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Ecumenical Migration Centre (EMC)

Page history last edited by Vivian Papaleo 10 months, 3 weeks ago

 Homepage - Brotherhood timeline  | Service areas - home | Refugees and Settlement - home




EACF focusses on doing home visits, helping with English and schooling and orienting new arrivals. Home visits are complemented by group activities, providing opportunities for new arrivals to meet other Australians.




Premises are provided pro-bono by various arms of the churches, as well as the Brotherhoodof St Laurence, and are used as an office base, a migrant youth hostel and accommodation for both full-time staff and volunteers. A house at Phillip Island is built by volunteers over a 16-day work camp on land purchased by donations.




European Australian Christian Fellowship (EACF, later to become known as the Ecumenical Migration Centre) formally established as a commission of the Victorian Council of Churches, with Bishop Geoffrey Sambell, Director of the BSL, as Convenor.  Its aim was to serve the needs of migrant communities in Melbourne's inner suburbs.  The work depended on building friendship networks between the refugees and local residents within a Christian framework in order to overcome the sense of loneliness and isolation. Although this quickly developed into an outreach into the migrant community in general, the emphasis at the start was firmly upon youth, on community-based social and sporting activities, with some individual work.  [1]

EACF’s first full-time worker appointed and BSL gives a weekly grant and an office at 67 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy [2] [check dates - should this be 1963?]




A building in Nicholson street, North Carlton becomes the EACF headquarters and the shop-front youth centre, known as the Espresso Bar. Through the Espresso Bar, EACF undertakes important outreach work: see page 12 for more detail.

Johnny Kalisperis, Savas Augoustakis and Alan Matheson join David Cox as the first paid staff members (as well as the two full-time volunteers). The team pioneers the model of pairing an English-speaking and an ethnic worker to offer their respective strengths, which is critical at a time when there are no trained bilingual social workers.



The EACF moves from the BSL to North Carlton [3]


By the mid-1960s, EACF was working with a diverse population. Over the years the numbers of Greeks, Italians and Maltese grew considerably, as did the number of young men from the Balkans. Most had either migrated alone or did not have relatives in Australia. As the work developed, however, the number of families, children and young people increased greatly, especially among those from Southern Europe and later from Turkey and South East Asia.




Production of The Navigator bulletin, which catalogues the issues confronting migrants on their arrival, commences. It has 800 supporters at one stage. The Navigator is succeeded in 1974 by Migration Action (see page 17).




The team moved from Carlton to Richmond and began to expand to support these new arrivals. In the early 1970s the name was changed from EACF to Ecumenical Migration Centre in recognition of the diversity of these migrant communities.



European Australian Christian Fellowship (EACF) becomes known as the Ecumenical Migration Centre [4]



Two joint papers on housing finance and policies on rehabilitation of old housing stock (released in conjunction with the Fitzroy Ecumenical Centre) [5]




Collaboration with the Victorian Council of Social Services leads to the establishment of the Emergency Telephone Interpreting Service.

The Clearing House on Migration Issues (CHOMI) is established by Lidio Bertelli as a unique library, bookshop and documentation service (profiled on page 16). Prior to CHOMI, EMC’s documentation of migrant needs was important in the framing of multiculturalism in Australia.


From Action ( a BSL publication) - Fitzroy_Ecumenical_Centre_Action_1973-9.pdf




Elisabeth Gawith (later Howie), Loula Rodopoulos, Di Batzias and Priscilla Jamieson are among the first women to join the welfare staff, enabling closer work with children and families. Prior to this, Kay Sarll and Diane Clark are among the many female volunteers, with Kay beginning EACF’s work with women, alongside Jill McArthur.


EMC receives a grant to establish a welfare rights program in association with the Australian Turkish Cultural Association. They subsequently collaborate to establish, among other things, three Turkish speaking childcare centres to facilitate workforce participation.




Community activism for migrants’ rights:  EMC was at the forefront of community activism and a growing movement for social action, with its focus on the rights of migrant workers, delivery of services to migrants and establishing women’s groups. Community education to migrants about their rights, and to mainstream services to help them better support multicultural communities, was seen by staff, especially Alan Matheson, as increasingly important. Staff also gave regular talks to ethnic radio and provided information to ethnic papers to ensure that communities understood their rights.


EMC begins its support work with Timorese, Vietnamese and Laotian communities in North Richmond.




Cultural awareness training for mainstream services staff is a major focus, with proposals to government and resources developed.




EMC opens an office in Footscray to work with newly-arrived Vietnamese refugees, and is now working with Horn of African, Indochinese, Latin American, Romanian, Afghan and Pacific Islander communities.


The innovative Women’s Interpreting Service is developed in response to the lack of female interpreters in health services.




Influencing the debate:  This was a time of increased interaction with federal and state government departments, and influence at the local and national level. EMC’s aims were to advance multiculturalism and to develop a knowledge base in relation to the migrant experience that would stimulate public debate and influence public policy. EMC also auspiced and developed partnerships with groups that would grow to become organisations in their own right including the Vietnamese Women’s Association, the Refugee Women’s Network, the then Islamic Women’s Welfare Council of Victoria and the then Afghan Support Group.




EMC conducted a major research project into the experiences and needs of Horn of African communities: Selected African communities in Melbourne: their characteristics and settlement needs.



In partnership with the Adult Migrant English Service (AMES), EMC established women’s English classes in Flemington and Springvale, tailored to those with low literacy levels (see page 21). Through the 1990s, EMC collaborated with African communities to develop a community education program on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)




BSL Board (at its 27 April meeting) approves merger with the Ecumenical Migration Centre (EMC)


The EMC became part of the Brotherhood of St Laurence; a union that brought refugee and migrant issues into the broader agendas of eradicating poverty and exclusion. That same year, the Howard government introduced Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) for refugees who arrived by boat. TPVs did not confer work rights, and holders were denied access to government settlement services, the family reunion program and permanent residency. EMC used its independence from the federal government to establish a central coordination system for housing, information and referral into state governmentfunded services and support.


EMC continued its role as a pioneer in service development and design through its Given the Chance employment program, as well as working to enhance the capacity of mainstream services to respond to multicultural communities.


BSL began auspice of The Torch play developed with members of the Yorta Yorta Nation, Outreach Victoria, the Brotherhood of St Laurence, the Cities of Yarra and Melbourne and auspiced by the Ecumenical Migration Centre of the Brotherhood of St Laurence. The show was then performed for a week in the City of Yarra




EMC becomes part of the Brotherhood, and moves to a Brotherhood office in Fitzroy.




The Justice for Asylum Seekers (JAS) network is established to act as a statewide voice on asylum seeker issues, disseminating information to the media and public and advocating for the abolition of TPVs. JAS develops the ‘community detention’ model that is subsequently adopted by the federal government as an alternative to immigration detention (see page 22).


Johnny Kalisperis, EMC’s longest-serving staff member, retires after 40 years of service to multicultural communities.




EMC develops the Given the Chance employment program for newly-arrived communities (see page 12).


2005 onwards


EMC becomes a provider for the state government’s Refugee Brokerage Program (now RAP), which supported emerging community leaders to address community priorities and develop infrastructure. Eleven years on, MCT still delivers RAP which pioneered a best practice approach to community engagement.




The Torch group develops into a statewide arts program that explores local stories and issues through dance, song and theatre with the play touring to Northern Victoria, rewritten to reflect new events within the City of Shepparton and with additional support from funding bodies, local community, the Ecumenical Migration Centre and the Brotherhood of St Laurence.


The Torch Project team developed a 5-month Organisational Cultural Development project with the 600 staff of the Brotherhood of St Laurence. The work culminated in Brotherhood Showday





The move from EMC to MCT In this last decade, EMC’s focus has remained on new and emerging communities as those least able to access existing services. These communities are often small in number, widely dispersed and with little infrastructure. In most cases leadership is still developing. The role of auspicing and hosting small ethnic community groups continues with the successful transition to independence of groups such as the Sudanese Lost Boys Association. The legacy of the early family support work continues through our parenting support programs, Integrated Family Services and Refugee Child Outreach, the latter one of the few settlement programs focusing on newlyarrived children. The tradition of utilising volunteers remains crucial, with over 110 mentors in programs like Brainbank, Stepping Stones and ReSource.


In the lead up its 60th anniversary in 2016, it was timely for EMC to consider how it could remain relevant within the broader multicultural services sector, both in terms of location as well as in name. To better serve our clients, who are increasingly settling in the more affordable growth areas, EMC moved into its new home, the Epping Community Services Hub, in June 2016. The formal name change to ‘Multicultural Communities Team’ (MCT) occurred in July 2016, reflecting the fact that it is no longer a stand-alone centre.




Annual Brotherhood of St Laurence and Ecumenical Migration Centre Business Breakfast at the RACV Club (February 28)




Stepping Stones, a micro-enterprise program for women from multicultural communities, is piloted. Stepping Stones is the culmination of various programs fostering financial independence for women and proves to be a successful model




In response to the gaining of work rights by a new group of asylum seekers, EMC pilots its Employment Program for Young Asylum Seekers (EPYAS) in Yarra to fill the gap in support. EPYAS is subsequently run in Darebin, Brimbank, Moreland and Whittlesea. In 2013, the Brotherhood’s Centre for Work and Learning establishes an employment program specifically for adults seeking asylum. Outcomes from these programs are provided to government decisionmakers and we are pleased that the 2014 iteration of TPVs provides people with work rights




Harking back to its community education roots, EMC begins offering cross-cultural responsiveness training both within the Brotherhood and to other agencies.




The Brotherhood is selected to pilot a new refugee-specific Youth Transitions program in Hume on the basis of the organisation’s experience in supporting young people into employment.


EMC becomes the Multicultural Communities Team and moves from Fitzroy to Epping


The Brotherhood's  Multicultural Communities Team (previously known as the Ecumenical Migration Centre) has been supporting migrants, refugees and asylum seekers since 1956. The Opening Doors booklet (PDF, 1.5MB), launched by the Victorian Governor in November 2016, captures some of the highlights.




EMC publications


Annual Reports 

These annual reports, from 1962-2009, are a comprehensive report on EMC’s activities throughout the preceding year. 




  •  The Navigator 1962-1973 (Journal title later changed to “Migration Action”)

A Bulletin of Migration Issues


  • Migration Action (1974-2009)

Migration Action was Australia’s only national, independent, journal devoted to refugee, immigration and multicultural issues. Migration Action provided in-depth critical analysis and alternative views informed by case-work and relationships with the communities affected by the issues. It sought to promote informed discussion among decision-makers and general public alike. Migration Action was produced three times a year by the Ecumenical Migration Centre (EMC), which became a service of the Brotherhood of St Laurence in 1999


The Clearing House On Migration Issues (CHOMI) was the publishing arm of the Ecumenical Migration Centre - it comprised the publishing house and independent bookshop. All printing and collating was done by volunteers.




  • CHOMI Reprints
    A selection of articles and papers, written by various authors with an interest in immigration issues, reprinted and issued by the Clearing House On Migration Issues with the aim of fostering the understanding and appreciation of a Multicultural Australia


  • Multicultural Australia Papers (MAPs)
    A series of occasional papers covering such topics as citizenship, human rights, interpreter services, prejudice in schools, ethnic groups, refugees


  • Policy Action Papers (PAPs)
    A series of 6 papers covering multicultural policy


  • Other reports
    Numerous reports reflecting the work of the Ecumenical Migration Centre


Notable supporters 


  • Jean Isobel Martin FASSA (née Craig; 21 June 1923 – 25 September 1979) was an Australian sociologist who was a pioneer of the discipline in Australia. Many of her works examined the role of immigrants in Australian society. Her academic career "spanned teaching and research appointments in seven Australian universities". [Wikipedia: accessed 17/02/2020]. Jean was a strong supporter of the Ecumenical Migration Centre and donated her own personal monograph collection to the ClearingHouse on Migration Issues (CHOMI)   


  1. Formal establishment on 8 March 1962. See Michele Langfield Espresso bar to EMC - A thirty-Year History of the Ecumenical Migration Centre, p.5
  2. The office is located at the BSL until November 1965. Michele Langfield Espresso bar to EMC - A thirty-Year History of the Ecumenical Migration Centre, pp.5-6
  3. Michele Langfield Espresso bar to EMC - A thirty-Year History of the Ecumenical Migration Centre, p.7
  4. Langfield Espresso bar to EMC - A thirty-Year History of the Ecumenical Migration Centre, p.30
  5. BSL Annual Report 1971-1972 p.2

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