The need to communicate; the images and texts that fade away as fast they arrive; the contacts and messages that never answer something within us… Modern life can feel isolating and overwhelming, rushing nowhere. Restoring a little strength and unity to how we connect is becoming one of the central struggles of the present day. In small but meaningful ways – and sometimes pretty big ways too – Addi Road is working towards this human restoration, drawing inspiration and support from our community in the Inner West.
We like to think each gesture we make as an organisation is another proverbial stone in the pond, rippling outwards from our base Marrickville to neighbouring suburbs, across the state and even the country. The many people, programs and causes we find ourselves driving, or bonding with, verifies this feeling of a greater mission in the face of so many physical, economic and emotional challenges for our community.
An afternoon walking the grounds of Addi Road offers a glimpse into this regenerating energy and its history for us. It starts, simply enough, with staff inspecting Gumbramorra Hall and the Drill Hall for the upcoming Addi Road Writers Festival 2023 that will take place on Saturday 20 May.
CEO Rosanna Barbero begins calling in a few favours from friends and allies as she scopes out the venues. Among them is Barbara Licha, one of some twenty artists who maintain studio spaces at Addi Road thanks to a system of subsidised rents at the community centre aimed at supporting cultural practitioners of the Inner West and Sydney City.
We think Barbara’s body sculptures – floating, wire-framed figures that can seem caged and lonely; or powerfully solitary and ecstatic, dancing in space – would be a perfect fit for the Addi Road Writers’ Festival 2023 and its theme of ‘Inner Worlds’.
At work in her studio on site, Barbara quickly arrives to take a look at Gumbramorra Hall, talking over how to place her sculptures on plinths around our yet-to-be-built ‘pallet’ stage. She also has more solid figures, long and lean and clay-like, that she describes as “spirits”. Barbara thinks they would work well in the Drill Hall. An aesthetic is taking shape, bit by bit, thanks to everyone’s input.
It was during the bushfires of 2019-2020 that we first converted Gumbramorra Hall from a performing arts venue and meeting place into what we started calling our ‘Food Relief Hub’. We were not to know our plans to put together hampers in the hall for those displaced and in trouble was to expand and continue due to Covid and lockdowns, followed by the terrible floods and communities across the state reaching out to us. Three years on, fires and floods abated, the pandemic seemingly tamed, a plague of inequality and poverty continues to drive our food relief programs all the harder.
This functional reality will be visible to those who attend Addi Road Writers’ Festival 2023, with author conversations taking place on a makeshift stage assembled out of food delivery pallets. People will see even more of those pallets surrounding them in the hall, freshly loaded with boxes of cereals, canned food, jars of pasta sauce, biscuits, and essentials like bottled water, soap, toothpaste, all stacked away to one side, ready to be moved out and unpacked again for the following week’s hamper run.
As we stand together inside Gumbramorra Hall, we’re pretty pleased with the way we have come up with some improvised low-level staging, purpose-built out of the wooden pallets that arrive from our donor deliveries and food suppliers. The foundations of the Addi Road Writers’ Festival 2023 are literally being built from what we do as a community organisation responding to hunger and inequality every day.
It’s not well understood, but Addi Road has steadily integrated itself into cross-city and state-wide food relief networks, a key role that developed from our years of experience running two highly active, low-cost community grocery stores, Addi Road Food Pantry Marrickville and Camperdown. Some 400-500 locals are currently visiting us every day, feeding their families and households. This relief work carried on for almost a decade has seen us develop skills and resources around food handling and storage; as well ongoing relationships with smaller and larger civil society groups and charity organisations who understand the logistics of getting food to people and places safely and quickly, and in effectively targeted ways.
Long-time lobbying from Addi Road on the #RaisetheRate campaign in partnership with the Australian Council for Social Justice and a plethora of antipoverty groups, community organisations and concerned business groups has finally had an impact in the recent 2023 Budget decision to boost JobSeeker by $40 a week. It’s been gratefully received, of course, long overdue and desperately needed – but we know it only softens the blows raining down and does little to solve the deeper structural problems in our society.
Despite a complete lack of any stable government funding, we’re meanwhile in the strange position of running and trying to maintain a nine-acre heritage-listed site, many of its ageing buildings run-down and in need of repair, our pot-holed carpark and leaky-rooves not the least of it. One of our biggest resources – while the place is still standing and sustainable – is nonetheless all this space that we have.
We make maximum use of it, supporting artists, providing subsidised rents to wraparound services that are housed at the centre as well, and running a host of arts and cultural events across the year, while continuing to facilitate large and small community gatherings and our increasing commitment to food relief work. Sometimes we wonder how much longer the place can last? But we keep going, holding it together and supporting the community in a multiplicity of ways.
Aside from working with those on a low socioeconomic base –the poorly paid, the unemployed, students, pensioners and alike – we’re seeing a whole new cohort of people CEO Rosanna Barbero calls “the New Poor”.
These New Poor are being slammed by rising interest rates affecting mortgage repayments and a surge in housing insecurity they’d assumed was never a concern they’d have: their very homes now at risk. Then there are all those hardworking, gig-economy figures who seemed to be doing okay, suddenly crushed by unexpectedly steep rental increases in the last six months. Some of them artists, writers, academics and musicians appearing at the Addi Road Writers’ Festival this year. A nice-ish life has been revealed as thinly defended, highly precarious and very brittle. As it happens, those newly in trouble are increasingly coming to Addi Road to ride out their problems if they can.
Anthony Albanese, our local member for Grayndler, has gone so far as to call us “the heartbeat of the Inner West” on the ABC’s Q&A. He has visited us often over the years to witness our work and encourage us, especially during Covid with our Food Relief Hub. Two of the statistics he most often cites repeatedly in speeches here are the fact Grayndler has the highest number of boarding houses of any electorate in Australia while also being one of the nation’s most renown epicentres for creatives across a spectrum of music, film, literature, art and the academy.
So it is that one thing necessarily leads to another at the centre: a creative and political web vibrating with energy as the festival gets closer. Food for people’s tables. And food for people’s hearts and minds. People do not live by bread alone. The human and community imperatives at Addi Road have never been about meeting some charity bottom line; never been rooted in just ‘the least we can do’. It’s about the most we can do, day in, week out.
We answer inequality and social struggle, environmental concerns and cultural isolation with bread and ideas, with political lobbying and food relief work in tandem with film nights, artist gallery shows, and public events like the Addi Road Writers’ Festival. From economic survival and securing meals on people’s tables, to improving mental health and affirmations of connection and empowering artistic experiences, we’re here taking notice of the community and what it asks of us every day. Communicating on every level we can.