Many words can be used to describe Farhad Bandesh. He is a Kurdish musician, artist, winemaker, and activist who came to Australia in search of peace and freedom. But the most important word to describe Farhad is simple – a human. Farhad spent six years on Manus Island, followed by detention in hotels and Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA). In December 2020 he was released. It was also his birthday.
Farhad released a protest song called ‘The Smiling Boy’ that day. He expected to spend the day responding to messages online about the song and his birthday but instead received the news that he would be released.
“I couldn’t believe it, I was shocked,” he said. “I said, this is a gift – not from the government, actually, from the lawyer and the judge. I got my freedom on my birthday.”
Since his release, Farhad has been busy. He continues to make music and art and performed his song ‘The Big Exhale’ at Sidney Myer Music Bowl in March 2021 as part of No Friend but the Mountains: A Symphonic Song Cycle.
“It was really amazing. I was honoured to be there,” he says of the performance. “It was a really big moment, and beautiful.”
To Farhad, music and art are powerful tools to share messages, stories, and feelings.
“I use art to make a change,” he explained.
Farhad’s activism takes many forms. He works with media and MPs to speak up against the government’s cruel policies. He stands in solidarity with refugees in detention, and campaigns for their release.
“I feel really guilty for my friends and other people in detention…it’s really sad, they are there for no reason,” he said. “I hope we could – all people and the lawyers – change this cruel policy, and we could see our brothers and sisters in the community very soon. That’s my hope.”
Farhad also stands in solidarity with other communities, including First Nations peoples. He developed a friendship with Senator for Victoria Lidia Thorpe, who was able to visit Farhad when he was in hotel detention. Days after his release, Farhad was welcomed by members of the Wurundjeri mob with a smoke ceremony. In January 2021, he attended the Invasion Day rally with Lidia.
“We are here on their land. We should remember what’s happened to them and respect them.”
Recently, Farhad has embarked on a new adventure – winemaking. He has made homebrew before but is now working to produce and bottle two wines - a Shiraz called ‘Time to Fly’ and a Cabernet Sauvignon called ‘Game Over,’ a nod to the Amnesty International campaign fronted by former Socceroo Craig Foster. Farhad described the similarities between winemaking and his other artistic pursuits – like music and art, wine has the stamp of the maker. It also brings people together.
“The philosophy from the vineyard to the bottle, the bottle to the shop, and then to the people - they have it for fun, sharing, love. It’s really beautiful,” Farhad explained.
Art, wine, and activism are intertwined for Farhad, but at the core is humanity and freedom. Farhad’s message to Australians is that,
"Freedom is beautiful, and we need to share freedom with everyone. We want to show and share our story with Australian people. We are people like you. There is no difference.
Always I say there is no border between us and you. Because we are people and we are one nation. The government wants to divide us, but you care, and we appreciate it."
Words by volunteer Nazanin Zadeh-Cummings