Podcast 15 – Refugee Week in South East NSW with ANU Professor of Diplomacy

Welcome Refugees from Refugee Council of Australia
Welcome Refugees from Refugee Council of Australia. Please note the balloons are tied up!

Refugee Week is being marked around the region, the theme is a clever play on words borrowed from our national anthem – “With courage let us all combine.”

The aim of the week is to celebrate the contribution refugees make to Australian society and to ultimately build a better understanding between different communities.

A range of cultural, social, and advocacy events are planned across the Eurobodalla, Bega Valley and Snowy Monaro in the coming days.

At Cooma on Thursday (June 22) there is a film screening, “Constance on the Edge” between 5:30 and 7:30 at the Cooma Multicultural Centre on Mittagang Rd.

‘Constance on the Edge’ follows a charismatic mother of six, as she confronts her painful past in war-torn Sudan, risking everything in Australia so her family can thrive. Filmed over 10 years in Wagga Wagga, the documentary is an unflinchingly honest portrayal of one refugee family’s resettlement story in regional New South Wales.

The Bega Valley branch of Rural Australians for Refugees has a packed program of movie screenings, dinners, and author talks and on Friday (June 23) at 10 am in Littleton Gardens Bega, a rally to raise awareness of Refugee Welcome Zones.

And in the Eurobodalla, locals are invited to join a celebration in Moruya on Saturday morning (June 24) as the Welcome Scroll visits as part its national journey.

The Welcome Scroll is 5 metres long, features hand turned red gum handles and the signatures of representatives from over 140 Refugee Welcome Zones around the country – including the signature of Eurobodalla Mayor Liz Innes.

Head to Russ Martin Park between 10 and 12 this Saturday, they’ll be food and live music and you can check out the Moruya Markets at the same time.

South East NSW busy as always!

To this week’s podcast – William Maley, Professor of Diplomacy at the Australian National University, and Vice President of the Refugee Council of Australia, has just been in the region as a guest of the Social Justice Advocates of the Sapphire Coast.

Bill’s book “What is a Refugee?” is a guide to the complex issues that surface whenever refugees are discussed, while also telling the stories of families and individuals who have sought refuge.

Social Justice Advocates of the Sapphire Coast, refugee forum 2016
Social Justice Advocates of the Sapphire Coast, refugee forum 2016.

Bill came to Merimbula keen to motivate and inform advocacy around the issue, hoping for a more humane approach to refugees from the Australian Government and sections of Australian society.

He spoke for almost an hour to around 200 people, I’ve boiled it down to about 17 minutes, I’ve cleaned the audio up as best I can but there is a little bit of background noise, which I hope you can forgive.

Thanks for tuning into About Regional, your feedback, story ideas, and advertising inquiries are welcome, just flick me an email – hello@aboutregional.com.au

Thanks to my partners in this week’s podcast – Light to Light Camps – pristine beaches, great food, hot showers and comfy beds. This is your chance to explore the Wilderness Coast in style.

See you out and about in South East NSW.

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Social justice the X-factor in Merimbula’s Joseph

Roll up, roll up for Joseph and his dreamcoat
Roll up, roll up for Joseph and his Dreamcoat

There is a certain civic duty sometimes that pushes you to attend a local event. Things only happen when people step up to make them happen, and in a regional community you want to see those people and their events succeed – people turning out is key.

What a buzz, what a bonus when that local event blows your mind!

‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ on stage now at Twyford Hall Merimbula will do just that.

As happens in small communities you will recognise many of the faces taking on this Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice classic – which only serves to heighten the emotion around this production’s success.

I took my seat in row 11 blind to the story.

Joseph is the favourite of Jacob’s 12 sons, jealous brothers conspire but Joseph lands on his feet as the Pharoah’s 2IC because of his ability to see the future through his and other people’s dreams.

David Willis out front of his red hot 10 piece orchestra
David Willis out front of his red hot 10 piece orchestra

It’s a big cast with close to 50 people either on stage or part of the polished, big sounding orchestra lead by David Willis.

Music is a constant, with no spoken word – all song, including an Elvis-inspired tune from the Pharoah.

Sitting at my desk now some hours after the curtain was pulled across the stage and the tunes are still going around in my head – ‘Go Go Go Joseph.’

The local vision for this show started three years ago on the back of a successful production of ‘The Sound of Music’ where director Shaun Wykes and actor/singer Hayley Fragnito first met.

“I just love the music,” Hayley says.

“And I am a bit of a softy for family, happy feel good stories.”

Joseph was the first of the many Lloyd Webber and Rice musicals to be performed publicly, with the premiere in 1970.

It has since traveled the world as a major musical but it is estimated that over 20,000 schools and amateur theatre groups have staged their own show.

Hayley Fragnito as Maria in The Sound of Music.
Hayley Fragnito as Maria in The Sound of Music.

Dreamcoat Production’s version at Twyford Hall has all the polish and professionalism of this year’s big touring production through the UK, North America, and New Zealand but it has an X-factor born of its regional roots.

“This is a not-for-profit show and the money raised is going to be donated back to our local community,” Hayley says.

Proceeds from the two-week season will go to the Sapphire Coast Advocates for the Social Justice.

“We have been hearing stories from John Liston who plays Jacob in the show and who is heavily involved with the Advocates,” Hayley explains.

“He’s coming along and saying, ‘Today I helped this homeless couple, the lady was eight months pregnant‘ and this is where the money from the show is going.

“The moment the cast realised that, it’s amazing how much more they are willing to give.” she says.

Hayley is a school teacher at Wolumla who took time off term four to help make Joseph happen, she is a constant on stage as the narrator, her presence and voice shines brightly next to the colours of the show’s famous coat.

Jesse Zammit as Joseph during dress rehersals
Jesse Zammit as Joseph during dress rehearsals

Moruya’s Jesse Zammit is the one wearing the coat, his commitment to the role is perhaps another of this production’s magic ingredients.

Attending rehearsals meant a four hour round trip twice a week for Jesse in the 10 weeks leading up to opening night.

“There’s a big cocktail of motivations,” Jesse says.

“There is such a community spirit and a love for art and creativity, and to be involved with these people just reinvigorates your desire.

“I think that’s missing a bit in the world, I think commerce is trying to strangle art and so just to see a community say, ‘It’s not about the money, it’s just about doing it because we love it’ is so refreshing,” Jesse says.

Jesse and Hayley are friends from ‘way back’ and Hayley was determined that Jesse would be Joseph. Jesse and his busy artistic life were reluctant at first until Jesse had a dream – spooky considering the role dreams play in the life of his character on stage.

“I’ve always believed in dreams, I am a bit of a nutter in that way, I think dreams do have a message,” Jesse explains.

Waiting in anticipation at Twyford Hall
Waiting in anticipation at Twyford Hall

So after initially saying ‘a polite no’ to Hayley and avoiding repeated attempts to bring him on board, Jesse was convinced to take on the role after a dream in which he saw Hayley’s disappear at not being able to find another Joseph.

With time on his visa in the UK winding down, the show’s director Shaun Wykes returned home to do the show, again at Hayley’s instance.

Shaun says he has been enamoured with Joseph since he was three years old when his sisters returned home from a production in Sydney and performed their own version for family.

“It has been an honour to bring this show to the town I grew up in and see it flourish on stage with this incredible cast and crew,” Shaun says.

While reflecting on the power of being involved in community theatre Shaun says a strong connection to people and place develops.

“You appreciate people’s time and how much effort they put in and you see good in the world,” he says.

Tweleve year old Luca Yi as Benjamin
Twelve-year-old Luca Yi as Benjamin

A strong feature of the show is the cast of young performers and singers from local high schools and primary schools. These teenagers and children do us proud, their involvement ensures that relationships like the one between Hayley, Jesse and Shaun continue to be formed.

A special shout out to 12-year-old Luca Yi from Bega who plays Benjamin, the youngest of Joseph’s band of brothers. Luca takes on the song ‘Those Canaan Days’ leading his more grown-up cast, with the audience cheering loudly .

“The people coming up to you after the show and the joy on their faces, when you can give that sort of a gift to people – it’s awesome.” Hayley beams.

Dreamcoat Production presents ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat‘ at Twyford Hall Merimbula until December 4. Click HERE for ticket details.

*Author and family attended at their own expense.