Northern Tasmanian migrants share stories through a fashion show

“I’d like to start off with my homeland.”

And that was how Kings Meadows High School student Zahra Rezaei, 15, began her story.

Zahra is Hazara, which is one of the largest ethnic minority groups in Afghanistan, but she lived in Iran most of her life.

“In Afghanistan, Hazaras don’t have rights. They’re not even second class citizens,” Zahra said.

“It is very hard to concentrate  and live normally in a country where you do belong to, but don’t have any rights to anything.”

To escape the persecution, her parents moved to Neyriz in Iran soon after they married, and a year later, Zahra was born.

Kings Meadows High School students Zahra Rezaei, 15, and Fatemeh Nourouzi, 16, are ready to tell their stories. Picture: Paul Scambler

Kings Meadows High School students Zahra Rezaei, 15, and Fatemeh Nourouzi, 16, are ready to tell their stories. Picture: Paul Scambler

Shaking, Zahra recounted the years before she migrated with her family to Launceston mid-2014.

It’s a story she will share as part of Women’s Business, a migrant and refugee fashion show celebrating culture, style and storytelling.

Zahra and her friend Fatemeh Nourouzi, 16, sat on the floor of Zahra’s house after school, both of their families had been chosen to move to Australia after applying to the International Organisation for Migration.

While they lived in the same city in Iran for years and their families were friends, Zahra and Fatemeh didn’t meet until they started school in Launceston.

They were both living in Neyriz when Iranian law changed and Zahra, 10, and her family were told they would be deported back to Afghanistan or could move to another city if they had a refugee card.

Bettymay Luri, of Launceston will model in Women's Business, a migrant fashion show. Picture: Tess Brunton

Bettymay Luri, of Launceston will model in Women's Business, a migrant fashion show. Picture: Tess Brunton

Her family applied to the International Organisation for Migration to move to another country and learnt they would be migrating to Australia six months later.

But before they could moved Zahra’s family had to return to Afghanistan for her mother and brother’s refugee cards.

“It was very scary,” she said.

She remembered riding in a crowded bus, so full people were lying in the aisles, for about 13 hours.

Four cars sped towards the bus along the sandy road, sending dusts flying behind them.

“As they got closer, our bus didn’t go any further.”

For half an hour, they finally started moving again and the cars returned in the direction they came from.

Zahra Rezaei, of Launceston, struts her stuff in the lead up to Women's Business.

Zahra Rezaei, of Launceston, struts her stuff in the lead up to Women's Business.

It wasn’t until they stopped for lunch, Zahra discovered four of the policemen in the cars, who protected the bus from being attacked by the Taliban, had been beheaded.

She boarded her flight to Australia to the sounds of shooting and bombs – the presidential election in Afghanistan was on the same day.

“Once I got off the plane in Launceston, I fell to my knees and thought ‘oh my god, I’m finally safe’,” Zahra said.

“The people in Australia are very welcoming. They make you feel like you’re in your own country.”

Zahra was proud she could share her traditional clothing and story at Women’s Business.

“In Iran, the climate is very hot and in those sort of clothes, especially when they’re black, you burn. Whereas here, you sweat.”

Now she lived in Australia, Zahra hoped to become a doctor, journalist or a police officer.

“I really want to make a difference for my country.”

The northern Tasmania show was an offshoot from a Hobart show, which started up a couple of years ago through Students Against Racism.

During the show, a line of chairs will be set up on the stage.

A sign will be stuck to each chair, signalling the journey from homeland to now.

One-by-one some of the models would move along the line of chairs and tell the audience their story.

Fatemeh’s name was chosen, along with Zahra’s, out of a hat to model in the fashion show by members in the Afghan community in Launceston.

She was most looking forward to sharing her “beautiful” culture with the people of Launceston.

“I’m really happy I’m involved with it because I get to share my story about Afghanistan and how Afghanistan has different cultures and what our fashion looks like,” Fatemeh said.

Living in Iran, she wore a chador – a full-length cloak, or long clothes each day.

Wearing her traditional clothes made her feel proud to be from Afghanistan, she said.

While Fatemeh was born in Iran, but her parents and two of her brothers were born in Afghanistan.

“Life was hard and difficult,” Fatemeh said.

Discrimination was rife against people from Afghanistan in Iran.

They could not enter some cities, were forced to move out of cities they settled in and could not go to certain schools, she said.

Afghan people weren’t allowed car licences, to buy houses or become citizens, Fatemeh said.

She was 11 or 12 when Fatemeh finally travelled to Australia in November, 2013 after her family applied to the International Organisation for Migration.

“Our families didn’t chose where they were going. They [the organisation] choose where they were going and some people weren’t happy with decision. The lucky ones came to Australia,” Fatemeh said.

“I really appreciate being in Australia, we have a lot of opportunities here,” Fatemeh said.

“People listen to you and you feel valued."

She hoped to become a dentist when she finished school in a couple of years time.

Women’s Friendship Group volunteer Robyn Flittner said the group took a bus load of migrant women down to last year’s Hobart fashion shows.

The bus returned with a group of inspired women who wanted Launceston to host its own show, Ms Flittner said.

“This year is the practice year for Launceston, because Hobart has been running it for a couple of years.”

Ms Flittner met Zahra and Fatemeh through the friendship group.

When they arrived, both were very shy and did not speak much English, she said.

Now, they were involved in the fashion show and had become more confident, Ms Flittner said.

“The fashion parade is also about, not just the traditional side, but what it was like for teenagers in particular to be coming to a new place and finding yourself as an Afghan teenager in Australia and how that’s reflected in the clothes as well.”

The Women’s Business Show invites women to join a night of fashion, storytelling and culture at The Tramsheds Function Centre on 4 Invermay Rd on September 29 from 6.30pm. Tickets are available for $22 per adult, $15 for concession and $40 for a family of one adult and three concessions from trybooking.com/RNPC.