Parliament On King A taste for the world

Text: Lee Tran Lam

Handing over your house keys is something you rarely do in life. Maybe your parents or best friend are trustworthy enough to score a spare set.

For Ravi Prasad, there are 25 people who have 24/7 access to his house. Yes, that’s right – 25.

“So I’ll come home any night of the week and there are people cooking, playing chess,” he says.

This sounds unusual, but then there’s nothing ordinary about Prasad’s house. Not many people, for instance, have transformed their living room into a café that trains refugees and prepares them for jobs in hospitality. But that’s exactly what Ravi does at Parliament On King in Newtown.



The people he educates are a truly international group – ranging from a nun from Cameroon to a young Somali woman who recently published her first book of poetry (this is more impressive when you learn she’s only finished year 11). Pastors and electrical engineers, Sunni and Shiite Muslims: “religiously, ethnically, language groups – [it’s] so diverse,” he says.

“When I started this, I saw the headlines,” says Prasad, recalling the popular political sport of punishing asylum seekers to score votes. “[I thought this] isn’t going to work. I’m going to get hate mail. This project is going to be dead in a week. But I wanted to do it because it felt like the right thing to do.”

Doing the right thing was something that became more resonant after the dramatic birth of his daughter seven years ago. “She stopped breathing,” he says. There were anomalies with her kidneys and blood and she spent a long time in intensive care before getting better. The experience made him reassess what was important. So after two decades in advertising (“long enough”), he opened Parliament On King with his wife Della – helping people by literally letting them into his home.



But perhaps the café’s origin story really begins with his parents: his father was an Indian student who came to Adelaide “at the tail-end of the White Australia policy”, and silently endured the racist abuse that marred that time. His mother was English and was arrested for disrupting a Springbok rugby match in Adelaide – she was protesting apartheid. Today, she teaches English professionally, but spends as much time volunteering to tutor recent migrants to Australia. “She’s my role model,” he says.

At Parliament On King, news headlines are given a human dimension. A Rohingya refugee from Myanmar “was on the verge of tears talking about her grandparents,” he says. A row of shops on her grandparents’ street went up in flames – and their store was spared, because a neighbour intervened.

And the café is as international as its staffers: they’ll make 300 serves of Pakistani soup or a chef from Uganda will take over from the Irani cooks who’ve recently found jobs. They’re supported by catering orders that range from Mike Baird’s Christmas picnic to a GetUp! function.

While Prasad may train the staff, it’s a very collaborative situation, with asylum seekers suggesting menus and dishes to try. A wall of photos documents the many people who’ve worked here, along with objects ranging from skulls from the Czech Republic to a gift from the Papuan highlands. And there are many books, packed around a display motorbike and other paraphernalia.

This setting reminds you why the café is called Parliament. After all, that’s “where people are represented, where people come together to make decisions and have serious conversations”, Prasad says. With Pakistani soup on the side.


Parliament on King, 632 King St, Erskineville. Hours: 12pm-7pm Tuesday to Friday (Thursday nights open till 9pm), 10am-7pm weekends. Closed on Monday. Phone 0414 235 325.


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