The Big Issue : Edition 501
26 THE BIG ISSUE 26 DEC 2015 – 7 JAN 2016 CONOR ASHLEIGH, NOW a documentary photographer and filmmaker, grew up in what he calls “a rather typical white middle-class suburb of Newcastle”, in NSW. In 2004, he recalls, the Mayom family from South Sudan moved into the local neighbourhood. Ashleigh became friends with the oldest boy, Akolde; they bonded “over reggae music and playing football in the park”. In 2010, Ashleigh started using his camera “to record the lives of these young men and women living in Newcastle”. A year later, “I listened to Akolde’s younger brothers and friends as they recounted the excitement of voting in the referendum for South Sudan’s independence. [In mid-2011] I self-funded a trip to South Sudan, where I spent two months documenting the birth of a nation.” After returning to Australia, Ashleigh says, “I realised the rare position I was in – to be able to document people from my peer group, the first generation of South Sudanese to have grown up in Australia. My ongoing work, Stories of the South, is specifically interested in young South Sudanese Australians who are navigating adulthood and the intersection of cross- cultural identities during this time. “While the project now spans five years, the majority of the work has been taken in the last three years, specifically in Sydney and Newcastle. I spent time in the home of many of Australia’s South Sudanese and also attended many ‘bride price’ ceremonies, weddings, independence anniversary celebrations, music gigs and sporting events.” His hope for the series, he says, is that it acts as “a window into the ways young South Sudanese Australians are creating their own version of life in Australia”. Kawsar Ali, a young journalist with a particular interest in racism and youth issues, believes her own generation faces particular challenges. She writes: “Different means of initiation into adulthood, values and tipping points have shifted. One feature, however, has always remained the same – how difficult this unfixed period can be for youth. Transitioning into the adult world in a vastly different, almost opposite, environment adds extra challenges. “For most, not being able to communicate in the dialect predominantly spoken by the South Sudanese community, Dinka, is enough to make them feel out of place in their communities. Like a balancing act, difficult but possible, South Sudanese teenagers borrow from aspects of both cultures they are immersed in.” Ashleigh says that some young South Sudanese, at home and with friends, speak a mixture of Dinka and English they call “Dinklish”. Ali concludes: “While the future of South Sudan is in doubt and many of its young people have accepted that they possibly might not return until considerably after their teenage years, Australia is home for their ‘coming of age’ years.” » Also see conorashleigh.com.