Melbourne's west not so wild say African emigres


Everybody comes to Lisese Hair Salon in Watton Street, Werribee, to gossip and relax while getting their hair done. It's a real community hub.

Chimene Mumbanga, the owner, who is Congolese and emigrated to Australia from England, often finishes late at night as the intricate hairstyles she creates take up to five hours each.

But lately the mother of five is thinking about closing the salon earlier, as she's worried her little store might be a target for local anger and unease after dark.

Not necessarily from the unruly teenagers running wild in Tarneit down the road, but from others newly upset about their African neighbours.

"It's unfortunate," she says of the mainly negative attention the area has attracted of late. "It's sad. There are a few bad people who are giving people the wrong impression ... It's not everyone."

What she fears - and says she has experienced - is being targeted because she is African, and blamed for the problems the suburb faces.

"I personally fear that when I'm here late, people will [target] me," Ms Mumbanga says. "I have experienced that."

Sitting in the chair on Tuesday getting her curls refreshed is gospel singer Jolie Mpia???, who moved to Werribee from Adelaide many years ago. Several of her 10 children were playing in the salon with Ms Mumbanga's little ones.

Ms Mpia, who is also Congolese, says she hopes to use her music (she recorded and released a CD - titled Champion - last year) to help young African people assimilate into the community.

"I want to sit down these brothers and sisters, to make them understand how to act when they visit somebody's house," she says.

She says the opportunities afforded refugees who come here are too valuable to squander, and proudly introduces her eldest daughter, Elizabeth, 19, who is studying nursing in Melbourne.

"In this country, you have to take opportunities the government gives you; you have to finish at school," Ms Mpia says.

Magalie Masudi???, 22, who helps Ms Mumbanga in the salon, has done just that. She recently finished year 12 at Murray High School in Albury, where she was settled after being accepted into Australia as a refugee from Kenya.

"I've been here for two years and three weeks," she says.

Ms Masudi came to Werribee a few weeks ago to reunite with family. "I have a big family; I have six sisters and two brothers," she says.

She is now looking into studying at university and hopes to work in community services.

Agok Takpiny, who came to Australia from South Sudan 14 years ago, recently opened Afrikia Mart a few doors down from the salon.

"I always wanted to have a business," he says.

Mr Takpiny, who also works as an Uber driver, says he hasn't seen much trouble on the streets but feels recent media coverage has contributed to a climate of fear among many residents in the area.

???He says some parents of South Sudanese youths whose children get into trouble here send them to boarding school in Kenya or Uganda to instil discipline.

He dismisses the characterisation of young African men together as gangs, saying they are simply hanging out.

"People say they are gangs, but they are not gangs," he says. "They're not organised. It's the culture. People are always in groups."


This story Melbourne's west not so wild say African emigres first appeared on The Age.