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How a cookbook brought Melbourne's inner-city public housing community together

ABC Australia
Sunday July 11, 2021


Nagat Abdalla says in the wake of the hard lockdown, people were afraid to talk to each other.(ABC News: Rudy De Santis)

Almost a year on from enduring Australia's strictest lockdown, residents of Melbourne's public housing towers have turned to cooking to help them heal and reconnect their community.

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So much more than just a collection of recipes, the purpose of the project lies in the title: Cooking, Recovery and Connections.

"The project shows that people from hardship, they can create something positive because of their resilience and their connection," said Nagat Abdalla, a resident and CoHealth Community Support Officer, who coordinated the cookbook project.

Mrs Abdalla said the idea for a cookbook was born out of a need to rebuild trust.

She said in the wake of the hard lockdown, people were afraid to talk to each other and to trust groups like theirs that were offering support.

"It was not easy because at that time even talking about any topic was really not comfortable for everyone," she said.

"[We were] trying to find ways of engagement and connection and food was one of the topics that was common between us and the resident."


Boiling water to make traditional Ethiopian coffee.(Supplied)

'The whole of Australia' in Melbourne's public housing towers

Every aspect was led by the community, from the recipes and artwork to stories and design, with recipes from Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and more.

"You can find the whole of Australia in these towers; many backgrounds, many communities," Mrs Abdalla said.

"It reminds them of home. Of their land. Of their families."

"When I was a child, my mother cooked butter chicken for my big family. She taught me this recipe. I love this because it's my family favourite dish and I am very far from them. Whenever I miss them I cook butter chicken."

Mrs Abdalla said the impact on those who contributed was immense.

"For us it was really a big thing to create all these recipes together, during such a hard time when everything stopped in our life," she said.

"It's something we are so emotional about. This book will be something memorable forever."


Abdi Ismail says there is a silver lining to the lockdown.(ABC News: Rudy De Santis)

Community says it will take time to recover from hard lockdown

In July 2020, some 3,000 residents across nine public housing towers in Flemington and North Melbourne were forbidden to leave their homes, for any reason, for between four and 15 days.

"When things happen aggressively and in a very hard way without considering anything — you just woke up in the morning and find the police everywhere — then it's so hard for us as community workers to bring something positive out of that," Mrs Abdalla said.

Abdi Ismail, 25, moved from Somalia with his family as a young boy and has lived at the North Melbourne public housing high-rise for 15 years.

"People are still recovering [from] what we went through ... It will take time to recover," he said.

"There was no communication at the time ... and now people are communicating with us after the hard lockdown, [but] this should have been something [happening] from the get go."

Despite the hardship, Mr Ismail said he could see a silver lining from last year's lockdown now with the community re-engaging and more resources being made available to residents.

He hopes this cookbook will be another positive step forward, and help other Australians connect to their community.

"It's good for other people to hear [about] our culture and food from other backgrounds from all the towers," he said.

Printed copies of the cookbook have been delivered by hand to 1,300 residents later this month.

The cookbook is being offered for free online and the community is accepting donations via the SisterWorks website.



 





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