Born in Malaysia, raised in Singapore, and now a proud resident of Yarraville in Melbourne’s inner-west, John Ng has a lot of life experience to share. Growing up in Singapore, John was “ostracised as a child” because his education in English differed to that of his peers. He says he was bullied and never accepted at school. Today, through a series of “sliding doors” moments, John is the only member of his family who lives in a western country. “I’m just a bit lucky to be where I am now,” he says.
John moved to Melbourne at the age of 25 to study journalism at RMIT and consequently to pursue his now-wife. Effervescent and determined, he graduated, got married, bought a house, and worked odd jobs to fulfil his visa, because “you had to do what you had to do” to succeed. After university, he worked at the National Australia Bank for 7 years. Realising he had a knack for selling things, he moved from his initial role in debt collections to selling loans, and over the years learned everything he could about business. John is grateful for the “awesome training ground” that working in a big bank provided, but acknowledges that it became a case of good income and bad lifestyle. The 15-hour work days – which he completed voluntarily “to differentiate [him]self” – were gruelling, and meant he missed spending time with his first two children when they were really young. He was missing the “human aspect” of career and life, so in 2017 he left NAB to create his own finance broking company to help people with their money.
Now 41 years old, John has lived in Australia for 16 years and admits it’s “a bit crazy” to know he’s going to grow old in this foreign country where he has started his own business and forged a great lifestyle for himself and his family. He loves the local community in Melbourne’s inner-west, and this has manifested in his ongoing passion project. Having studied journalism, he had missed writing during his finance career, and felt inspired by the famous Humans of New York photography project to spotlight regular people within his own community. In this way, Humans of SKY was born, to celebrate and connect the people of Seddon, Kingsville and Yarraville. The website profiles everyday people by sharing their stories, with particular focus on how the inner-west has influenced their lives. When first building the project up, John says people didn’t understand “this random, bald bespectacled guy” interviewing people on the street, whose aim was to promote good news stories and local people.
Today, however, Humans of SKY has an avid local following and has connected people in the area “on an almost paranormal level”. The platform has raised awareness for stomach and breast cancers, and connected long-lost relatives through the stories shared. It is this social connection that most motivates John. With the aim to dispel the absolute mistrust we have of strangers in an online society, he loves encouraging “feel-good community vibes” through the platform he has created. In recognition of these achievements, in January 2020 John was proudly named as the City of Maribyrnong Citizen of the Year.
The coronavirus pandemic has required some innovation and “pivoting” from John to keep producing Humans of SKY content. Obviously, social distancing requirements have rendered him unable to conduct in-person interviews. He has instead temporarily switched to producing shorter articles, focussing on how the businesses of Melbourne’s inner-west have been impacted by COVID-19. This aims to both keep his audience engaged and help promote small companies who have lost business during the pandemic. Personally, John has loved being at home with his family during the crisis. While he generally works from home anyway, he finds himself appreciating his family even more during this time. In particular, his 1-year-old son is noticeably enjoying having the constant company of his parents and two siblings – “he’s in heaven!”
John touches on his personal relationship with inclusion in Australia in light of his experience as an international student. In nearly 20 years, he says attitudes have not changed since he was a student at RMIT: “we’re invisible.” While he believes there will unfortunately always be the “one-percenters” who are inherently racist or discriminatory, John says the power of social media is an “awesome thing” in helping people become more aware of minority groups, and eventually more accepting. He describes his community in Yarraville with fondness for its working-class multiculturalism, where the relatively affordable housing attracts a hugely diverse range of people from refugees to international students and young professionals. John’s dream, and one that he is perpetuating through Humans of SKY, is for people to realise that “at the end of the day, we’re all migrants; we just look a little different.” He’d love to see Australian society become even more colour-blind and inclusive: “we need to respect each other, and be happy that we’re all able to flourish in this amazing country.”
Visit the Humans of SKY at www.humansofsky.com.au and find out about the people in John’s inner-west community.
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