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Rosanna Barbero, Addi Rd CEO: 2024 NSW Human Rights Medal winner

By Alec Smart

Rosanna Barbero

Rosanna Barbero at the Addi Rd Food Pantry. Photo: supplied

Rosanna Barbero is the Chief Executive Officer of Addison Road Community Organisation (Addi Road) in Marrickville. Based in a former military barracks, Addi Road facilitates a number of human rights and community organisations and hosts cultural gatherings, film nights, youth live music events, a public schools arts program and an annual writers festival. In addition they provide food relief and support for the disadvantaged and those escaping domestic violence.


Rosanna, a veteran activist and campaigner who for years worked for international aid agencies, is also the winner of the 2024 NSW Human Rights Medal. The medal, overseen by Multicultural NSW, recognises an individual who has made a lasting and meaningful contribution to advancing human rights in NSW.


Rosanna, the daughter of Italian immigrants – her father is from Asti in Piedmont, her mother from Salerno in Campania – also speaks three languages.

Prior to taking on administration of Addi Road, she worked in international welfare and aid distribution and travelled globally on a variety of campaigns. During that time she was based in Cambodia, where she founded the Womyn’s Agenda for Change (WAC) and the Women’s Network for Unity (WNU).


How did she go about establishing these campaign groups? 

“I started the Womyns Agenda for Change, a regional feminist Aid Agency, after working for International Aid agencies and seeing the gaps. Until then the approach was very neo-imperialist, always making the local feel they did not have the capacity and that the ‘white man’ needed to be there always to teach them in the ways of the west. And of course always promoting those that spoke English because this made it easier for the foreigners.”


What did the work involve? 

“Primarily the work involved building movements so the local people would be leaders of what their societies would look like. Our agenda was to build women’s democratic movements that could critique, analyse and understand the dangers of World Bank and IMF policies that imposed neo-liberal economics on impoverished nations. 

“Furthermore, it was critical that NGO’s that received funds from western governments were not working in their service but rather for the interests of their people.”

Screenshot from Multicultural NSW film of Rosanna, 2024 NSW Human Rights Medal recipient.


Another area of interest for Rosanna was empowering sex workers in Cambodia, whom had little rights in a country still recovering from decades of political and social turmoil, including the genocidal regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.

Soliciting sex for money is still illegal in Cambodia, so too is making money from sex workers (running prostitution), but paying for it isn’t. This obviously victimises the recipients, not those actively seeking to pay for sex.  


“Sex workers want their human rights and labour rights respected,” Rosanna insisted. “They reject the argument that if you ban sex work it makes sex workers safe, it puts them into further danger. Instead, they campaign for decriminalisation of sex work and putting the power in their hands. 

“Put simply just because the carpet making industry is exploitative to child labour it does not mean you abolish the carpet industry.”


She continued, “One of the movements we were involved in building was the Women’s Network for Unity,” Rosanna revealed. “To this day I am the Chair of the Network as the honorary founder. We worked on unionising sex workers because they were the most vulnerable, exploited and discriminated women in the nation. The only ways to fight for equality, rights and equal citizenship was to build a collective empowered union.


“Now the network has 7000 members and they have made many gains including recognition by the Cambodian government and the UN for their efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS and stopping the trafficking of children. 

“However, they have fought against laws that continue to discriminate against them. The laws became more draconian when western nations began interfering in the domestic affairs of Cambodia, particularly the conditions that USAID places on aid to poor nations (imposing their own agenda and morality on receiving aid). Women are punished but not clients; brothel owners and pimps are also punished.”

Rosanna (right) with artists at Addi Rd. Photo: supplied


Rosanna was also behind the Racism Not Welcome Here signs that have popped-up around Sydney and further afield. 

“All 537 councils in Australia voted to adopt the campaign in 2021 at the annual meeting,” she revealed. “However, to date only around 40 have installed the signs. They are very effective and start conversations. Australia is a racist country with a racist past and to mature and create a better society we must have these conversations and, as the Aboriginal people say, ‘truth telling’.”


What is Addi Road?

“Addi Road inherited a stunning but not always easy to manage 9-acre site that is heritage listed, full of old (and not especially hardy) buildings that were built way back when the place was used an Australian Army facility in World War One,” Rosanna explained. “The former parade ground is now our car park, built on wetlands. The old Drill Halls, Gun Parks and Sleeping Huts have been turned in to artist studios, offices, theatres and art galleries.


“It’s a rabbit warren of creative and community organisations and amazing individuals,” she revealed, “their work and activities are supported by us through subsidised rents.

“The 9-acre grounds all include green areas, community gardens and 170 trees. We’re a park and a green space where people come to picnic and sustain themselves and use the space in an open community way. It’s a massive task to manage while we engage with all our programs…”

The Food Pantry at Addi Rd in Marrickville. Photo: Alec Smart


“Programs range from our highly visible Addi Road Food Pantry, a low-cost food-rescue grocery service, to the annual Public Schools Arts Festival held in our StirrUp Gallery, to Community.a.Fair, that connects individuals with local services….”


The Addi Road Pantry (plus another in Camperdown) retails nutritious ready-meals and ingredients at a discount, which for many was an essential lifeline during the 2020 social lockdowns to combat the Coronavirus Pandemic.


What changes has she seen and helped implement at Addi Rd under her direction as CEO?

“Restoring it back to its purpose,” she considered, “which is to provide community development and sustainable environmental programs that are relevant and serve the needs of the community…


“We have worked towards managing the site for community benefit across the areas of livelihoods, culture, education, history, environmental care, wellbeing, emergency response and recreation. Our programs are designed to increase community access, engagement and enjoyment of the Centre and to leverage the unique characteristics of the site to enhance community health and wellbeing.


“Albo [Prime Minister Anthony Albanese] has described us as ‘the heart of the inner west’ a few times. It’s a good description. We keep everything alive and moving.”


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