Hughes, A 2016, 'The last refuge : food stories from Myanmar to Coffs Harbour', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.
Copyright A Hughes 2016
Imagine you have spent more than 20 years of your life living in a refugee camp. You have fled your homeland with only your family and your stories. You have faced trauma, abuse, poverty and hunger. You yearn to reconnect to your culture, especially when you arrive in your new home, one that is unfamiliar and daunting. This is the scenario faced by many of the participants in this study. Somewhat surprisingly, it is food that can serve to reconnect people and rebuild lives.
This study maps the food journeys of people from Myanmar to the regional1 city of Coffs Harbour, Australia. The original contribution to knowledge is identified in both the topic and the research product. The project is unique in that it focuses on the social and cultural role of food in the lives of former refugees from Myanmar now resident in Coffs Harbour. Existing food related studies in Australia depict more established settler communities, such as those from African countries, and these studies come largely from health sciences, often focusing on nutritional outcomes. This interdisciplinary study used focused ethnography and participatory/collaborative visual research methods to produce a documentary and written thesis.
The creation of a documentary allowed the food journeys of Myanmar settlers to be conveyed in a multi-dimensional, textural way that depicts and engages multiple senses associated with food interactions. Whilst having academic value, the documentary is also aimed at a wider audience through screenings at local, national and international film festivals. The use of participatory research methods has allowed the film to develop into a product that is deeply connected to the participants. It has become their film, their medium to tell their stories; as well as an opportunity to stand up in front of the Coffs Harbour community and be proud of their culture. This research tells a positive settlement story, one where differences and challenges have been overcome and a resilient community has utilised networks built to confidently mark out its place in a new home.
1 For the purpose of this research, regional Australia is defined as ‘all of the towns, small cities and areas that lie beyond the major capital cities’ (Regional Australia Institute n.d.)