Getting hold of the Gabba Ward’s new Councillor Jonathan Sri is something of a challenge.
He’s hit the ground running since taking office on April 12, in the seat previously held by Helen Abrahams.
So who is 4101’s new councillor? ‘Jonno’ is a down-to-earth guy with a very interesting background. He is of Sri Lankan heritage, grew up in Brisbane and boasts that he went to a state school. It was the Pauline Hanson era, and he learned the power of a media-driven society as he found himself at the receiving end of racist comments. His school holiday visits were to the Arnhem Land where his mum worked as a teacher. He studied arts/law at the University of Queensland with what he calls “privileged-private-school ambitious” students, and still felt like an outsider. A visit to Woodford Folk Festival fostered his creative awakening: the “vibe” left an indelible impression. All of these things honed his finely developed sense of justice for refugees and aborigines and his ideas about creative communities.
West End is Jonathan Sri’s type of community. He remembers visiting the Uniting Church (for meetings of the Tamil Association) as a child. A few years later he moved into various share houses in the 4101 area; his fondest memories are a five-person house on Boundary Street.Downstairs in the internal courtyard he instigated the Courtyard Conspiracy. Hidden behind the famous Bill Poster’s blue door on a Monday night, a cornucopia of arty types gathered. Poets, songsters, writers, music-makers and others met, drank chai tea, jammed and generally communed with each other. These sessions attracted media attention and Jonno is understandably proud of the Courtyard because it embodied his utopian lifestyle — and one he believes could be at the heart of West End life. If only people could be a bit more imaginative in their approaches to affordable housing.
Jonno wants to encourage dialogues about housing options in West End. As a serial house sharer he has experienced the problems of leases — increasing rental prices forces people to move on and short leases do not allow people time to develop meaningful relationships. Friendly communities make for a happier life especially for the disenfranchised and the lonely. Highrise buildings do not always include the right type of spaces that encourage interaction, he says. Central to Jonathan Sri’s philosophy is performance-based and not proscriptive-based urban planning — that is to say, planning that mirrors performance rather than rigidly sticking to a one-size-fits-all approach. What works rather than what “should” work.
As a renter, Jonno was frustrated that he (and others) was not part of any political system. So he decided it was time to do something. With no money and a hoard of volunteers, he started campaigning. He won and now he’s frantically busy. He’s out and about and you might catch him at one of his favourite haunts, Food not Bombs — a Friday night eat out in People’s Park.
Jonno’s personal philosophy is both political and uplifting — an oxymoron if ever I heard one but it works — “To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing” — Raymond Williams. And that’s just the type of guy he is.
Words by Toni Johnson-Woods | Images Georgina Ashford