While the food of Victoria Park – from the scent of freshly fried falafel to the pull of beef noodles – has found fame far beyond the borders of Albany Highway, the people behind these institutions remain lesser known.

Artist Natalie de Rozario and writer and artist Gok-Lim Finch are changing that with their community artwork Heraldic Migration Liberation Acts, an acrylic-on-canvas banner inspired by the stories of the people behind the restaurants, cafes and shops on the Victoria Park strip. The work will be unveiled at Victoria Park Community Centre this week, alongside audio recordings of each story. 

Finch and de Rozario sat with Broadsheet to talk about the project, the power of community art to connect and inspire, and their personal memories on the strip.

The strip of Albany Highway in Victoria Park is well-celebrated for having restaurants and cafes that are as diverse as the community around it. What motivated you to create a community project focusing on the strip?
Finch: We are focusing on the strip because it is such a distinctive feature of Victoria Park, and sees high visitation from other places in Perth. I’ve been a resident of Victoria Park for five years, and also worked briefly for the Victoria Park Community Centre in 2020. My uncles lived here before moving to Rivervale, where my grandma sometimes stays when she’s visiting from Singapore. In the last few decades I’ve seen perceptions of Victoria Park change. For so long it was known as dangerous, but it has seen this huge disruptive effort at gentrification. Victoria Park is a place now that has these beautiful middle-class suburbs, apartments, public housing, a metropolitan strip, and an ongoing struggle with caring for unhoused people. It’s an emblematic suburb and I believe … Victoria Park says a lot about settlement here.

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de Rozario: I feel like the Vic Park strip is quite iconic, with some restaurants and businesses being opened for 30 or more years. In this day and age businesses, especially restaurants, are highly competitive and have a very short life span. There is so much more nuance to running a business than just being a place to eat – they are micro-communities with so much more cultural value than we give [them] credit [for]. This project is an opportunity to learn more about that community. Our research has involved interviewing business owners and staff, members of the community and photo-documenting the strip.

What were some highlights of collecting the stories of the Victoria Park community?
Finch: These are restaurants and businesses that we have a lot of love for – like Senoji is one of my favourite Japanese restaurants in Perth. Being able to connect with the people behind the business and express the delight that we feel because of them has been a really gratifying experience.

de Rozario: Honestly, just getting to know some new faces along the strip. I love learning about people’s cultures and their life story.

Are there any stories that stood out to you?
Finch: We are still in the beginning of sharing stories, but have had a wonderful initial interview with Jihad from The Prophet, who is a phenomenal person with a phenomenal restaurant. We are hoping this initial launch encourages people to share their stories and connect to what we are hoping is an ongoing project.

de Rozario: Yes, a memorable moment from Jihad’s interview was him saying when he moved to Australia he couldn’t eat the food here. It was horrible in comparison to what he ate in Lebanon. His mum made incredible food, and he began experimenting from the memory of the flavours – all of his knowledge about food was learnt orally – there is no specific recipe. It’s all by taste and feel. Many cultures share this approach to cooking and passing down knowledge; I have many Burmese aunties who will tell you the same thing – measurements and methods of cooking that are “by feel”.

Why are community arts projects important?
Finch: The term “community art project” encompasses a lot of different possibilities. Art is always part of a community. Sometimes it is our innermost thoughts expressed for all to see. My use of the term is usually because I’d like to focus on the processes by which an artistic idea happens, and think through ways that creative ideas can be part of a commons. I think that in general, we all could think more about the spaces and ideas that we share.

de Rozario: Community art projects are unique because it can give us a sense of purpose, to feel that we are part of something bigger.

What can readers expect at the Stories of the Strip launch on April 26?
Finch: We’ve invited members of the community to share stories in an open-mic format, and will share some stories that we’ve collected in some of our initial interviews. It’s going to be a gentle, sweet, funny and loving time. Celebrate intergenerational connections. Be respectfully curious about the humans in your neighbourhood.

de Rozario: The event is going to be wholesome, with storytelling, performances and the banner reveal – it is time to celebrate! In addition to the storytelling aspect of the event, we will be revealing our Heraldic Migration Liberation Acts artwork that has been inspired by our engagement with the Vic Park community. We hope that after this event we will host the artwork in various businesses in Vic Park.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

The Heraldic Migration Liberation Acts and Stories of the Strip project has been supported by the Victoria Park Community Centre and the Town of Victoria Park.

Stories of the Strip will launch on April 26 at Victoria Park Community Centre from 6pm to 9pm.