How do we Create and Share Belonging in our communities?

 

Tell Us Your Story

‘Belonging is the sense of safety and comfort you feel when you are accepted for who you are.
It’s more than inclusion, it’s an authentic acceptance and a state of feeling both connected and supported.’

Our annual Tell Us Your Story competition invites people across Australia to share their neighbourly stories.

To reflect our Create Belonging | Share Belonging theme for the Neighbours Every Day annual day of action, Neighbour Day 2024, we invite people to tell us their stories of community – of creating and sharing belonging in recent times, or perhaps over the years.

Tell Us Your Story

Neighbours Every Day has progressed from a reminder to connect with elderly neighbours to an ongoing celebration of respectful relationships and strong communities.

Australians have faced, and continue to face, challenging times – bushfires, drought, floods, the COVID-19 pandemic, and for many, loneliness and isolation. The strength we draw from each other, from our relationships and our wider communities, has never been more important in helping us feel like we belong.

We invite people to tell us their stories of creating and sharing belonging in recent times, or perhaps over the years. These social connections may be one-off moments or regular and lasting interactions that create one to one relationships or become the starting point for an ongoing group.

Competition Rules

  1. The stories must reflect the spirit and purpose of Neighbours Every Day.
  2. Entries will open Tuesday 16 January 2024 and close at 11.59pm Tuesday 27 February 2024.
  3. Entry to this competition is open to people of all ages, currently residing in Australia.
  4. Entrants must submit just one story, written in English.
  5. The word limit for stories submitted is 400 words. Entries which exceed this limit will not be eligible to be judged.
  6. Entries must be the original work of the participant and must not have been published, self-published, included on a website, blog, online forum or other broadcast medium prior to the competition entry.
  7. Entries must contain the entrant’s name, email and phone contact details. Relationships Australia will delete the surname, contact details and street names before stories are published.
  8. All entries must be submitted via the Neighbours Every Day website.
  9. In submitting an entry to the competition, entrants grant Relationships Australia – as the home of Neighbours Every Day – the right to publish the story on the Neighbours Every Day website, associated social media accounts and other publishing or broadcast mediums as chosen by the organisation.
  10. The judges’ decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into. Judges are unable to comment on individual entries.
  11. This competition is not open to Relationships Australia staff, nor their immediate families.

Competition winners will be announced Tuesday 5 March 2024 on the Neighbours Every Day website and social media platforms. Winners will be notified via the contact details provided.

Prizes will be awarded for each state and territory, along with a national prize-winner.

The prize pool for Tell Us Your Story includes:

  • a $100 gift voucher for the winning entry from each state and territory
  • a $300 gift voucher for the overall National winner
  • the national winner will receive both their state prize and the national prize ($400 total).

Meet our 2023 Tell Us Your Story Winners

 
We received a huge number of inspiring stories in response to our 2023 Tell Us Your Story Competition. You can read the winning entries below.

National Winner

Tell Us Your Story Competition Winners for 2023

01

Annie [aged 15]

Finding a sense of community has always felt like an uphill battle for me.

As a kid my parents made a community for me, they chose the people who surrounded me. I was lucky enough that these people were wonderful and kind. As I got older, it became more and more up to me. It’s somewhat of a daunting task, trying to find ‘my people’  and to form my own lasting sense of belonging and community.

It’s very common for teenagers to feel isolated and to feel like they have no one there for them. We were all physically isolated from one another for a couple of years here in Victoria. It may not be talked about much, but it has left a lasting dent in a lot of young peoples’ mental health and sense of self.

This feeling of chronic isolation is especially common among autistic teenagers, like myself. Missing social cues and not understanding jokes is only a small part of this. It can feel like I’m separate, or ‘other’. I can get left behind in conversations and social situations and at times I have felt that my voice doesn’t matter.

After being diagnosed last year and feeling a mix of emotions, the strongest emotion was one of relief. And in the weeks that followed I started to feel a new sense of community through reading stories of other autistic people, reminding me that I was never truly alone in my experiences. I realised I was never in the wrong for being the way I am, a realisation has been both life-changing and encouraging.

Since then, I have found community in several unlikely places. I have an Instagram page for my frog plushie and the interactions from kind-hearted people from around the world brings me happiness and connection. I have started roller skating and my teacher and peers have supported me to try new things.

Through all this I have even found a stronger bond with my friends at school which has helped me significantly. I know my challenges with finding community aren’t over, but I will keep trying to meet new people and expand my social circle.

I now know I can do it and I am proud of how far I have come.

Winner: National & Victoria

Annie [Waveroo Nation]

New South Wales

Tell Us Your Story Competition Winners for 2023

02

Susie

Just before Christmas 2022, our new neighbours invited the entire street to a Christmas BBQ at their home. Everyone, all 40 households, kids, mums, dads. 

We have been a fractured community for some time with an elderly neighbour needing some additional support and causing issues, which we handled well, but was a rough time getting those supports in. Then the pandemic hit. There was even a few house fires,  and then flooding and with all the other things that have hit over the last few years - we really needed to reconnect.

At this Xmas party: We sat and chatted and shared neighbourly history over a constant supply of food, beverage and laughs.

This beautiful neighbour:  had somehow found out the dietary requirements of each person attending and had vegan, gluten free, dairy free and other options available.

Children and dogs played at our feet whilst we shared human warmth, food and celebration.

This neighbour works in finance, I'm sure they knew already that the cost of living was going to go up, so I think they decided to fill our tanks before the next hardship hit.  They did!

Later that day, as neighbours we created a WhatsApp group where we actually now reach out to each other for help, for laughs, and in an emergency.

When the Westpac helicopter landed near us a few weeks ago, clearly helping one of our own, we were ready to help that neighbour with food parcels and support as her husband was taken to the emergency rooms in Sydney.   

It’s amazing how a great neighbour can make everyone's lives better.  I remember that when they moved in, they bought a bottle of wine and chocolates to the neighbours either side to 'welcome them to the neighbourhood'.   

If I win this story competition I will be using the money to create a community garden for our lovely little street, dedicated to continuing the work of my lovely neighbourhood and further building our resilience.

Winner: New South Wales

Susie [Darkinjung country]

Northern Territory

Tell Us Your Story Competition Winners for 2023

03

Jonathan

'Positive Larapinta' initiative in Alice Springs NT

Over recent months some local residents of Larapinta have been chatting about starting a residents’ group to work towards developing some more positive initiatives for the community that we live in and love.

We met together for the first time recently and talked about the things we might be able to do to connect more as a community.

There have been some challenging things happening in Alice Springs in recent months and our aim as a group is to reach out to connect with others from all walks of life and help build a more inclusive community starting where we are.

As a start, we began a list all of the things that we thought were community assets or existing positive things about Larapinta. We came up with an initial list of 22 things – and this list will keep on growing.

We also want to run some events in the near future to start people on board with this initiative.

We are having a social gathering on an upcoming Friday night, at a local Pizza Place, where we will encourage local residents to come down and have a yarn with other locals and spend some time planning another event for the last Sunday in March for Neighbour Day in Larapinta.

We are excited about local people getting involved to help shape their community.

Here are some of the list of the Positive Things about Living in Larapinta (in no particular order)

  • The People – Friendly place
  • Albrecht Oval
  • Community Hall (at Albrecht Oval)
  • No bottleshop in Larapinta
  • Neighbour Day Events in Lyndavale Park and in Larapinta streets (since 2014)
  • Larapinta Child and Family Centre 
  • Some fantastic Initiatives happen here including support for young parents, an upgrade to the local Lyndavale Park and a Chalk Art Program – and the soon to happen: ‘Stickers for Bins and Bus Shelters’ initiative which will have positive messages involving input from local kids and parents
  • The Bikes Mwerre program – with the seed for the idea coming from a parent at the Larapinta Child and Family Centre 
  • The view of Mt Gillen and the McDonnell Ranges
  • The local schools
  • Afghan Mosque
  • Bike Track from Araluen to Desert Park and Flynn’s Grave
  • Wonderful walks hills and drain areas of Larapinta
  • Social Gathering space and friendly staff at the local Larapinta shop
  • Great pizzas at Pizza Shop

 

Winner: Northern Territory

Jonathan [Arrernte country]

 

Queensland

Tell Us Your Story Competition Winners for 2023

04

Irene

No matter where I have lived, I have always taken the time to connect and care for my neighbours.

Ten months ago, however, I became homeless and since then have been living in my car.

With Neighbourhood Day soon approaching, 26th March, I have been looking for ways to bring a sense of neighbourhood and belonging to the many homeless people I meet each day.

Recently, while at the laundromat, I began to question where I myself belonged, and if, in fact, I belong anywhere.

Then I noticed an envelope sitting on the counter.  I opened it to find a card inside saying “you belong to something extraordinary”.  That was the answer I needed.

The next morning, I woke up to find a lady at my car window greeting me.  “I hope you don’t mind but I’ve been praying for you to find a home.  Here’s my phone number if you want to have coffee sometime”.

Five minutes later another couple came by and said they were also praying for me and wanted my phone number.  Half an hour later, I got a text with information that their church had free breakfasts and that they had brought me a breakfast pack, but I had already left.

Everyone at my local club also watches over me in many special ways.

With gratitude for amazing, caring strangers, I realized the importance of each one of us, being neighbourly towards each other.  It is this connection that can lead us to a greater sense of belonging, improve our mental and physical well-being and reduce loneliness.

It gives us the strength and resilience to go on and face our external pressures.

Living in a world where being neighborly is declining, I find myself being grateful for my new amazing neighbors that I meet on my journey.  Strangers who take the time to care and watch over those in need.  Strangers with a golden heart.

I invite you to be one of those strangers to take the time to connect with existing and new neighbors and to build the community you want to live, and belong to.

As the saying goes, “How many light bulbs does it take to change the world?”  That depends on how many of us change one light bulb and change ourselves.

And, yes, we all belong to something far more extraordinary than we can ever imagine.  Be that change!

Winner: Queensland

Irene [Waka Waka country]

South Australia

Tell Us Your Story Competition Winners for 2023

05

Phoebe

I moved to Modbury North in 2013. I didn’t have a social network in the local area after growing up and then renting in different parts of Adelaide. If I had known of the sense of community in the northeastern suburbs, I would have moved here a lot sooner!

Soon after moving here, we started receiving knocks at the door from neighbours bearing bags of home-grown fruit. Over the years, conversations with neighbours in the street progressed to inviting them over for cups of tea to celebrating each other’s birthdays and religious festivals. The orange, peach and apricot drops prompted me to start raised-bed vegetable gardening. Now I am a proud part of the street’s fresh produce-sharing circuit.

I find my relationships with my neighbours very fulfilling and sometimes find myself wondering how many other nice people are in the area that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to meet.

One day, while pondering potential local connections, I decided it was time to take action. I opened the NextDoor app and created the Modbury Coffee Group.

“Who’s going to want to meet up with us for coffee?!” My partner exclaimed.

“Plenty of people,” I replied with confidence that belied my uncertainty.

The coffee group was created, and people started signing up. Our first meet had six people turn up. We have been meeting up once or twice a month in the year since the group started.

While I always enjoy meeting new people, I truly cherish our long-term attendees. Everyone has interesting stories to tell, and a different perspective on life. Some people have formed one-on-one friendships from the group. We all enjoy trying out different cafes and belonging to something special.

Winner: South Australia

Phoebe [Kaurna country]

Tasmania

Tell Us Your Story Competition Winners for 2023

06

Bernd

I have long rued the decline of community and neighbourliness that I've perceived in Australia since the 1980s (I could write at length on that evolution too). So, when I finally settled and had children in 2003 I took to working as hard as I could to rebuild just that and set a good example. Active transport plays a big role in that.

I commute to work on a bicycle, rode my daughter to school first on a child seat, then a trailer. Alone in that it drew consistent attention and commentary, whistles and cheers and questions about where to get one of those (trailer bikes) and endless jokes about a lost passenger or hitching ride (on my return ride). I've helped the Hobart Bike Kitchen for years:

I'm now walking my two boys now to their school (1.2km away, up hill, and again back, with the younger one pre-school and alone now); and I have seen over these years of walking, more and more people in the houses we pass starting to walk, we meet them and chat and get to know the neighbourhood and more and more in our block are keen to walk and doing so.

For safer walking, I lobby for better road-safety measures, have secured one traffic light upgrade and am trying to secure more local pedestrian crossings.

We have an open house. First to guests as WWOOF hosts and the on helpx.net and workaway.info, host an annual mid-winter feast, Eurovision party and Neighbour Day BBQ (as COVID permits). To help draw locals away from screens, we started hosting monthly games nights in 2004 and then founded the Hobart Games Society:  https://hogs.org.au/

In the COVID lockdown we discovered a local street library. We so enjoyed the reason it gave us, to take our boys for a walk, that post lockdown we built one: https://streetlibrary.org.au/library/montagu-street-library/

and added a walking guide and map available in paper form at the library (which has doubled in size since the streetlibrary.org.au photo went up).

Today, I help administer one of the rapidly growing Good Karma Networks and am an active lender and donor of goods (mostly tools and my ute or one of the many unwanted items I keep in store for someone who needs them) and provider of support and services (helping folk repair broken goods) to the local community on a pro bono basis.

Winner: Tasmania

Bernd [Nuenonne country]

Victoria

Tell Us Your Story Competition Winners for 2023

01

Annie [aged 15]

Finding a sense of community has always felt like an uphill battle for me.

As a kid my parents made a community for me, they chose the people who surrounded me. I was lucky enough that these people were wonderful and kind. As I got older, it became more and more up to me. It’s somewhat of a daunting task, trying to find ‘my people’  and to form my own lasting sense of belonging and community.

It’s very common for teenagers to feel isolated and to feel like they have no one there for them. We were all physically isolated from one another for a couple of years here in Victoria. It may not be talked about much, but it has left a lasting dent in a lot of young peoples’ mental health and sense of self.

This feeling of chronic isolation is especially common among autistic teenagers, like myself. Missing social cues and not understanding jokes is only a small part of this. It can feel like I’m separate, or ‘other’. I can get left behind in conversations and social situations and at times I have felt that my voice doesn’t matter.

After being diagnosed last year and feeling a mix of emotions, the strongest emotion was one of relief. And in the weeks that followed I started to feel a new sense of community through reading stories of other autistic people, reminding me that I was never truly alone in my experiences. I realised I was never in the wrong for being the way I am, a realisation has been both life-changing and encouraging.

Since then, I have found community in several unlikely places. I have an Instagram page for my frog plushie and the interactions from kind-hearted people from around the world brings me happiness and connection. I have started roller skating and my teacher and peers have supported me to try new things.

Through all this I have even found a stronger bond with my friends at school which has helped me significantly. I know my challenges with finding community aren’t over, but I will keep trying to meet new people and expand my social circle.

I now know I can do it and I am proud of how far I have come.

Winner: National & Victoria

Annie [Waveroo Nation]

Western Australia

Tell Us Your Story Competition Winners for 2023

07

Anne

I live in a rural community. 

One of my dogs loves to chase a ball, so I put a spare ball thrower and balls at my gate with a note inviting people to throw a ball for him if they wished.  The note has long since blown away, but Baxter (the ball dog) is now known all around the neighbourhood. People stop to play with him and end up having a chat, not just with me, but sometimes with others they may not have previously met who happen to be walking by.  

One day I was out in the yard when a car stopped at my gate.  I began walking down the driveway only to discover I didn't know the people, but they knew my dog by name and were having a ball game with him. 

Last year I put a couple of photos and a Christmas message / thank you on our local Facebook community page.  It received over a hundred "Likes" and comments from people I didn't even know saying how much they love to stop for a game on their daily walk.  

One lady has her grandchildren to stay on school holidays.  She said the highlight of their visit is to come and see Baxter and throw balls for him.  I've got to meet new people and it makes me happy that so many others get pleasure and enjoyment from my dog.  Some now refer to him as ‘Baxter, the Community Dog’.  I believe he really has brought people together in a lovely way.

Winner: Western Australia

Anne [Noongar country]

Special Mention

Tell Us Your Story Competition Winners for 2023

08

Mel

My name is Mel.  I was born and bred in Tasmania with 2 brothers and a sister who were all tall, thin, and good looking.  I'm short, fat and no oil painting as I was constantly told by them.  At high school I was bullied mercilessly until the day I snapped and fought back.  I was never bullied again, but these things helped shape me into the person I am today.

My mother and grandmother were old school and religiously had their hair set at the hairdressers every Friday at 9am and I wanted to do it for them, my earliest memories are of saying I would be a hairdresser and of doing anyone's hair who would sit still long enough to let me.  On leaving high school I secured an apprenticeship in Hobart, but the chemicals from perms etc. proved too harsh and I had to stop because of dermatitis.

I was heartbroken.

I met my husband, and we came to NSW for work, and we had 4 children together.   We were married for 36 years when he died of brain cancer.

I needed something to do and was scrolling the TAFE courses online when I saw a course for fast-track hairdressing forgoing the apprenticeship and taking 2 years full time at TAFE.  I had nothing to lose, so I applied and qualified as a hairdresser at age 60.

It's not easy to get work as an overweight grey haired senior aged, ‘just qualified’, hairdresser.  So, to fill in my time I volunteered at a local homeless shelter cutting hair for free for the disadvantaged.

Best thing I ever did! In the last 4 years I have cut hair at churches, soup kitchens, rehab centres, an indigenous centre in Newcastle and in my own street.  I've never taken money off anyone. I get so much pleasure from making each person happy that after a very bad period, my life is now wonderful.  I've found my purpose.

My next project is to visit palliative patients who can't leave their home or hospital bed, but who would like a bit of a haircut to make them feel a little better, and I can't wait.

Special Mention: New South Wales

Mel [Awabakal country]

Testimonial
“We encourage Australians to host their own communal gatherings for the benefit of all. See how you’ll flourish!”

-Angela (Eora Nation)
TUYS 2022 National winner

Testimonial
“I try not to take for granted the comfort provided by so many familiar faces, the regular kerbside greetings and spontaneous gatherings that enrich each of our lives in our neighbourhood.”

TUYS 2021 Allan ACT Winner

Testimonial
“I was lonely, not feeling myself and decided to reach out. A small gesture had a huge impact on each of our mental health – and you could see the relief and joy each woman felt as they returned to their homes afterwards with their heads held high, and shoulders less slumped.”

TUYS 2021 Maria VIC Winner

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