This is a Border (Town)

15. 06. 2016

A Question of Empathy

I recently started work on an artist-in-residence project in Bordertown, supported by Country Arts SA. I’m the first for three artists working this year on a multifaceted project called This is a Border(town). Primarily based in Melbourne, I’m journeying over to the Tatiara to research and develop work in a range of media, including video clips and multi-media stories for presentation on-line.


I’m looking at the stories of recent migrants in Bordertown and also the experience of Bordertown locals who are extending the hand of friendship in various practical ways to assist people newly arrived in town. I’m interested in what motivates people to volunteer teaching English, or to train people for their citizenship test, or to organise a soccer competition, or to give some driving lessons, or to assist as a translator helping to bridge the linguistic divide. I’m impressed by the people I meet who have made the effort to find a point of connection with newly arrived migrants who might otherwise be living a parallel, isolated existence. I’m much impressed too by the voluntary work of migrants with superior English language skills to assist and support others whose English is less well developed.


I think that all of the migrants I’ve met in Bordertown, and all of the people who are supporting them in various ways, share an inspired belief in the future. The act of migration is of course itself a leap of faith, and the efforts of those offering friendship and support is motivated by an empathy based in this same kind of faith.


My first visit to Bordertown in April coincided with the opening of the newly refurbished Migrant Resource Centre, the main source of information and support for the hundreds of new migrants living and working in town. There was a festive event staged for the opening, with music and dancing and speeches by various dignitaries. I listened to a warm-hearted speech by the local Federal MP, Tony Pasin, in which he told the migration story of his own Italian parents and linked that story to the hope and dreams of the many local migrants seeking to establish a new life in Bordertown.


Several weeks later, in the early stages of a federal election campaign, the Australian Minster for Immigration gave a well-publicised radio interview in which he suggested that most refugees are a long-term drain on the Australian economy and that, at best, they’re here to “take jobs from working Australians.” Like many people, I’m appalled by this rhetoric. I thought that, as a nation, we’d moved on from this kind of xenophobic fear mongering but apparently I’m wrong. In Bordertown I’ve witnessed hundreds of migrants working at jobs for which there is not actually an available or willing Australian workforce, and then seen the same migrants working after-hours to improve their English language skills. It’s clear to me that the Minister for Immigration is ignorant of this kind of reality in many regional towns. (I suspect that this is a wilful ignorance on the Minster’s part which, to me, makes it all the more inexcusable.) Given that Tony Pasin is from the same side of politics as the Minister for Immigration, I wonder how he reconciles the sentiments expressed in his speech at the MRC and the evident contribution of migrants in Bordertown with the views of his some of his high-profile colleagues. I’ve written to Mr Pasin to ask him this question, but I haven’t yet had a response.

Malcolm McKinnon



  • Pam Copping says:

    Very interesting, Malcolm. So far, I feel you have captured the essence of the MRC and the people of Bordertown as we attempt to somehow welcome our migrants.
    In my opinion, the teaser video is very good, great snippets which are relevant to your story, and not at all “kitschy” or “sentimental” – just a true reflection. (Not that I am an artist by any stretch of the imagination, but there was a good feel to the video)
    Looking forward to the next ‘installment’.
    Kind regards,
    Pam Copping.

  • Pat Martlew says:

    Good start, Malcom. Thoughtful observations and evocative filming of the area. The hands writing the alphabet struck a chord. Looking forward to the next installment.

    Pat Martlew

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Artist Residency


James Dodd, Mark de Nys, Malcolm McKinnon



About the Artist

Malcolm McKinnon

Malcolm McKinnon is an Australian artist and filmmaker working mainly in rural communities. Over the past 25 years, his work has encompassed oral history, urban planning, public and community art projects, critical writing and exhibitions. His current practice is mainly focused around documentary filmmaking and social history, motivated by an appreciation of living memory and local vernacular.

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About the Artist

James Dodd

James Dodd is an artist who has a strong interest in public space and often works on mural scale and community oriented outcomes. He has a multi-faceted visual arts practice that embraces a range of painting and sculptural approaches. He exhibits regularly across Australia and has had his work collected by major institutions, including the National Gallery of Australia. Dodd is an educator at Adelaide Central School of Art and is represented by Hugo Michell Gallery, Adelaide.

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About the Artist

Mark de Nys

Mark de Nys is a Limestone Coast based Visual Artist ,Educator and Musician,with a background in Engineering and Design, he has worked on large scale public artwork throughout Australia, taking energy from things never before made, re-inventing and re imagining always questioning, Why? This is a Border(town) offers the rare chance to engage with local Blokes via the Men's Shed along with industry and council members, the outcome is organic and fluid embracing Men's mental health, there may be Windmills! Hope to see you on the Journey.

Country Arts SA recognises and respects that we are living and creating on Aboriginal Lands and we are committed to working together to honour their living cultures.