Featured in this photo essay is Ernest in conversation with me, Sarah Pulling, and Simon Tedder. Ernest is a Democratic Republic of Congo-Australian man living in the Illawarra. 

Below you’ll find Ernest at his home in Mt Ousley, NSW.

Further essays will follow over the coming weeks and months. To read the introduction and background to this series, click here.

As a photo essay, this is best viewed on a desktop or laptop computer. 🙂



Ernest is 23 years old. He's been in Australia since 2010, when he was put in Year 10.

Eight years later, and Ernest has graduated from his HSC and Bachelor of Laws at the University of Wollongong, and is now in his final year of a Business degree. He ultimately hopes to study Medicine.

Ernest has five brothers. He lived with his entire family in Wollongong, but his parents and two of his younger brothers have recently moved up to Sydney. He now lives with his three other brothers in Mt Ousley.

Photograph of Ernest at home in Mount Ousley in NSW for SCARFs The More You Know project
At home in Mt Ousley


“Life is a wonderful journey, it’s like a movie. Each year plays a role of scene,  which ads up to the big finish.  So as time goes by, I tend to make sure I keep myself in the right lane to achieve the outcome of what I plan to do.”


“Describing myself in three words, I like to say I’m earnest, modest and honest.”

  Pictured below – Ernest’s bedroom.


What do you do for work? “I work in Campbelltown at the local court… I help new clients, [and] hear cases as well. I’ve also been working with the indigenous youth in Wollongong in the AIME program. Tutoring them in order for them to meet the mark that they want, to get into university.”

What kind of law are you interested in?

“I did criminal law, but I want to get more into family law.

I looked at the indigenous population as well, and their customary law attracted me to it. Just to be able to share my experiences with them, and also get to learn more about their experiences, because there’s no “Australian law”, as far as Australia goes. We rely on the British law, and therefore the only Australian law we have is the indigenous customary laws. So I was trying to mix the two together where I could come up with a solution where I could approach the Elders, and tell them about how the Commonwealth sees it, and this is how you see it, but if we can put the two together, this can be something we can work towards.”

  Pictured below is the kitchen in Ernest’s house.


Did you feel you had access to role models? “I did not, but it was more of – you get into this state where the world is against you, and your back is against the wall. I always tell my brothers, “a man is born free, but everyone is in chains.” The second you take your first step, life becomes a challenge. The only way I could build myself back up – was to write poetry and write music. But at the same time, I learnt about life with the soccer ball. That was my escape. I cannot play soccer now, because I have a medical condition… nerve/muscle issue. I went to Sydney FC, and they told me no. That was the darkest day, and the worst time.”


Ernest had been writing a script about his life, which went through the specific events that took place in his life whilst in the refugee camp. He’d written eight books by hand, but unfortunately they were thrown away. He now writes on his phone. “I still write, most of the time. it’s my only way to get emotions out. There [were] times when I was writing me against my alter egos… I’m writing a volume right now which is called ‘Ernest v Joe,’ which is myself and my alter ego. It was more of my mum that put it in that way, ‘When you’re nice, I call you Ernest, when you make me mad I call you Joe.’ My mum called me Joe when I was born, my dad called me Ernest when I was born. When they were filling the documents my dad ran out the door and put Ernest instead of Joe.”


Pictured, Ernest reads a poem he’d written two weeks previously; this is it:

I was born like this

I was born in the midst of a civilization

one meant for peace, not destruction

more like addition, instead of elimination

felt like relegation, instead of promotion

Freedom of speech, not of any religion

It is depreciation, rather than appreciation

black or white, lets work together on the solution

I was born to succeed, not to face defeat

I was born to rise up, not to fall on my feet

All emotions I carried I had to go and spare

Every time we linked up, it super

Eleven years of my life, I couldn’t eat

My whole life I’ve been running, I can’t sit

I have always been branded as an outcast

Every time I came first, they put me last

I’m shooting for success with a blast

Everything in my life, never slow but fast

I had to sufficiently eat food mixed with dust

When I thought I won, I wanted breakfast

I was born in darkness, far away from the light

My wellbeing was shameless even though it was bright

Who’s to blame for my mistakes when I don’t know what’s at stake

I was born to die and relive, because I am not here to deceive

Everything in my life seems unfair

I’m still lost confused, in despair

Who was to be born and be a slave? One that even democracy can save

I fight with everything, but fight harder

I plant now and I will surely reap later

Times are tough not knowing enough

I can’t tell the difference between hate and love

Sick with a sickness and the doctors don’t care

Death is at the doorsteps better beware

In hard times I thrive from a little positivity

Just showing up big is the negativity

I am waiting and unsure for my last days

Like a grim reaper of souls ready to prey

I will say that my life was never a waste

even though success I never got to taste

My life is one to copy and paste

The End


It sounds like you’ve had some interesting experiences using your Law degree, but you’ve got a different interest now? Or did you always have your sights set on Medicine? “I think it was more that, when we were in the camp, I had two cousins and they passed away at a very young age. The oldest one wanted to be a business  man, and the youngest one wanted to be a lawyer. So, it was more like, once I didn’t get into Medicine – because they passed away at my own expense [in that] they were killed because I was told not to escape the camp, and I ran away. And they told me to run away after one had died, so the reason why the second one passed away was because I went back to the camp – so, it’s more like, when they gave me Law, I thought I could just have something there to make sure it’s for him. Medicine was what I wanted to do. I’ve always been the nurse, like even when people get injured, I always help them out.”


Thank You

This project is a collaboration between SCARF (Strategic Community Assistance to Refugee Families), and Sarah Pulling of Bear Hunt Photography and individuals from the SCARF community. 
Ernest is the man featured in this essay. A heartfelt thanks is owed to Ernest for sharing his home and his stories for this project. 
SCARF is an Illawarra-based, independent not-for-profit organisation that supports people from refugee backgrounds to navigate the personal and practical challenges of building a new life in Australia. By creating connections and generating opportunities, SCARF helps individuals and families to establish a sense of belonging, experience social and economic inclusion and access the tools for self-empowerment and independence. To learn more about SCARF, visit
To read more about me, visit here, or to find out about projects I support or how a collaboration might happen in the future, visit here.