'You have to change your name': Stories of Australia's South Sudanese

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Employment struggles, casual racism, and the reputation of the so-called Apex gang are all issues confronting the community. What are the solutions?

Members of Melbourne’s South Sudanese community say racism, the reputation of the so-called Apex gang, and barriers to employment are all challenges they continue to face.

Around 30 people gathered at a modest community hall in Noble Park in Melbourne’s south-east for a forum aimed at airing ongoing issues of integration and settlement in the area.

Participants described everyday experiences of being South Sudanese in Australia.

Jafri Katagar.
Jafri Katagar.
SBS World News

Local man Jafri Katagar spoke of the challenges that come with finding employment:

"When we are looking for work, you have to change your name on your resume," he said. 

"I do have an African name but when I put it on the resume I can't get work. They flip it over and say 'use the name such as John Smith’."

'They think we're going to steal something'

Mavneth Te claims casual and overt racism is still experienced by many. 

“If we go to the shops they think we're going to steal something," he said.  [I] sort of get used to it a bit but it still hurts inside because not everybody's doing the wrong thing, half the people are trying," he said.

"[I] sort of get used to it ... but it still hurts inside because not everybody's doing the wrong thing, half the people are trying,” he said.

A meeting for members of the South Sudanese community in Noble Park, Melbourne.
A meeting for members of the South Sudanese community in Noble Park, Melbourne.
SBS World News

Some said the reputational damage has been caused by exaggerated reporting of the so-called Apex gang - a group often wrongly associated solely with the South Sudanese community.

James Luak says the legacy of the Apex is still being felt. 

"The impact that it did negatively is too much - there's a lot of people lost their job," he said. 

"A lot of kids can't get [a] job anymore because obviously, all the Sudanese kids are Apex, apparently. It did have a very, very big impact ... and it's affecting us daily.”

'You got to make an effort'

Participants in the forum also suggested solutions - including a review of education placement for new arrivals. Some highlighted a perceived a lack of engagement from Australian politicians as an issue - while others, like Marnas Deiwal, urged members of the community to seize the assistance already on offer.

"There are also a lot of training provided by the government," he said.

"Like a job seeker, they can even do your resume there [at the job centre] and you just got to make an effort to get the job," Ms Deiwal said.

Marnas Deiwal urged members of the community to seize the assistance already on offer.
Marnas Deiwal urged members of the community to seize the assistance already on offer.
SBS World News

Overall, there was a feeling that the South Sudanese story is gradually being better told and understood.

South Sudanese community member Ojulu Wan says self-produced and community-guided productions like the forthcoming SBS drama Sunshine - about a young South Sudanese-Australian basketballer in Melbourne - are generally seen as a positive step.

Telling stories

South Sudanese community member Ojulu Wan says self-produced and community-guided productions like forthcoming SBS drama Sunshine - about a young South Sudanese-Australian basketballer in Melbourne - are generally seen as a positive step.

"There are people who are doctors, who are social workers, everything. The whole spectrum of life is there in the [South] Sudanese community," he tells SBS World News.

"We need to get into the business of writing down our own stories, by our people, for our people, so people can see us from our own perspective."  

 

  • This is the third and final part of an SBS World News series of special reports focussing on the South Sudanese community in Australia. 

  • Sunshine, a new four-part drama series starring Anthony LaPaglia, is about a young South Sudanese-Australian basketballer who dreams of playing in the NBA and premieres on Wednesday October 18 at 8.30pm on SBS.

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Sunshine is coming to SBS: Preview
Sunshine is coming to SBS: Preview

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