyday to check on the box, make it neat and presentable and to read the notes that people leave, it’s exciting to look forward to. Everyday someone leaves a note and there is something new. We get really excited and wonder who each item is from. We see our neighbours do a dash and put something in. Those interactions are really important and beautiful and heart warming and I now know my neighbours. It’s really made a positive impact on our mental health.’
Visit the Newtown Blessing Box on the corner of Bedford and Station Streets in Newtown. Give what you can and take what you need.
‘My partner Gary passed away in 1990 and left me $10,000 – but he said that I should use the money for my art. I was a butcher at the time and had been studying art as a hobby at night. I’d always wanted to go to National Art School so he left me the money and said I should apply and go. I got accepted and spent three years doing my Bachelor’s degree there and it was terrific.
‘It was the catalyst for me to be in the position in the art world I’m in today. I started the Lennox Street Art Studios 20 years ago with another artist called Steven Perrin. We now have 36 artists here. Gary would be so very proud of the studios – he’d be very, very happy.
‘For a city like Sydney, having accessible art studios like this is very important – there should be more of them. A city is not just big business – it’s about communities and being creative. Imagine a boring city with nothing but big business – how boring would that be? You need places like Newtown where there are creative people around and there’s variety in style.’
‘When I started out, I was just a really enthusiastic person that saw they needed help wrangling zombies. Seven years later I’m the head zombie of it all. I’m a bit of a horror buff so I love the gore but I also love the fact that it does raise money for a good cause – The Brain Foundation.
‘The Brain Foundation studies brain and neurological disorders and illnesses and so it covers things like brain cancer and stuff like that but they also look in to things like dementia and that sort of thing so it’s quite broad. I’ve had friends who’ve been affected and I’ve seen how much it can impact a family.
‘Every year the number of zombies doubles so we need as many zombie wranglers as possible. When it started out around 7 years ago we had about 100 zombies and it basically just multiplied every year and so now we’re one of the biggest walks in Australia for it. It’s really cool. Being a zombie wrangler is not a difficult job but we need all the help we can get.
‘Zombie Walks take place all over the world. Some of the earlier ones started in San Francisco but not all of them are fundraisers. I think that we’re the main one in Australia that does fundraising but the rest of them are more for horror buffs and for people who want to just get bloody and messy and scare the general public.’
‘I feel scared. Who’s going to protect me at the end of the night? I don’t know if they’re watching me, or not. My family gets scared when they see things like this. They don’t want me to work anymore. They said what if they come next time and you’re there and they know I will defend myself and things will be worse.
‘Last night about half an hour after I finished work I received a call from security. They told me you have a break in or something through your windows. I was at the city with my friend having a cup of coffee and relaxing after work so I had to come straight back and found the police here. I saw my whole front door is smashed and I was surprised and shocked and really, really upset about it.
‘Also on the Friday my window cleaner told me to come and see what they’d scratched on the window. They’d written “F*** Arabs”.
‘I don’t know why this guy or guys think I’m the leader for Arab people or I’m the leader for Muslims – they’re calling me to abuse me about what’s happening overseas or something like that which is not my fault. I’m not doing nothing wrong here.
‘This is not the first time. For the last 7-8 months, every month, 2-3 calls were received threatening and swearing – talking in a racist way. I’ve been here 14 years. I’ve never had problems like this before.
‘I don’t want to know who did it. God will forgive them one day. I will forgive them if they stop doing this but I’m a bit surprised about the media. Usually if a Muslim guy does something, they put it on the TV next half an hour but if something happens to a Muslim guy, they’ll think about it a hundred times before they put it on.
‘I need the police this time to take it more seriously. It’s happened before, (they take a) statement, things happen but they never come back to me. I never heard from them again.
‘The whole community (here in Newtown) – the people, they’re really nice. They’ve been supporting me all day today – calling me, saying sorry – I love Newtown, it’s a beautiful place.’
‘When I was a kid I loved to draw. I loved creating stuff and imagining things but slowly over time it disappeared and I stopped drawing. When I hit my 30s, I decided to start getting up 15 minutes earlier before work each day. The first time I did it was really strange because I was just sitting there with this blank piece of paper and didn’t know what to do. It just grew bigger and bigger and now it’s about 1½-2 hours a day.
‘I used to see these two older men outside this café in Glebe. I drew them and imagined a story that perhaps they’d fallen on hard times but really they secretly controlled all the money in the world. I became friends with one of them and discovered he was a fine arts student back in the 70s or 80s. He’d actually been an artist all that time so it was a cool moment where the story I’d imagined came in to clash with a reality.
‘I always thought that I was normal as a kid – the way I thought – until I started talking to people and then I realised that maybe I’m not so normal – maybe I’ve got a slightly different perspective. I’ve always connected dots A & G rather than A & B. There is something inside me that just tries to connect things that are seemingly unconnected and so I love creating stories about the people I draw.
‘This whole process of rediscovering art has changed me a lot. It’s shown me possibilities and it’s helped me to connect with a whole bunch of people that I wouldn’t have before. It expands the world and it makes me much more empathetic for people. I’m now more patient and humble in how I try and understand them.’
Oscar Finch will be holding his first Honesty Box Gallery Exhibition at the HON Live launch event on Saturday 5th September. He will be also roaming the crowds incognito drawing people and creating stories about them.
‘Creativity means coming up with something from almost nothing. If you want something original then some of that is going to happen with you being an ordinary person working with unusual concepts. But some of that is also going to come from your own individuality – you will look at an ordinary thing but bring your own perspective to that – the way you formulate the story for example because of your background. I think we all need to embrace our inner weirdness. We need to keep it weird.’
Graeme Simsion, author of The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect.