Tony Bennett

Age: 51

Family background:
My father, his brother and their father were all miners based in Ashington. My mother’s family had originally come from Jesmond, Newcastle but their house was destroyed during the war. They moved to Pegswood and finally to Ashington where they lived in a small flat above a shop before moving into a terraced house. Her father was employed in the Ashington pit workshops.

I was born in Ashington, the eldest of three brothers and attended local schools. I was married in 1992 and separated in 2007.

Work and/or community experience:
When I left school I found it difficult to find work and spent several years between unemployment and a government scheme. During this period I also got involved with several music groups.

I have been consistently interested in and involved with various ‘political’ campaigns. My first was the Anti-Nuclear Druridge Campaign where I took part in a sponsored run and played in a concert to raise funds. The greatest influence in my politicisation was my family’s involvement in the 1984 Miners Strike. For me this was an experience which removed any remaining illusions about the nature of modern democracy and the realities of power politics.

Since then I have also participated in demonstrations opposing war in Iraq (from Oct 2002-June 2003), a concert to raise funds for Haiti Disaster, an anti-racism march, the ‘Future That Works’ in London and attended more recent marches in Newcastle opposing disability benefit cuts.

For many years I worked as a manager in a Betting Office before leaving to attend Newcastle University as a mature student. There I completed an undergraduate (Politics/Sociology) and Masters degree (Politics Research). The end of my university education coincided with the 2008 crash and I once again experienced a period of unemployment and took part in various ‘employability and work programmes’. When I found employment it was as a helpline adviser for a company involved with the government work programme.

Reasons for interest in the project:
I believe politics is about participation and change but central to political change is the act of communication. Power and control have to be taken into account so this communication and its sources need to be questioned. I feel there is a constant daily need to challenge the simplistic stereotyping of complex situations/events/issues/peoples and the misinformation that surrounds them, otherwise real justice and fairness is impossible.

This project is centred on two communities that have not been properly represented in the media or by those in power. In many ways the communities have been secondary to other agendas or subjected to ill thought out government policy. To be able to explore the similarities and differences in our experiences is a fascinating and exciting prospect.

Opportunities/ideas to explore during the project:
An exchange between the two cultures gives us the rare and wonderful opportunity to access a deeper understanding of one another’s experiences and our understandings of the world. I believe this experience has the potential to be empowering for the individuals taking part. I would also like to think that this empowerment could transcend the project itself and change the way people think about cultures.

On a more specific personal level I am interested in the employment/unemployment experiences and policies that have beset the aborigines and their extended families and friends.

Making new friends from a different culture and seeing the vast landscape of Australia while sharing their culture is a wonderful opportunity in its own right. Similarly, the project is an enlightening and engaging experience to share with a group of local people who, had it not been for the project, may have never have met and become friends.