Jagath Dheerasekara


The notion of shelter differs from one socio-economic setting to the other. Those free market socio -political-economic forces that believe government- funded social security is not a nonviable process, contributes significantly in altering the perception and notion  of shelter, across the globe today.  As a country founded on private property rights – more or less similar to those in the United States – private house ownership carries a high social value in the  Australian Dream.  It would not be wrong to say the opposite is true for public or social housing.

I live not far from Airds Bradbury social housing estate. I am on a journey to photograph the physical and social dimensions of this housing estate, which is bound to metamorphose sooner than later.  It is an exploration of notions of shelter as vulnerability, as well as resilience. I photograph members of the community both in their public and private spaces, as well as in temporarily set up studio settings. I also while recording their personal stories.  As they unfold, some of these stories argue strongly for a robust social safety net, making it clear that availability of social housing continues to shielded these community members of community from extremely vulnerable situations. Together, the varied stories which invariably ramify in to several layers of stories invoke empathy in the listener as they bring to the fore unexpected and often neglected facets of life within a community which challenge the oft repeated stereotyping.

The Airds Bradbury social housing estate, one of the largest of its kind in Australia, was established in mid 1970s,  is one of the largest of its kind in Australia. Today it is going through a passage of structural transformation. There are 1470 homes with for about 3000 people.  In 10~15 years this estate is expected have over 2000 homes, , with 70 per cent of to which would be sold to private owners while and the rest would remaining as social housing.

Social housing estates are often stigmatised in main stream media and conventional social value systems. Modern planners identify housing estates of this nature as having an architectural lay out that may only aggravate social issues and therefore consider them as a failed social engineering exercise. Today, social housing is undergoing a conceptual change that perhaps marks an end of one era and the beginning of another.

In the Outskirts of the Australian Dream is a series of visuals and audio tracks from my experience within one such large social housing estate.


 JAGATH DHEERASEKARA is an Amnesty International Human Rights Innovation Fund Grant recipient. He is a human rights activist and his second spell of photography began in mid 1990’s with his return to Sri Lanka with regime change. During university life, Jagath was a key member of Students for Human Rights which resulted in his detention and torture in 1989. He also was a key activist in Mothers’ Front. This activism finally led to his exile in France as a political refugee. He moved to Australia with his family in 2008. He chiefly works on Aboriginal, gender, social and environment themes in the framework of vulnerability and conflict. Jagath has presented his work in a number of solo exhibitions, selected group exhibitions and photo festivals. They are also featured in the Indigenous Australians permanent exhibition/installation at the Australian Museum and in several private collections.

In the Outskirts of the Australian Dream will be shown as a featured exhibition at the Head On Photo Festival in Sydney throughout May 2013.