Last year, like countless others around the country, Tasmanian resident Kirsten Singleton took a risk and bought a small business. It was a fast food shop in the working class suburb of Moonah. But this wasn’t going to be another hamburger and hot chips joint. This takeaway shop was going to serve up a future to some of Hobart’s most recent arrivals.
“I had two objectives when I opened the store. I wanted to do something practical for the refugee and asylum seeker community, including the Hazaras, here in Tasmania. There are many skilled and talented people in this community and as a business woman I could see their potential. I wanted to give them a job,” Kirsten explains.
“I also wanted to introduce Afghan food to Tasmania. The bolanis were delicious and I could see it being enjoyed by many people here. We also put different food to the menu every week and are trying more halal products as well. Although the shop is not yet completely halal, we do not serve any pork products and are endeavouring not to serve any food that is haram.”
Kirsten employs on a casual basis 6 people who have fled persecution and conflict from different parts of the world and trains them. But she is hoping to do more.
A migrant herself, Kirsten has an understanding of what it feels like to settle into a new community. She was born in England and came to Tasmania when she was four years old.
“It can be extraordinarily difficult for people coming into a new culture. I was fortunate to know English, but I know how hard it can be to adapt to another place. There can be bullying at school and you can be made to feel like an outsider.”
Her life changed when she started visiting Vietnamese asylum seekers at the Pontville Detention Centre some years ago. When the detention centre closed, she was asked to visit a Hazara asylum seeker living in community detention.
Kirsten got to know not only the young man she visited, but all the teenage boys who were in detention as well. Some have become like family.
“The Hazaras are an incredibly resilient people,” Kirsten says.
“Back home they are persecuted because of the way they look and their religion. Many have struggled and lost so much. I wanted to do something to help.”
Not only did Kirsten want to help provide them with training and a stable income, she wanted to create a place where they could feel comfortable and welcomed; where anyone, from any background, with an interest in other cultures was welcomed.
The store may look like a simple takeaway shop on one side, but there is a nook that is decorated in Afghan colours, with carpets and cushions on the floor. Colourful flags also adorn the store.
“People from all faiths and backgrounds are welcome here,” Kirsten states.
“Last night we hosted a cricket team of Hazara refugees from Melbourne and we will be cooking for them this evening. I am also hoping to have an exhibition of needlework by Hazara women in the community. ”
It seems that this desire to care for others is a family trait. Her family were Quakers and raised her in an environment where every life had a purpose and that purpose was to serve. During WWII her grandparents visited German prisoners of war in a nearby prison camp. When the war ended, her grandfather actively assisted refugees.
Her family struggled when they moved to Tasmania. She wasn’t raised with much and she’s known what it’s like to go without. But Kirsten has managed to build a future for herself and her family. Before the store, she worked in Human Resources and ran a successful training business for 17 years. Now she is a busy mum of two with two businesses.
Initially her children weren’t too keen on the idea of mum taking on another project, but they are quite proud of her now. Kirsten’s 17 year old son designed the logo for the store and her 12 year old daughter, when she is not playing cricket for the State, helps out behind the counter. For Kirsten, the endeavour, even with all its challenges, is worth it.
The reaction from Tasmanians to the new shop has been positive and Kirsten is hopeful.
“There has been a lot of good will in the community, and it has been encouraging to see so many people support the store.”
So, if you are ever hungry in Moonah, go visit the Gormanston Road Store. You can try Afghan food or your more traditional pies, chips and drink. It’s where every cup of coffee will make a difference in the lives of people who have fled conflict and persecution, battling to find their place in Australia.