Featured in this photo essay is Ernest – a man from the Democratic Republic of Congo, living in the Illawarra – in conversation with SCARF Volunteer, Simon Tedder, and Communications Team Member, Sarah Pulling.


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.

We sat down with Ernest in the home he shares with two of his brothers in their home in Wollongong to talk about his life, experiences, ambitions, the importance of having role models, and writing.

“My name is Bukasa Bukasa, I’m 23 years old, turning 24 at the end of the year, and I’m from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I’ve been in Australia since 2010 and I’ve had mixed experiences – in terms of good and bad.

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.

I work in Campbelltown at the local court… I help new clients, hear cases as well, just try and dissect a few cases.” 

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

What kinds of cases do you usually hear?

“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.”

Why were you attracted to indigenous customary law?

“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.”

What insight did you think you could bring to those scenarios from your own experience?

“Coming from a war-torn country, it was more understood indigenous people here feel like the African Americans in the USA, I tried to wipe that off their mind, because, coming from a third world country, a lot of developed countries when they come into Africa, they don’t mind about what’s happening on the ground, they only care about empowering themselves. 


So I tried to break the barriers, using myself as an example, like:


“Okay, I can be in Australia with no education, and they threw me in Year 10, and out of Year 10, this is what I became. I became a lawyer. You guys can also work hard and stop putting the blame on the government for your own undoing. If I can do it, you can do it. And the biggest privilege you guys have is the fact that you guys are Australian, and I came here as a refugee.”


But, the way people look at the term refugee, they have misconception of “Okay, these are people nothing but running from their own countries, they have no skills, they don’t have all these attributes that makes an Australian citizen. But, we also come with the same thing, and if they can also see me achieving what a lot of refugees deem to be impossible to achieve, they can do it too.”

Are you currently working with indigenous people?

“Yes, 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 is your inspiration or reason for your interest in law?

“I just do it for what is right, and also understanding what the laws are… Everything on this planet has rules we have to abide by. The ecosystem has its’ own rules, and therefore to be able to live in a society such as Australia, with no problems, you need to abide by the rules that are set.

There’s a lot of people breaking the laws, and getting arrested – going over the speed limit – these are rules that could easily be avoided without having major consequences…

A lot of the time these people are influenced by other people that don’t know what the laws are, and influenced by people who grew up in an era where they were underprivileged and they didn’t have all these resources, but now these resources are available.”

What was your approach when trying to communicate that to indigenous youth when you were working with them in Eden, NSW?

“I got to understand, from talking to children from a very young age – I have five brothers – I have an older brother and younger brothers. The fact that when I speak to my 12 year old brother I don’t speak to him [like an adult]… I have to reduce myself to a 12 year old and speak to him from that angle, and then he gets to understand that.


For me, [in speaking with indigenous youth] it was more I had to play someone I had never been, so, I had to play a drug addict or an alcoholic,  and go “Okay, if I keep drinking with you, this is where we’re going to end up, and if we stop, this is where where going to end up.”

Do you think access to role models was relevant to the behaviour and choices of those people?

“If men in that community don’t have anyone they can look up to, they are destroying an entire generation that is coming after them. And with the population booming, and Australia growing as a nation, that’s a big threat to the type of lifestyle that Australians will be living in the future.”

Did you feel you had access to role models growing up?

“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… I went to Sydney FC, and they told me “No.” That was the darkest day, and the worst time. 

Do you have any poetry or writing you would like to share with us?

This is one of my favourite poems:

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 was 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

Do I have to dig deep in my dark soul and put out all that is truly more evil

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

What are you currently writing?

“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. [laughs]”


This project is a collaboration between SCARF, 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 him for sharing his thoughts and 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 what SCARF do, visit
To read more about Sarah Pulling and Bear Hunt Photography, visit here, or to find out about projects she supports through her work as a photographer or how a collaboration like this might happen in the future, visit here.