Meet Zarina Husein-Ellis
If you run into Zarina Husein-Ellis (she prefers her nickname “Z”), chances are she’ll have a book in her hand just as she did when we met to chat. I noticed that she was intently reading a page marked, along with several others, with a paperclip.
“I love reading and libraries,” she said. “I used to buy books, now I only read books from the library.”
She credits books, non-fiction and autobiographical, for giving her sound money management guidance in her youth, something she is grateful for now in retirement. These days she’s absorbing everything she can about Australian history; in particular, the Indigenous story.
“I’ve just returned from an historical tour of the Top End that helped bring much of what I’ve been reading to life,” she said.
She’s currently reading Dark Emu by Bruce Pasco, a book that challenges historical conceptions that have worked to justify Indigenous dispossession.
Caring, travel and bravery are recurring themes throughout Z’s life. As an 18-year-old she left her family and birthplace of British Guiana to move to England where she studied to become a nurse—a profession that landed her a recruitment offer from Cabrini Hospital in Malvern.
“The offer came at a time in my life when I needed a fresh start. I’ve never regretted it. Australia has so much to offer—I think it is one of the best countries in the world,” she said.
The places she’s visited within Australia is a testament to her adoration—a list of locations vast and daring.
Three weeks after the Ukraine war broke out, Z awoke with an epiphany.
“I felt that I needed to go help the people of Ukraine. I got my affairs in order, obtained travel documents and was on a plane headed to Warsaw just a couple of weeks later,” she said.
Her goal was to get to Kiev, but the war had escalated to a point where that wasn’t an option.
Instead, she went to Warsaw Central and joined the volunteer efforts of assisting hundreds of newly arrived women and children war refugees.
“I helped wherever I was needed, but apparently there was a different plan for me,” she said, looking upwards.
Several days into her volunteer work she fell crossing a street, seriously injuring her leg, an injury that forced her to return to Australia just over a week later.
Z has been an active member of Southbank3006 where she’s helped to inspire the focus of our next forum on “connecting community”.
“There are so many things we could be doing together. Trivia nights, book groups, games night socials, multicultural food nights, painting classes, a multi-generational orchestra,” she said.
One of her wishes is to see the space between Crown and the Yarra River used for a community dance – “the speakers to pipe in music are already there.”
Did I mention that this is only the preface to the many chapters of Z’s life story? She’s been a pilot, flown helicopters, ridden motorcycles and can sharpshoot. Perhaps we’ll get lucky, and she’ll write it all down.
MaryKay Rauma is a founder of Southbank3006 a not-for-profit community and advocacy group focused on connecting residents and improving the livability of Southbank. Our next forum, Connecting Community is Sunday, August 28, 2pm at Boyd. All Southbank residents are encouraged to join for free by clicking here •