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Speaking Out

Image courtesy Kate Kelly, Port Melbourne Neighbourhood House.
Image courtesy Kate Kelly, Port Melbourne Neighbourhood House.

 How does a woman struggling after her release from prison find a sense of community through the discovery of self-expression?

A referral from a caseworker with the Rhed program (Resourcing health and EDucation for the sex industry) gave Val an opportunity to not only speak out but also be heard.

Val is a graduate of Voices of the South Side who has returned to university study and contributes to a variety of publications including St Kilda News.

This is Val’s story in her own words:

The Speaking Out program was brought to my attention by my Rhed worker. She thought I might be interested, and benefit from it. And boy was it exactly what I needed. I’d always been an outspoken person and very opinionated, awkwardly and inappropriately at times and man was I a terror when I was drunk…  I used to write growing up but drifted away from that as I became jaded and cynical about everything.

So the opportunity to be part of this program where we would find and exercise our voices in a safe environment was awesome, and it wouldn’t cost me a thing which was important as I was still living at Hanover emergency housing in South Bank at the time.

Having been out of uni for a few years, this would also be a retraining of my mental aptitudes and re-integration into the various aspects of education which I would have to engage in once again to move ahead.

 Respectful environment

We could not be a more diverse group.  Guidelines were established right off the bat to create a respectful and safe environment. These were printed out and distributed the next meeting so we were all on the same page. The facilitators are two amazingly strong and entertaining women with loads of compassion and community spirit, and a girl that had done the previous Our Voices and excelled so well she was asked to help them facilitate this time round.

 The program covered:
  • Preparing a speech – the structure
  • Body language – posture, expressions, gestures and eye contact
  • How to get the best out of your voice – vocal variety, speed, pitch, volume and quality
  • Use of silence and pauses for effect
  • Working with words, pronunciation and grammar
  • Communication styles and managing conflict
  • Critical evaluation of each others’ presentations
  • Managing nerves, tension and preparing for presentations
Mouths shut

I had just come from a place where the best thing for all was to keep mouths shut most of the time—to either not get in trouble with the screws or other girls. Because if you ever had anything to say there’d be someone that needed to talk to you about it or someone that had a problem with it and it was on.

Not only that, so many people just spat out shit constantly. Verbal diarrhoea was a common malaise. I learnt not to bother with my two bob. No need to waste my breath—so much of it was being wasted all around me all the time.


So with the Our Voices crew, we learnt again to play with and find strength in our voice, discover hidden talents, exercise assertiveness and create a comfortable place to stand in our own skin physically and metaphorically.

 Leaving the past behind

As I set out to the Port Melbourne Neighbourhood Centre (graduation ceremony), I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was excited as I welcome any opportunity to share my story. It’s my time to be heard, and with that the past gets put further behind me.

Screening digital stories

Stay tuned for the upcoming screening of a series of digital stories showcasing Voices of the South Side in October 2016.
For more information contact

Check out more information about the Voices of the South Side program.

Robyn Szechtman shares some insights from her 30 years of community development experiences working in and around St Kilda and Port Melbourne.

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