UOW-led community festival challenging negative perceptions of Bellambi

BE BELLAMBI: Honora Jenkins, Rhiannon Wells and Associate Professor Kate Senior (yellow top) finish off the Bellambi Master Plan during the Festival of Community Mapping. Picture: Robert Peet.
BE BELLAMBI: Honora Jenkins, Rhiannon Wells and Associate Professor Kate Senior (yellow top) finish off the Bellambi Master Plan during the Festival of Community Mapping. Picture: Robert Peet.

Proud Bellambi resident Rhiannon Wells wants to change the negative stereotype narrative.

And she hopes the first Festival of Community Mapping event held at Bellambi Neighbourhood Centre on Wednesday, has gone some way to changing people’s perceptions of the suburb she loves.

The BNC volunteer supported the initiative, that uses visual arts to encourage residents to challenge negative perceptions of their suburb, because “Bellambi people deserve to be proud of their suburb”

“My kids are growing up here and I want them to be proud. There’s just so much good in this place and it is amazing we’ve got an opportunity for people to see a different side of Bellambi through this project,” Miss Wells said.

“Unfortunately the kids growing up here are often told that it is a negative place so they kind of fit into that negative stereotype. Hopefully through this event people will think of celebration and community when they think of Bellambi.”

The one-day festival is part of a research project from the University of Wollongong that is working to challenge the stigmatisation of Bellambi, which is at odds with the pride felt by the majority of its residents.

Spearheaded by Associate Professor Kate Senior, from UOW’s Faculty of Social Sciences, the project uses visual arts and community mapping to celebrate the strength and support of the local community.

Professor Senior, who has been working with Bellambi Neighbourhood Centre for more than two years, said the project enables Bellambi’s residents to share the warm, whimsical, and welcoming parts of their home through arts-based storytelling.

“Since I began working in Bellambi, I’ve found that the residents’ perceptions of their community conflict with outsiders’ perceptions, which are largely negative,” she said.

“Every time you see something about Bellambi in the media, it is inevitably bad. The community is a scapegoat for everything negative in the Illawarra, but I wanted to share a different view.

“We’ve been working with students who come to Bellambi Neighbourhood Centre and we’ve trained them in interview techniques, note-taking, and research, and they’ve had to go out into the community and collect stories about what makes Bellambi special.”

On Wednesday residents created a Bellambi Master Map, which will be used to tell the stories of the area and form the basis of an upcoming exhibition.

UOW’s third-year design students have created the promotional materials for the event, using the new tagline, Be Bellambi, and will transform the completed map into a short, animated film.

Prof Senior said one of the project’s key aims was to empower the community’s younger residents through job-ready skills and exposure to the impact of higher education. 

The Bellambi project is funded by the McKinnon Walker Trust, which was established in 2016 following a $1.3 million endowment to the university from former Vice-Chancellor Emeritus Professor Ken McKinnon and UOW alumna Ms Suzanne Walker.