Once upon a time in Cabramatta – our story and theirs

Having served at our church in Cabramatta for the last couple of years I was very interested to watch the SBS doco that came out ‘Once Upon a Time in Cabramatta’. It would have been good to watching something like this before we started going their regularly!

Not growing up in the area like many other Chinese Australians I just didn’t have much of a clue as to the chaos that was happening in that area with the drug trade. I had good friends who lived in the surrounding suburbs and as a kid we came now and again for food and shopping. I was cleaning up old stuff and came across an old journal entry from primary school:

Comments from my diary in 1995 in primary school...LOL oh dear

I think SBS did a really good job and I found the series eye-opening and I especially liked the social anthropologist guy’s commentary. It was kinda fun seeing all the places we frequently visit on a Sunday on TV. I liked the way it raised so much awareness about this group of people and what they’ve been through.

The vietnamese people are largely out of this dire societal and physical situation, it’s pretty good to see many prominent Vietnamese Australians who have a voice and represent. At the same time the interviews with Tony Hoang reminded me that many of them would have a deep spiritual hunger which has not been addressed.

What started us thinking about this area was a couple of helpful posts (1) (2) by Andrew Hong when we were thinking how to serve the Chinese-Australian church. We thought about the places where there were the MOST chinese and yet LEAST christian. The top 3 were Hurstville, Campsie (the area we ended up living in) and Cabramatta. Admittedly this is pretty simplistic we didn’t think about those who were English speaking or whatever but anyway it got us thinking.

Of course what we found when we started at Cabramatta was that the suburb was extremely diverse with many asian cultures. We didn’t expect to be that culture shocked within our own city! Now that we’ve been there we enjoy all those aspects that make this area unique including the beautiful food.

Moon festival decorations on the main arch

John St - Setting up for Cabra Moon Festival

Amazing crispy skin chicken noodle

From Tan Viet of course (if you can wait long enough)

Yummy Lao food - crispy fried rice

We didn’t go expecting to make much of an impact in the local community although the church itself is very well situated for this kind of work being just across the road from the main block and all the cars going to the carpark must pass the church. We also got quite a number of walk-ins during this time as well.

Cabramatta is a funny place. From my limited time there I noticed that there seem to be too extremes. There’s the wealthy business people who seem to have done really well and they live in these massive homes and then there’s people who are struggling and living in smaller units and come from broken families (ok, its more complex than this). The church seemed to have mostly the former and a good handful of the latter. The two groups don’t seem to gel that well?

Another thing I observed was that with the wider Asian Australian church community there seems to just heaps more chinese-aussies compared to viet-aussies. This is probably a reflection on the stronger Hong Kong christian heritage which migrants bring over? I wonder if the imbalance can be addressed.

There is a small and hard working bunch of pastors/lay people in the area at the same time it is a very difficult place for ministry where many churches are extremely under-resourced. We’re really sad to be leaving this area – I encourage us to keep our thoughts and prayers for this community.

Why not come down to check it out and have some great food while you’re at it?

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