Home Away from Home Photography Exhibition

Eight postgraduate and research students share their struggles with accommodation


Each year students flock to Canberra to attend the Australian National University. Coming from all corners of the globe they face a particularly common challenge: finding a safe and secure place to call their home away from home.

In late 2017 and early 2018, the ANU Postgraduate and Research Students’ Association (PARSA) conducted a survey of its 11,000 members to investigate their experiences in attempting to secure accommodation in Canberra. In total there were 733 respondents.

In recent years, postgraduate students have regularly spoken to PARSA representatives and student assistance staff of the significant difficulties they face in finding accommodation while attending the ANU.

The Home Away from Home Photography Exhibition tells the stories of eight domestic and international ANU postgraduate and research students in our struggles to find safe and secure accommodation in Canberra, a struggle made all the harder when combined with the normal struggles of tertiary study. 

PARSA believes that the current period of redevelopment and reassessment of on-campus accommodation presents a unique opportunity for the ANU to address genuine concerns from its students, not just by building more accommodation but also by providing interim housing support for new or struggling students.

We are calling on the ANU to commit to providing an adequate level of accommodation provision, both long and short-term, for incoming postgraduate students, as well as aligning offer timelines with accommodation deadlines. We also want to see clearer plans for family-friendly accommodation, engagement with relevant stakeholders in the ACT, and the ANU tackling the issue of unfair occupancy terms in student accommodation.

Postgraduate students’ experiences at the ANU are not just affected by what happens in the classroom or the lab, but by our experiences in building a life in Canberra. The University should support students with finding affordable, good quality accommodation from the beginning and throughout their years in Canberra so they can build a real home away from home.

We should expect nothing less.

Zyl Hovenga-Wauchope
Vice President


International Student from the USA, PhD in Development Studies, mid-50s, Female

I first moved to Canberra to begin my PhD in February 2016.After three months of Airbnb’s and house sitting I found a room to rent in a large house which was purpose-built for individual tenants.  It looked great on paper, but the reality was different. The facilities were shared by a revolving door of people who you didn’t know and didn’t get to know, which meant that there was no investment in community.  People were noisy at all hours, dirty, and food frequently went missing.

After that experience I wanted my own place. I returned from field research in 2017 to Canberra again in January 2018. This time it took over six straight weeks of exhaustive searching to find a home. I started out looking for my own apartment and went to dozens of house inspections, only to find discouragement even though I had the capacity to pay.

I saw the same people over and over again at these inspections, including some on the brink of tears because they’d been rejected so many times. I heard of people offering agents more than the asking price out of desperation. For weeks, whether interviewing for a shared place, applying online, or even after what felt like promising conversations with real estate agents during inspections, I would sometimes be rejected without any feedback, but mostly I’d never hear back at all.

I finally found a shared home on the border of NSW. It’s a great situation but it was a fluke.  Now, because parking on campus is both scarce and prohibitively expensive, and public transportation from my area is very limited, I mostly work from home,which can be isolating. I make it work but these are obstacles to a more positive academic experience at ANU.


International Student from Hong Kong, Master of Environment, mid-20s, Female

Having spent a semester exchange in Melbourne, I knew how hard it was for international students to find accommodation in Australia. So six months before came to Canberra to start my Master’s degree, I started my research, and arrived in Canberra two months before the start of semester.

I checked ANU Housing Online, allhomes, and even Gumtree every week. My target weekly rent was below $200 for a room in a shared house, and under $300 for a studio that’s within 30 minutes bus ride of the university. After a week of emails and hours of housemate interviews, I was finally offered a room in a 3 bedroom sharehouse with two other girls in Ainslie, but the very next day, without warning, the room was rented to someone else. I had no choice but continue to live in an expensive Airbnb in Curtin.

I was understandably incredibly wary of another sharehouse situation, because you are vulnerable to the decisions of strangers, and I decided that I wanted to live on my own. My Airbnb host was quite supportive, she understood my situation and was willing to extend my accommodation until I could find a place to live.

Luckily, a week later, I found a new granny flat advertisement posted on allhomes for $250 a week in O'Connor. I contacted the landlord directly to organise an inspection the next morning.

At the inspection, the landlord told me three other inspections were arranged in the afternoon, so I paid the deposit on the spot to secure a home.











International Student from China, Master of Finance, late-20s, Male

 Coming to ANU was my first time taking an airplane and travelling overseas. Even today, I still remember that, when I first arrived in Sydney, everything was new to me. Besides, it is not easy for me to fully understand the accent even though I had studied English for twenty years.

It took me three and half hours to get to Canberra. It was a cold day in April and I did not have an accommodation. Before I arrived, I had applied for accommodation on the university website, but when I checked my email, there was still no reply. At that time, I had no idea where I should go, and what I could do, was walk around the ANU. In the evening, I noticed that the Chifley Library was open for 24 hours. So I had no choice but to stay up all night in there.

On Monday, I went to the accommodation office and tried to seek help. However, the officer told me that there was no accommodation left. So, in the next few days, I had to take my huge luggage with me to try to find an accommodation.

Luckily, I met a senior student from my country who provided me with valuable accommodation information and I moved into an accommodation after a few days.

From my perspective, for the international student, there are three main difficulties on finding accommodation when they first arrive in a foreign country. Firstly, they might not be familiar with the language and they do not know how to correctly express their meanings. Secondly, because of the information limitations, they have no idea about where they could find a suitable accommodation. Thirdly, international students are usually unfamiliar with local regulations and, even if they could find a suitable accommodation, they are still not sure about the application process.


Domestic Student from WA, Master of National Security Policy, early-20s, Female

*not her real name

I moved from WA to Canberra at the start of 2018 to start my Masters, but had found out I was accepted in December 2017, and started searching straight away. I applied for place after place on flatmates.com.au, because I wasn’t keen on living alone, but Canberra is a small place and there were so many other people looking for accommodation at the same time as me. I was just lucky enough to secure temporary accommodation while a young professional woman was in Antarctica, and so I lived with her housemate for five weeks.

I thought five weeks would be plenty of time to look for something long term. I spent that time reaching out to people on flatmates.com.au, Gumtree and two online Facebook forums. I think I contacted close to 100 people, I went to 15-20 inspections and even teamed up with a group of undergraduate students from UC to apply for places together. We were rejected from about six places as a group.

In the weeks leading up to moving out of my sublet, I was under so much pressure. I’d just moved to a new city and was starting my masters full-time. I was really concerned that I wouldn’t find a place and I honestly thought I might have to move back to WA and try again in second semester.

I am really lucky to be where I am now but it was a complete fluke. On my final week in the sublet my temporary housemate saw an ad in the Women’s Department Facebook group and vouched for me to the girls who are now my roommates.

I found out that I got the place on the Sunday and moved in on the Tuesday. There was a two day period where I didn’t have any accommodation, and I spent one night on a friend’s couch and the second in the YHA. I completed my first essay on a bunk in the YHA with about two bars of WiFi connection. I had been lugging my suitcases from one place to the next and had terrible sleeps both nights. On top of that I spent my first two nights in my new place without a mattress because I didn’t have a permanent address to send my bed to before moving in.


International Student from Bangladesh, PhD in Public Health, late-40s, Male

When I was offered a scholarship to study at the ANU, I initially wasn’t sure whether I should bring my wife and two children with me. Conversations with friends and colleagues in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane convinced me that I could manage parenting and study, and that would be better than spending the three years away from my family. It turned out that although I wouldn’t regret bringing my family along, I would regret trusting in the reputation of the ANU as the national university in a global city.

I spent a lot of time on the usual rental websites and the inspection requirement meant that I wasn’t able to secure anything before my arrival, and when we finally arrived, ANU accommodation could only offer me expensive accommodation at the Liversidge Apartments for nearly $200 a night for the four of us.

Eating into my savings, trying to navigate a new city without a car, starting my PhD, and calling in every favour I could from all the people I had the smallest connection with, I applied to around fifty places and was rejected by all of them. I finally found a property by begging a friend of a friend who was a landlord to find me a place.

On top of the stress of getting used to a new country, my wife and I had to entertain my children who were stuck at home for the first month because we weren’t able to enrol them in school until we had a permanent address.

 আমাকে যখন ANU-তে অধ্যায়ন করার জন্য বৃত্তি প্রদান করা হয়, প্রাথমিকভাবে তখন আমি আমার পরিবারকে সাথে আনা উচিত কিনা তা নিয়ে দ্বিধাদ্বন্দ্বে ছিলাম। তারপর আমি আমার বন্ধু-বান্ধব ও সহকর্মী যারা সিডনী, মেলবোর্ন এবং ব্রিসবেনের বিভিন্ন বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ে পড়ত তাদের সাথে আলোচনা করে আমার পরিবারকে সাথে নিয়ে আসার সিদ্ধান্ত নেই, যাতে আমি আমার পরিবারের প্রতি দ্বায়িত্ব ও অধ্যায়ন একই সাথে চালিয়ে যেতে পারি। অস্ট্রেলিয়াতে আসার পর বাসা ভাড়া পেতে আমাদের অনেক কষ্ট করতে হয়। তারপর ও আমার কখনো মনে পরিবারকে সাথে আনা ভুল ছিল, এতে আমার কোন আক্ষেপও নেই, বরং, আমার আক্ষেপ হল বিশ্বখ্যাত জাতীয় বিশ্ববিদ্যালয় ANU-এর উপর যা কেনবেরার মত একটি গ্লোবাল শহরে অবস্থিত।

অস্ট্রেলিয়াতে আসার পূর্বেই আমি বিভিন্ন ওয়েবসাইটে অনেক সময় কাটিয়েছি এবং প্রয়োজনীয় বিষয়গুলো পর্যবেক্ষণ করার চেষ্টা করেছি, আমাদের আগমনের পূর্বে কিছু জিনিস প্রস্তুত করে রাখতে চেয়েছি। কিন্তু বাসা ভাড়ার ব্যাপারে কোন ব্যাবস্থা করতে পারিনি। এক পর্যায়ে অনেকটা বাধ্য হয়েই ANU-এর আবাসন কতৃপক্ষের কাছ থেকে Liversidge স্ট্রিটে আমার পরিবারে চার জন সদস্যের জন্য একটি এপার্ট্মেন্ট দৈনিক প্রায় $200-এ ভাড়া নেই, যা ঐ সময়ে আমার জন্য ছিল ব্যায় বহুল। এছারাও তখন আমার সঞ্চয়ের টাকা দ্রুতই শেষ হয়ে আসছিল, দ্রুত সম্যে মধ্যে PhDর কাজ-কর্ম শুরু করার চাপ ছিল, গাড়ী ছাড়া কেনবেরার মত নতুন শহরে যাতায়াত করা, বাসা ভাড়ার জন্য সময়মত বাসা পর্যবেক্ষণ করা এবং সর্বপরি ৫০টির মত বাসা ভাড়ার আবেদন করেও প্রত্যাখ্যাত হওয়া ইত্যাদি নানা প্রতিকুলতার মুখোমুখি হতে হয়েছে।

অবশেষে, আমি আমার এক বন্ধুর মাধ্যমে একজন বাড়ীওয়ালার কাছ থেকে একটি বাসা ভাড়া নেই। যদিও তখন সময়মত বাসা ভাড়া বা পাওয়ায় আমি মেয়েদেরকে স্কুলে ভর্তি করতে পারিনি, ঐ সময়ে আমার মেয়েরা প্রায় এক মাসের মত ঘরের ভিতর কাটিয়েছে যা তাদের জন্যও আনন্দদায়ক ছিলনা।


Domestic Student from WA, Master of Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development, early-20s, Female

 *not her real name

I moved from WA into a five-bedroom house in Braddon when I started my degree in the middle of 2015. It was a great location, but problems started to arise. When our previous landlord sold the house, we had to adapt to a new landlord who immediately wanted to exercise control over us.

It first started when he started renovating the granny flat behind where I live. He was always around and noticed that we invited guests and our parents over to visit us. He sent us a message telling us that we can have guests visit, but that under our leases we were not allowed to have any guests stay over without his written permission. Additionally, we would have to pay extra for that privilege.

He told us for months that he was going to move into the granny flat once it’s complete, and that he was going to set up a security camera outside the front door, with the implication that it was to ensure that we weren’t having guests.

We then started having problems with the Internet. A house full of university students was left without internet for at least sixty days while still paying for it through our leases (and therefore unable to set up our own). It was a combination of the Internet and the granny flat renovations that meant the landlord would constantly turn up at our door without any notice and wander around the house.

I could fill a whole book with his wrongdoings, including insisting that my housemate leave behind the mattress she had purchased herself when she moved out, his refusal to give us new contracts when he raised the rent, the constant threat of “I’d hate to take you to the tribunal over this”, and his four month delay in fixing the leak in the roof of my bedroom, but the part that makes me most angry is the fact that he relies on our vulnerable status as young, mostly international, women to enable his predatory behaviour.

انتقلت من غرب استراليا و سكنت في منزل من خمس غرففي منطقه برادن فى موقع ممتاز عندما بداءت شهادتى فى منتصف عام ٢٠١٥.
ولكن بداءت المشاكل عندما باع مالك البيت المنزل،كان علينا ان نتاءقلم مع المالكالجديد الذي أراد التحكم فينا فورا.
ابتداء الوضع عندما بداء المالك بتجديد الشقه الملحقه خلف المنزل الذي اسكنه. كان داءما موجوداً و قد لاخظ اننا نستقبل ضيوفا وان والدينا ياتون لزيارتنا،فقامبإرسال رساله الكترونيه لاخبارنا بانه يمكننا ان نستقبل ضيوفنا و لكن حسب عقدالايجار لا يمكنهم المبيت بدون الحصول على إذن مكتوب و علينا ان ندفع مبلغا اضافياللحصول على هذا الامتياز.

اخبرنا المالك لمده عده أشهر بانه سيعيش فى الشقه الملحقه خلف بالمنزل أينما جهزت،وانه سيضع كاميرا أمان على مدخل البيت ليتأكد من اننا لن نستقبل ضيوفا.
وبعدها بدأت مشاكل الإنترنيت. منزل مسكون لطلبه الجامعه بدون إنترنيت لمده تقاربستون يوما و مازلنا كمستاجرين ندفع قسط الإنترنيت حسب عقد الايجار. (وهذا ممامنعنا من ان نقوم بتوصيل الإنترنيت بدون المالك.)
كانت اسباب تجديد الشقه الخلفية و الإنترنيت حجه للمالك ليطرق بابنا مرارا و يدخلالمنزل بدون سابق إنذار

يمكننى ان اكتب كتابا مملوءا بتصرفاته الخاطءه بما فيها اصراره على ان تتركمشاركتى بالمنزل فرشتها التى اشترتها بالمنزل عند مغادرتها له
امتناعه عن كتابه عقد ايجار جديد لنا عندما زاد قيمه الايجار.
تهديداته المستمرة بقوله سااخذكم للمحكمه.
تأخيره المستمر بتصليح الماء المتسرب من سقف الحمام الخاص بغرفتي.
و لكن ما يجعلني اكثر غضبا هوانه بالحقيقه انه يعرف وضعنا الحساس بأننا سيداتمغتربات مما يزيد من تصرفاته الشرسه.


International Student from India, Master of Renewable Energy, early-20s, Male

I moved to Canberra from India last year to start my Master of Renewable Energy. I started out living with a friend in Tuggeranong, but I found the commute too difficult with my study schedule and a lack of reliable transport, and often found myself staying long hours at the Chifley Library and then sleeping on a friend’s floor on campus.

I teamed up with a couple of friends to try and find somewhere closer to campus, and we applied for place after place. I’d say that we went to at least twenty-five inspections, and it was demoralising to receive so many rejections.

When we were lucky enough to get feedback we were told that they preferred people who have a steady job, a steady income and an Australian rental history, but what can you do if you’re an international student in your first year of university overseas?

Even though we had savings and the ability to pay for the places we were inspecting, we were denied because we weren’t able to compete with full-time workers or even students with a local rental history. We were at the bottom of the list.

I once had a landlord offer me a bed in a small bedroom on the condition that I share the room with someone else. I couldn’t bring myself to accept it, and was lucky enough to find a temporary place at the University of Canberra before being offered a room in a sharehouse in O’Connor.

मै सं २०१७ मे अपने देश भारत से कैनबेरा आया, अपनी मास्टर्स की पढाई रिन्यूएबल एनर्जी मे करने|

मै एक दोस्त के साथ रह रहा था जो तुग्गेणोंग मे था मगर युनि तक का सफर काफी कठिन था क्यूंकि ज़्यादातर समय यात्रा मे ही चले जाता था |

इसके चलते मे चीफली लाइब्रेरी मे अधिकतर समय बिताने लग गया था और मे रात को एक दोस्त के कमरे के फर्श पर सोता था |

मैंने और कुछ दोस्तों ने मिलकर निर्णय लिया की हम एक जगह ढूंढेंगे जो कैंपस के पास था |

हम २५ इन्स्पेक्शन्स के लिए गए परन्तु निराशा ही हाथ लगी |

उन लोगों ने हमे बताया की नौकरी और नियमित आय न होने के कारण हमे नहीं चुना गया था मगर अंतर्राष्ट्रीय छात्र होना क्या गुनाह है ?

जमा पूँजी होने के बावजूद हमे नहीं चुना गया क्युकी फुल टाइम वर्कर्स के मुकाबले हम कुछ नहीं थे| हम लिस्ट के एकदम अंत मे थे|

एक लैंडलॉर्ड ने मुझे एक छोटे कमरे का ऑफर दिया मगर वो मुझे एक दूसरे छात्र के साथ शेयर करना था|

मुझसे ये न हो पाया और भाग्य से मुझे यूनिवर्सिटी ऑफ़ कैनबेरा मे एक कमरा मिला जिसके बाद मुझे मेरे दोस्तों के साथ ओ'कोन्नोर मे एक घर मिला|


Domestic Student from Melbourne, Master of Laws, mid-20s, Male

I arrived in Canberra in 2016 to begin my studies at the ANU, staying on friends' couches and in spare beds for about two months while I searched for somewhere permanent to stay.

In this time I checked out at least 30 different places, being rejected time and again. What was most depressing about this was the number of people looking - there were so many people applying, and so many people being rejected. That, and the fact that I was relying entirely on the goodwill of friends for so long.

Although I eventually found a place in early 2016 it was only a few months before I needed to start looking again. My place's lease was ending. This was a little easier because at least I had a home then. After looking at about twenty I found somewhere to stay. I stayed for about six months before needing to find another new place, again, now in 2017.

This time, I was joined by a friend from the public service, but I didn't have any more luck. My search took me three months and more than 60 inspections, followed by seemingly inevitable rejections. We were looking at a new place almost every day, each one with between ten and sixty others all looking at the same place, in almost the same situation.

Some of these places were really dodgy, with single-fronted buildings that had been converted into two very small homes with no windows, separated only by a makeshift barrier that had been placed in the corridor. Other places had pipes poking into living rooms, or had landlords charging fees that were clearly illegal.

Although we did find somewhere which was, thankfully, decent, the process was so stressful that my studies suffered and I felt awful.

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Acknowledgement of Country

PARSA acknowledges the Ngunnawal peoples as the traditional custodians of the land upon which this exhibition is held, and pays respect to all Elders past and present.


The Home Away from Home Photography Exhibition was curated by Leah Herdman and Zyl Hovenga-Wauchope.

All photographs were taken by Benjamin Ning Huang and stories were contributed by ANU postgraduate and research students. Design work was performed by Waleed Mushtaq.

Audio recordings were made with the support of the Centre for the Public Awareness of Science.

We would also like to acknowledge the contributions of all the PARSA staff, and the work of PARSA representatives both past and present who have tirelessly advocated for a better deal for students.

This online exhibition was prepared by Terese Corkish, PARSA Advocacy & Engagement Officer.