Radio for the Community! Spoken Histories From 3ZZZ

Melbourne’s busy streets and daily rhythms. There is a voice that brings a community’s members together. Today we explore the inspiring journey of Matoc Achol, the Sudanese program presenter at 3ZZZ radio station.

Radio for the Community! Spoken Histories From 3ZZZ highlights the impact that 3ZZZ broadcasters have made to their communities, increasing diversity in community media, benefits of multiculturalism, sacrifices made by new migrants in Australia, and benefits of volunteering in community radio.


Maram Ismail: Melbourne’s busy streets and daily rhythms. There is a voice that brings a community’s members together. Today we explore the inspiring journey of Matoc Achol, the Sudanese program convener and presenter at 3ZZZ Radio station.

Matoc Achol: As I was leaving the school, one of the kids said, why do people like you, why are you so popular? I say, what? Where am I popular? I say, I saw your photos here and there. Why do people like about you? What do you do? I just imagine a kid. I think you must have been 10 or 11. I did not even expect that and that carry me on saying everyone is watching.

Maram Ismail: Through his use of radio frequencies, Matoc has shared stories, sparked conversations and strengthened the bonds within the Sudanese diaspora. Welcome to this episode of radio for the community spoken histories from 3ZZZ. Join me today, your host, Maram Ismail, in uncovering Matoc’s tale of dedication, challenges and the sheer passion that has made him inspirational to his community.

Matoc Achol: My name is Matoc Mordecai Achol. I moved here 2002, and now I’ve been here for about 20 or 21 years, and it’s been a long time. But it looked like a short time because time flies. And uh, as I say, I am representing South Sudan, but the program is South Sudanese, Sudanese, which means that how the program is. But I’m representing South Sudan and is every Friday from 12 to 1, and I’ve been on it for a number of years now, from 2010 up to now, that is about 13 or 12 years with a number of colleagues but, you know, people get busy and it seems, um, around here and, uh, I studied at Melbourne Uni. I have three degrees from Melbourne Uni and I have one degree from Theological studies. I went to Dookie College as part of Melbourne Uni. I studied two degrees there, or maybe one and the other one on and off. I come back to Parkville and which is, uh, agricultural science degree and honours because there are two degrees. And also I did my Masters in agribusiness from Melbourne Uni. I did it in Parkville also. I did graduate certificate, diploma in theological studies at Ridley College. This country you study something, but you do something else that for another day. And uh, when I study, I thought I would get a job in agricultural area, but it didn’t happen. But I need to survive. I need to pay my taxes and so on. Uh, I did social work and community work for a number of years, and, uh, I’m still in that field, but now I’m into transport, which is something different, something I did recently. And I do a lot of things with youth. And I run, uh, homework support program for a number of years now.

Maram Ismail: Imagine being a member of a community in Australia where you enjoy listening to your native language, music, news, and community events for an hour every week on the radio. Now, picture receiving an email on a sunny summer day informing you that this program might shut down. How would this news make you feel? Well, my thoughts recalls what happened the day he received this type of email.

Matoc Achol: Yeah, that was very interesting. And as I said, I was doing community development, social work, and I remember 2010 and that was in Fitzroy and my normal duties, and I was in Fitzroy Learning Centre, that where my office used to be, and I used to work for African Communities Foundation Australia. Out of blue, they told me, look, there is a program that is yours, which is Sudanese program. And the running out of, you know, there is no one to present it. And could you help us? I said, okay, let’s I’ll find out because I have good connection with the community. I found out that there was one person who used to run it, but he stopped, and I say, please, could you come back? He came back and he was on and off. Uh, from time to time, I get to see the late manager of the centre, uh, who pass on Martin. I think he passed on this year. I asked him and he said, look, the program is on and off. What do we do now? I said, okay, give me some time. I went and recruited a number of young people and some members from the community, and I said, look, I’ll be back. A plan for you guys, maybe four of them. We started well and they got busy, and it turned out I have to be the one running the program.

Maram Ismail: The program has come a long way. Established by visionaries who saw a need for their community representation in Australia. I think it.

Matoc Achol: Started around 2005 because I was studying and I’m somewhere I’m not part of that. And uh, one of them is Ahmed Zarrouk as I said, when we have Tim Argon and another person in Canberra, I think they are the one who started it. And I think the need was to connect, the new arrivals into Australian culture, and also to make sure that they have an outlet where they can express their views, and also sharing news back home and how things are. I think that was the need by then. But now it’s more than that. It’s not just only that. There are a lot of challenges now. Maybe by then there might be 2000 or 3000 South Sudanese in Melbourne, but today I’m quite sure it’s more than 10 or 20. And we have a lot of young people, we have a lot of old people. We have a number of them. The needs are different now, but that’s how I see it by then and now. Now they need even more because before we did, not even. Maybe by that time people did not know own houses they even not at university. But now we have graduate. We have people who have their own businesses. We have a lot of South Sudanese who have houses and the responsibility of looking after that house. What you need to do, the income and the need now is more than ever.

Maram Ismail: In the dynamic world of radio. Matoc didn’t just remain a backup, he became the mainstay. He was taking on the role of the program planner and the main presenter. It was a challenge, but indeed a learning experience.

Matoc Achol: I feel privileged and also at the same time helping the community in a way because I didn’t see it as a big thing, because I just saw it as a simple thing. Uh, but when hearing the feedback from the community and what ever happened since 2010 up to now, a lot of things happened and I found myself I could do something for the community and the community is learning more about it. And I myself is learning more. Even in any job that I do, I’ll make sure that Friday is off or part of it. It’s been a struggle, but it’s, uh, something that is ongoing. And I think having a media where people could get connected, uh, locally and also globally, because we have people in South Sudan, US, UK, Egypt, wherever you go, you have South Sudanese and Sudanese because of the current war in Sudan. And they need to hear what’s going on, and they need to know that they have a voice. And having a voice is something that is important, that where you be appreciated and also for you to know you could contribute back to the community that welcome you, which is Australia.

Maram Ismail: Like any venture, setting up and running the program wasn’t without its hurdles. From recruitment to content creation, every step was a collaborative effort.

Matoc Achol: Because people were kind of interested to do something in media, but people did not know it’s a commitment you need to be ongoing, but everything when it happened at the first minute, it’s kind of excitement and so on. But when you settle a bit, you find these one need commitment from you. It was easy to recruit them, but it was hard to maintain them because of other things that they do. And the program we used to have Tuesday morning, early morning, believe it or not, 5 to 7 a.m. to early. We have some people who are keen. One of them is Peter. Peter Ajak now is in Western Australia and other broadcasters who come to help but as I said, because of the work, commitment or studies had been hard so you cannot ask more than that and we try to recruit new people, but again, you need to have that interest in the program itself or the media, you see, and it’s been hard giving covid is here and a lot of other things. It’s been an ongoing challenge. But at the same time, I’m hopeful that people will jump aboard. But it’s hard to get the broadcasters and we’re not the only one who are suffering that. But I could talk to other people and they have similar program challenges, and it’s that having broadcaster to come in and sometime to, you know, having some guests from the community, they might agree, but they don’t understand the commitment. If you say it’s 12, it need to be 12 don’t tell me the last minute look, could I have it next time? Or things like that will mess everything up. It’s another challenge, but slowly, slowly we’re getting there.

Maram Ismail: Over the years, the radio program became more than just a show. It was a lifeline, an essential voice for the growing Sudanese community in Melbourne and worldwide. Through the internet, there have been countless instances where it facilitated critical dialogues touching hundreds of lives.

Matoc Achol: Yeah, I remember when we have issues with the police and the young people, we have the police commissioner, Ken Lay. I think if I could remember his name well, we had him in our radio interview and everyone loved it and we asked a lot of questions. People call in to ask him how they could improve the relationship between police and young people, and at the time, we did not have any policemen or woman from South Sudan or Sudanese, even African I could not recall. But guess now we have maybe more than 7 or 6 South Sudanese or Sudanese policemen and women, and that was like 10 or 12 years ago, which means it’s something that brought fruits and it’s one of those things it’s not me, but the community work and whatever we have done, the stories.

Maram Ismail: Of commitment and passion belong not only to Matoke. Many have dedicated themselves to their local stations and audiences, creating ripples of change.

Matoc Achol: I’m a Christian and I believe in Christianity. One of the things that Jesus said he said, if you know to do good thing and you don’t do it, that is sin. Yeah, you are able to do something good, but you’re not doing it. It’s counted as a sin against you. You did not do the right thing, and there is a lot of things that in the Bible will encourage us to do good things to the community. And as a human, you need to do something so that people will remember. And some volunteers would understand that and say, look, I need to make a difference in my community and I need to do that. So one day they will say, I have started something and now we are somewhere else. I won’t talk about myself, but I will mention Peter Ajak when he started with us, the program, he used to come from a faraway St Albans 5 a.m. is too far and he has his own work, and he work hard, and he make a difference in the youth area and he won his award, because that was a very good thing that he have done. And similarly, there is a lot of other volunteers who put their time in and, uh, it’s a good thing that when people see the need and they want to make a difference, and that will mean something.

Maram Ismail: If you’ve ever tuned into the Sudanese program, you will notice a rich blend of languages English, Arabic, and Dinka. Depending on the content and the target audience, Matoc and his fellow broadcasters switch between these seamlessly.

Matoc Achol: We have nearly everything and sometimes we are driven by current events. It’s like current affairs, for example, have been it’s been sad years last year and before last year, we lost a lot of young people. And sometimes when you see that, that will drive your program because people are not aware of what’s going on, what happened, we need to follow up with police, with the family members, with the whole community, and what support could be given to these families or these members of the community. This could be part of our program. Also, we share information about health and also about legal and also about sport, because we know our young people are, you know, are participating in the sport area and music is part of being African or South Sudanese music play a big role. We have young people who are singers who are presenting a lot of things that to our community. We do play this sort of music and recently we have war in Sudan because Sudan and South Sudan, you could not separate them that in what way you could do when the war broke out in Sudan, affected South Sudan because they were maybe more than 1 or 2 million South Sudanese in Sudan, and that was a big impact. And also, we still have that relationship with Sudan, like our oil still goes through Sudan and a lot of things. And oil could represent 90% or more of South Sudan income or economic. And we do broadcast war about in Sudan and what’s going on and our local issues, as I mentioned. And now we have a successful story about our South Sudanese participating in FIFA Basketball World Cup for the very first time. Yeah what makes us different is we don’t just use one language other community program might use just one language. And this is a bit of struggle we need to explain because South Sudanese, there were people who went to Uganda and Kenya therefore, they speak Swahili or Kiswahili and English. People who came from North, they speak Arabic and therefore you need to cater for them. And that would make our radio unique. And whatever happened, anyone who could come to us could speak their language, you know, which is a very important thing. And we let them speak in that language so others will understand. So they feel they’re part of this program.

Maram Ismail: But how do they decide when to speak which language?

Matoc Achol: Well, it depends on the environment. For example, if the information that want to be shared widely, it could be we just said, for example, in English, for example, yesterday we talked about FIFA Women’s World Cup. Most of it was in English. But after that we say something in Arabic so people will know what’s going on. And uh, because even South Sudan is not part of it, but that what is happening. Therefore, you need to differentiate between these information that you are catering for your community. But also, the target here will be the Australian community. But when it comes to basketball, for example, that will be purely South Sudanese. It will be English and Arabic or English and Dinka. It’s not easy, but we’re getting there.

Maram Ismail: All of Motoki’s work serving the community has not gone unnoticed. In 2018, the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia celebrated his outstanding volunteer contributions, acknowledging his transformative impact on Melbourne’s Sudanese community.

Matoc Achol: It was a great one. We have to travel from here to Queensland and I went with my family. It was a lovely thing and also Aguer was there, one of our broadcasters and I was there with my wife and my son. It was amazing. I did not expect that to happen. I was just participating like others because, you know, they have lists of people who will, you know, be nominated for it. But I just want to see how things are. And when I was called out, it was a great thing. I went with my son. I think by the time he must be one year old, and it was a very special event where, you know, maybe 400 people or so, and you’re there telling you that you have achieved outstanding, you know, award for being outstanding volunteers is a great thing. But at the same time, it’s a responsibility because with a high privilege, there is a responsibility carried with it. It’s not easy, but that encourages me to see how people value what I do and the important thing to human. You need to be a value. You know, being valuable member is important. And I saw at that time I been valued and I could do more. And since then I was like 5 or 6 years later.

Maram Ismail: Acknowledging and showing appreciation can motivate volunteers to want to give more. So how can stations showcase appreciation for presenters?

Matoc Achol: Yeah, and my point of view you need to see a. Part of the team or being effective part of the team is being seeing you as part of it. This is number one acknowledgement. You need to be acknowledged. Let’s say we are here, two of us or three of us, and someone is not being acknowledged, acknowledges giving them a voice. Let them say something and not only you accept what they said, but you need to implement it. And that’s what will make someone being valuable wherever you go. We might say we diverse, but do we show that diversity? I remember maybe I did not say that, but I was running to be one of the councillors in City of Yarra. And I say, you don’t talk about diversity, but you show diversity. Now, diversity can be said in whatever way. But what I mean, we are different as we’re different, different nationalities. You need to be represented there. For example, I could go to the bank in Footscray or in Preston, a old lady from Vietnam, or she might not know the language, but the worker there speak the language. The lady will feel she’s not afraid of anything. She will just go to that person and talk in her language, and she will be safe. Because, you know, now there is a representation, there is diversity over there. But someone from South Sudan who is speak Nuer, for example, or you speak Shilluk, doesn’t know how she can access her money or what she will go there. They speak English. There is no one who could speak her language. Now, what do you say about that? She will be disempowered because she will go she might not get what she wanted to get. And this is what we talk about like that. How you’re going to sustain your volunteers when seeing them are part of your team, value them recognition is a very good thing and let them have a part on it because even in your family, if you don’t include your kids or the member of the family, they’ll just say, I was not part of it. But if they say something and later, they try to break it, you say, remember you have said they say, yes, I said it. I’m sorry, I have done this and that. What I see.

Maram Ismail: There are numerous success stories from the realm of community broadcasting in Australia, each a testament to the enduring power of volunteers contributions.

Matoc Achol: We used to, you know, go to different events and we as four of us or three of us, and they know these are South Sudanese presenters or Sudanese presenters 3ZZZ the image that we have is seen us doing things together, seeing us sharing things. And we are from different parts of South Sudan. It’s a great thing. We have someone from Equatoria or someone from Upper Nile, someone from Bahr el Ghazal, because these are three different areas, part of South Sudan and all are represented in our uh, South Sudanese program or Sudanese program. And we have someone from the North like Ahmed Zarrouk, and that will show that unity and uniqueness, everyone will feel they’re part of it. It’s not just a particular part, we’re representing it and so on. And not only that, whenever someone approached you and they have anything they want to say, you say you are welcome. They could come and talk about the whatever they want to do, whether it’s a program they run for their community or something, they want to run for the whole community, then they will feel like, oh, we have where to go, where we can share what we have, and we have someone who can represent us.

Maram Ismail: Matoc kept his audience informed, saying that the success of the Sudanese program has bridged connections within the community.

Matoc Achol: Yeah, the feedback been great because some of them will say, I did not know we have South Sudanese or Sudanese radio. It’s good to hear his stories about where we came from. And also, it’s good to know we have singers, we have local singers that we did not know. And it’s also good that we have singer coming from South Sudan. We have some top singers who are coming from South Sudan. Without the radio, they would not have known. We have some of, uh, presenters who do different things and that’s all we know. Now. We have these presenters who are looking after certain things and these now they are more informed. Someone could live somewhere as I said, sometime they are sad news and someone will hear it from the radio and say, we did not know that happened without having our radio that would not have been possible. And this is positive feedback that we’re getting because they say, thank you for sharing this. Thank you for letting us know what can we do, how can we help? And we’ll connect them to the family, or we connect them with someone who needs help. And, uh, for example, we have one singer. His name is David Puchong, who came here around I think it must have been 2012 or 13, and he passed on two years ago, and people were happy to contribute. They want to know. They did not know even that happened. And these are sort of things that when you share it and people are happy to help here and back home.

Maram Ismail: Looking into the future, Matoc envisions young talent taking charge of the Sudanese program at three triple Z and driving the community radio with collective support.

Matoc Achol: Yeah, it’s a very important one because one of the things I say, people say young people or kids are future of tomorrow or be their future of today, they start from now. If you don’t equip them now, it will be hard for them to do anything later. And we can have a lot of example of people who might not know what to do because they did not get the opportunity. And one of the thing, we introduced them to the radio so they know we have radio. I did that when we were in Fitzroy, and recently, I think two weeks ago, I brought a number of kids here so they can talk about holiday program, that one of the things that we run from the homework club that I mentioned earlier, and they were very excited, and at the end they say, what can we say? I said, say anything you want to say. Some of them will say, thank you, our listeners, for listening to us. Thank you to listening to our story and things like that. I did not expect that. But they said it and they were very excited, and they were very happy to come here. They like six-year-old to nine-year-old, four of them. And this is a good thing now it will be up to the parents to encourage them to come here. And also they go and talk to their friend at the school or the school, say, look, during school holiday, I went to radio Community Radio where I said something about my swimming skill and so on.

This is important. You nourish them by looking after them, introduce them to things and let them make their own decision. You see, say, this is important and without you I won’t be here forever. And someone who was here before me and maybe another two, three, five years, I won’t be here. I might be somewhere else or anything. Who will take on this job? It’s hard because that need commitment and also that feeling of being responsible but a bit by bit, hopefully we will have some young people who will come and the community would understand. Just imagine not having a voice. Whatever happened, no one will know. But when you have a voice, you will be able to come and share and also tell your stories and some success story that you have and the image that we have in the media, but we have our own way where we can say things. There might be a lot of young people who succeeded, whether in sport or at school, at work, no one will hear that because the media will say, oh, this and that, something negative. He has a platform where we can share our stories, and anyone could come from old mum to young man to kids could come to the radio and share whatever they might have.

Maram Ismail: Behind every successful show is a supportive station. Mataji says that 3ZZZ has provided the resources and support he, his colleagues, and the program need.

Matoc Achol: In fact, they supported us very well. As I say, we let uh, Manager Matthew, who passed on last year, and the management and the whole staff, they help us with training. They gave us time as I said, we were on and off. We need to recruit new broadcasters. It’s been a long journey, and sometimes we’re there, sometimes we’re not there. They’ve been supporting us then and even now. And they saw what we do, and they see we are committed with that commitment and with that support help us to carry on. They do understand things are harder for community work. Volunteer work is not something that you have 100%. You might have 100% the next day. You might have 50%, 45%. You need to keep supporting them. You need to be aware of them until they give up by themselves and say, look, we cannot take it anymore and please give our, our, our time to someone else. But they know we have that commitment and want it to be ongoing and the current management do support us. If there is anything, we talk to them, they listen to us and they know there are challenges, but we are ready to take them on as far as we could.

Maram Ismail: There is much to hope for the Sudanese program with aspirations and dreams, the sky’s the limit.

Matoc Achol: I see the program will continue with 3ZZZ and what I want to see as I mentioned, we want to have more young people here because when I talk to the other broadcasters from other nationalities, they’ve been here for 20 years and now they’re getting old and you have interview some of them, I’m sure. And, uh, it’s important that we have a new blood coming into the stream because it’s very important for me. Maybe I get a job where I will be somewhere else. I want to make sure there are people who will carry on. I could contribute where I am, but it’s good to have someone here. That’s what I’m thinking in my head, and I want to help in that. It’s hard to achieve at the moment, but that’s what I want to see. I want to see some of the project where we can go to every event, where we talk about what we have and we bring the event to here, we can raise some funds for the radio and some program for the young people. Holiday program is sport event, even, uh, academic achievement.

And what can we do to support them so they will know they have some success, and they want to share with the community. They do it themselves, our young people, but also people who are old sometimes they isolated they sit there, they see themselves not useful enough because no one listened to them. They no longer talk to the kid as what used to happen back home, whether is in Sudan or any other country our old people used to tell us about the story of the family, how things were now TV is taking over YouTube, Google and whatever other thing we want these old people also to come and share with us what they have and what do they see. Because I remember dad used to say, you young people, you short sighted, you just see what around that fence, but you don’t see what after the fence or what behind it and it’s real. And people need to have young people, but old people around them so they can give them wisdom, they guide them. And that’s what I want to see in this radio station.

Maram Ismail: Throughout this interview with my talk, I can hear one persistent theme that I think is also true of this entire podcast series.

Matoc Achol: It’s important you contribute to your community. The last thing you want to hear is to people say, A and B used to be here, but we could not even recall what he or she had done. It’s the last thing you want to hear. The one thing you want to hear is people saying, look, so and so have done this. Have your share if that makes sense. Do a bit that you could. You never know what will come out of it because someone, believe it or not, people are watching. People are seeing what you do. Sometimes you don’t know that, but it’s happening. It happened a lot of time. I remember just so I could explain that better. As I said, I was running for City of Yarra. I did not think about whatever. I was just doing it for the community. And one day I went to one of his school interviewing kids about the music. They won a music award and I was interviewing them. What did they do and what sort of instrument they play? And as I was leaving the school, one of the kids said, why do people like you, why are you so popular? I say, what? Where am I popular? He say, I saw your photos here and there. Why do people like about you? What do you do? I just imagine a kid. I think you must have been 10 or 11. I did not even expect that. And that carried me on saying everyone is watching.

Believe it or not, it’s just saying that it’s not because you say positive about me, but it’s is he even aware of what’s going on? But I was just doing it as something that I could do that what is happening? People will read your story whether you like it or not, and you start writing your stories from now. When you walk around, people will know what do you do? Sometimes people say, oh, it’s good to see you smiling. You always smiling. Why are you always happy? Am I? but what that people see and in the same thing goes to the community work or radio, what do you do is changing people’s lives. I remember one of the other listeners, they’re not from South Sudan. They say, look, one of these songs, I love it. Could you play it? I love that song. I did not know. But is that sort of thing a little thing you do will mean a lot and do it with what you could. You don’t just do what you can do at the time. And that’s what I want to say. Make sure you’re part of the change. Make sure people remember you again. My mom said you need to be your best. And my dad say people will remember you when you’re not here. That if so and so was here, this thing would have done. But if you do nothing, will they remember that?

Maram Ismail: As we end our journey today, my talk imparts some final words of wisdom.

Matoc Achol: Let help even one person that will mean something. And let’s do what we could in our capacity. And don’t think too much these days. The stress here and there, but just live daily life and leave tomorrow to tomorrow.

Maram Ismail: This was an episode of radio for the community spoken histories from three Z. Thank you for joining us today.

Radio for the Community! Spoken Histories From 3ZZZ is proudly supported by the Community Broadcasting Foundation.