Looking back on the stories that left a mark

After just 20 months at the Sun, it’s impossible to pick one favourite story from my short time here.

Right from the word go I was thrown in the deep end, covering the stabbing of a 14-year-old girl in Blacktown and a gangland execution in Colyton. Despite this rough introduction, the incredibly proud western Sydney spirit soon grew on me.

What I have come to love most about this diverse place is the many good people working hard to lift everyone around them. As a community journalist, it’s been my absolute privilege to give credit to those who often fly under the radar, and encourage others to support them.

Savannah Pride basketball coach Mayor Chagai with players Gum Majak and Chol Adup at the Blacktown PCYC. Picture Geoff Jones

Savannah Pride basketball coach Mayor Chagai with players Gum Majak and Chol Adup at the Blacktown PCYC. Picture Geoff Jones

Pride on the line

The PCYC will always be one of my favourite places in Blacktown for its passionate people, led by the wonderful Joanne “Jojo” Tau.

Although they’re not yet officially combined, the program that made the most lasting impression on me is Savannah Pride.

From Australian Story to the New York Times, founder Mayor Chagai is now getting the recognition he deserves. I was privileged to spend hours with Mayor, his fellow coaches and the brilliant young basketballers, in an effort to capture the spirit of this life-changing program.

It’s fair to say Blacktown wouldn’t be the same without it, or any of the other great work at the PCYC.

Iraqi refugee Yasir Sadeq, 16, with Sydwest Multicultural Services caseworker Mervat Altarazi. Picture: Supplied

Iraqi refugee Yasir Sadeq, 16, with Sydwest Multicultural Services caseworker Mervat Altarazi. Picture: Supplied

Making Australia home

One of the brilliant things about Blacktown is people from all around the world have made a new life here.

Some are like my own parents: English migrants looking for a brighter future in a warmer but familiar country. But many other have fled war, famine, persecution and poverty, looking for a future in a country with an unfamiliar language, culture and way of living.

Listening to young Yasir speak with confidence in his new language was one of the most moving experiences during my many stories with SydWest Multicultural Services.

Better Fathers member Chris Baker, vice chair James Munroe and chairman Tony Turanga under the mural of Muhammad Ali outside Blacktown PCYC. Picture: Isabella Lettini

Better Fathers member Chris Baker, vice chair James Munroe and chairman Tony Turanga under the mural of Muhammad Ali outside Blacktown PCYC. Picture: Isabella Lettini

Better fathers

Domestic violence was an issue I started reporting on early in my career, which somewhat prepared me for the horrifying extent of the problem in Blacktown.

Despite the inherent sadness in covering such an issue, it was wonderful working with groups helping victims, especially Blacktown Women’s and Girls’ Health Centre.

One other group that stands out for me is Better Fathers. It’s rare to find men working with perpetrators to address toxic masculinity, and say: it’s okay to cry. You can be strong and emotional.

We need more men to take practical steps in addressing the attitudes that fuel this atrocity.

Hands and Feet founder Joe Brown in the back of his truck after a delivery to Kings Park Community Church. Picture: Isabella Lettini

Hands and Feet founder Joe Brown in the back of his truck after a delivery to Kings Park Community Church. Picture: Isabella Lettini

Hands of hope

Most Australians take food on the table for granted. But with the increasing pressure on families in western Sydney, many are left wondering where their next meal is coming from.

Foodbank is a fantastic organisation doing huge things in this area. It’s brilliant to see John Robertson there after leaving politics.

One local initiative that impressed me is Hands and Feed. Initially from his Seven Hills home, and now from a warehouse in Blacktown, Joe Brown is feeding thousands of families and homeless people every week.

“When you see a problem you can solve, you do it,” is a simple but powerful line that summed up his attitude.

Kuei of the Sea of Gazelles by Kellie Leczinska; a finalist in the 2017 National Photographic Portrait Prize.

Kuei of the Sea of Gazelles by Kellie Leczinska; a finalist in the 2017 National Photographic Portrait Prize.

Capturing her past

After working with fantastic photographers Geoff Jones, Isabella Lettini and (briefly) Simon Bennett here at the Sun, I’ve never been more aware of the power of a picture.

This award-winning shot of Doonside migrant Kuei Alor stopped me in my tracks.

Kellie Leczinska’s portrait is incredibly powerful on its own, but I was privileged to speak with Kuei and learn of her incredible journey. She overcame war, malnourishment, disease and unimaginable horror to build the kind of life in Australia that many take for granted.

What struck me was not only Kuei’s past but the present and powerful love of her husband Craig, and their beautiful young family.

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