Konker Malual – Amplifying the voices of young migrant creatives


    By Charlotte Walkling

    “Let’s amplify our voices so loud that the mainstream media look, and regret not giving us a main stage sooner.”

    Konker Malual sits under fairy lights and looks out to the tightly packed crowd as the smell of Ethiopian food and incense wafts in the air. The beats of DJ Aucun Alias infuse the atmosphere.

    Konker is the founder of The Rest of Us (TROU), a non-profit organisation helping disadvantaged youth to discover their voice and share their unique stories.

    Tonight he’s opening the inaugural TROU poetry night in the courtyard of Ras Dashen, an Ethiopian restaurant in Footscray. Experienced and first-time poets are invited to share verses; on life, love, belonging, letting go and more. 

    Nervous at first, they gingerly begin to step forward, then quickly grow more and more confident as every poet is met with snaps and claps from the crowd. Some express that they’ve never spoken into a mic before or read their poetry out loud. 

    “TROU’s mission is to create that sense of belonging for migrant youths in disadvantaged communities … give them a chance to express themselves in a creative way with kids similar to them,” says Konker. 

    “I wanted to give black creators a platform to showcase their talent also. Because it’s hard … I feel like we have a bad rep or like, they just don’t want to give us a chance. I don’t know what it is, but it’s constant denial.”

    Konker is 31 and lives in Tarneit and he wishes he’d had something like TROU around when he first came to Australia. Born in Rumbek, South Sudan his family fled war when he was just three years old and made their way to a refugee camp in Kenya where they lived for four years.

    “I remember playing games with the kids on a soccer field, with rubber boots made with like, rubber tires.”

    “We would watch the cinema … there was cut out cardboard and cut out figures, and then they would go behind the cardboard and work the shadows to look like figures, stuff like that, I remember.” 

    Eventually, in 2003, when Konker was 10, he arrived in Braybrook with his mother and siblings. Like many other refugees his English was scant but through a program called SAIL he mastered the language.

    “[It] ran on Saturdays, and it was just a bunch of volunteers that would come to a church in Braybrook to teach South Sudanese immigrants like English, maths, all the basic stuff.”

    Thanks to the SAIL program, Konker was awarded a scholarship to go to Xavier College starting in year seven. 

    “I was like, the only black kid there for a while, the first one actually.”

    “It was a weird experience”, says Konker. “I’m grateful I had that experience because I got to experience both cultures”. 

    “I was lucky in that sense because I can feel more comfortable in spaces that I wouldn’t normally feel comfortable in if I didn’t go to Xavier.”

    Konker’s love for the arts and creativity began in Year 11, and when he finished school he started getting job offers to DJ. He was soon signed to a modelling agency which took him to Sydney where he participated in fashion weeks and runway editorial campaigns. 

    “I loved the creativity of it … but when I started it wasn’t as inclusive as it is now.” 

    In 2018 he was the first black male model hired to do a campaign for David Jones. 

    At the end of 2022, Konker moved back to Melbourne and started doing youth work, which prompted him to think about ways to help disadvantaged kids. 

    “You just do whatever they want to do. So, they want to go to the movies, you take them to the movies, shopping centre, play basketball, whatever.”

    “But it was just one kid, and you might stay with that kid for a week or two and then they give you a new kid, and it was just like, you couldn’t build a rapport with any of them because it’s constantly switching. So, I was like maybe there’s another way to go.” 

    His frustration, coupled with his love for creativity, was the motivation behind founding TROU which he was able to develop thanks to a grant from the To-Leap program, a partnership between Local Impact and Two Square Pegs, funded by the state government.

    Because of what he’d seen while living in public housing he knew that drugs were a constant temptation for kids struggling to find their way. But he also knew that creative outlets can help steer kids away from trouble.

    “I realised I really enjoyed this type of work, and it doesn’t really feel like work. i think I’ve finally found a calling, so I want to go full speed on it.”

    “What kept me away from all that was like music and just being creative. If I could offer that to kids in areas like that, then, you know, maybe I might find another outlet for these kids.”

    Through initiating TROU Konker came to the attention of social enterprise Local Impact which awarded him a grant to develop more projects.

    Konker’s mother and sister have since moved back to Kenya, and Konker has been back to South Sudan once in 2011. 

    “It was trippy. Because I don’t remember much about the feeling of living in Kenya and Sudan. But when I went back it was weird because … it’s a country of people that look like me. That was the trippiest part of it.”

    “But then, they notice that you’re an outsider as well, even though you speak their language like, fluently. So, then you’re like, where do I belong?” 

    Konker says he might join his family in Kenya at some point, but for now he wants to concentrate on TROU, having just applied for a Bachelor of Arts at Murdoch University focusing on community development.

    “I realised I really enjoyed this type of work, and it doesn’t really feel like work. I think I’ve finally found a calling, so I want to go full speed on it.” 

    A recording of the inaugural TROU poetry night can be found here.

    You can contact TROU

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