Willmer Perez Ronderos

"Once in a lifetime opportunity" comes by at least twice a day. So be prepared to grab it and create your own opportunities

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Wilmer Perez Ronderos

Country of Origin: Venezuela.

State of Residency: QLD. Favourite place in Australia: The Red Centre. Upon arrival: Surprised by the cleanliness of the cities.

Photo by Ian Waldie.

By Cristy Abela

Will is photographer and videographer. His images have won awards at The International Photography Awards (2015) and The Oakland Cementery Photography Awards (2011). Shooting documentaries has taken him around Australia, Asia and Europe. His work is featured in Photogenyc Magazine and in several websites. He has worked with theatre companies and done work for CATHAY PACIFIC, CASE INTERNATIONAL and SIEMENS and government departments.

Tell us your story

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When I was a child I use to say I was going to live in Australia someday. Following love, I moved from Caracas to Sydney. I met a person in the good old days of the chatrooms while I was finishing my Theatre degree. I thought I spoke English but when I landed at Kingsford Smith airport I couldn’t understand a word of Australian English (Strayan). So, I used the 180 free language tuition hours that my visa entitled me to. Once I was able to start communicating I started what has been a very colourful journey. To get my first job I walked into every place with a vacancy advertised. I had no resume in hand and my English was basic but within three days I got my first job at a tyre shop. I still wonder whether the manager hired me or told me to go home on that day. It was not glamorous or easy but I got two important things out of it: a lifelong friend (in my boss) and the opportunity to improve my English. After some months I became the Assistant Manager.

Once I was more fluent I tried to get my foot into Theatre. Once again I started walking around, now with a resume, and sending emails to every single Theatre venue, group or association that I found on the internet. I got two calls back. One was from theatre director Roz Riley, for whom I later had the opportunity to perform with her fringe company. The second call was from Kim Carpenter AM, the Artistic Director of Helpmann Awards winning company Theatre of Image". Kim had been in Venezuela and that was a good enough reason for him to interview me. I did some work as a helping hand for the company's holiday workshops. During this time I had a part time job as cashier in a supermarket. I also worked as the Assisting Stage Manager for two of his magical shows "Go Pinocchio" and "Stella and the Moon Man" (a co-production with the Sydney Theatre Company). There I met the Head Mechanist of the Sydney Theatre who offered me casual shifts that later turned into a permanent position. I went from being a stage hand to being the Deputy Head Flyman and eventually the Head Flyman of the venue (and not, being a Flyman does not give you the ability to fly at will. The Flyman moves the pieces of scenery and curtains up and down). That work allowed me to meet and work closely tremendously talented industry professionals such as Tarn Mott, Terence Hulme, Kevin Sigley, Stephen Mason and Kevin White. Unfortunately, it is an entirely technical job and I had the urge to be creative. After 5 years, I went looking for options in a creative field.

It was then that I picked up a camera that I had bought for my birthday and that was collecting dust. I read everything I found about photography and did a couple of basic courses before I started clicking away. I realised I could create magic inside this little black box of metal and glass. After this epiphany I applied to formally study photography at the TAFE Sydney Institute of Photography. The process is not easy as there are only 120 spots and more than 600 applications. I put together a portfolio of my 12 best shots at the time. The day of the interview I wore a black suit and tie which the selection panel found hilarious (as if I was going for a CEO position). I guess a little luck, some OK photos and making a good, or maybe a funny, first impression helped me to get in.

Once a full time student, I needed to get some field practice so I emailed every single photo studio and freelancer photographers I found online. This got me to go along as a helping hand. After nine months I received one special reply to my email from Ian Waldie (who is one of my favourite photographers, now one of my best friends and a mentor). He needed help with a personal project so I went with him to do several shoots until he needed an assistant at a client's job. He introduced me to his agency and I started working at their in-house studio. After I finished the Certificate IV in Photo Imaging I started working with a couple more studios and continued assisting Ian. Later on, I went for a while to South America and shot a documentary in the Argentinian and Chilean Patagonia. I entered the International Photography Awards and picked up honourable mentions in two categories.

The best part has been making great friends along the way. People whom I am eternally grateful of having them in my life are Frank Madrid (who was previously featured in Latin Stories Australia), Oscar Borges Prim, Jose Luis Pardo, DJ Dwight Chocolate Escobar, Jose Gabriel Nuñez, Gustavo Bertuol, Ibrahim Guerra, Amado Naspe, Jose Romero and Cesar Rojas my theatre fathers. Now I just landed in the Blackall Range at Sunshine Coast but the journey has not ended here. I love my job and I would not change it. 

  Will at the Patagonia, Argentina. Photos by Luis Castro.

Will at the Patagonia, Argentina. Photos by Luis Castro.

Challenges

Language – This was my biggest challenge. My strategy was to read heaps, listened to a lot of talk shows and asked my friends to correct me whenever I mispronounced a word or constructed a sentence. My first couple of jobs were my "life language school".

Distance - Not only the physical distance from friends and family, but the time difference, made it really hard to stay in touch. Back then I needed to be at the computer to chat to them or use calling cards. I spent a fortune in calling cards. Nowadays it is easier to stay connected.

Thinking about home - While I was here living in a safe and fair society my family was back in Venezuela living in a deteriorating country. I was very fortunate that I could bring my parents and my sister here. The situation over there has worsened due to the mismanagement and the corruption of the government. Thinking about what friends and relatives are going through is really tough.

Contrast

Time perception - Kim Carpenter once said to me: "You are not like the Latin American people. You are always on time". I got a bit offended with that remark. But then I thought about it and realised that, at least in Venezuela, we were not slaves of the clock. It is not that we are disrespectful with other people's time, it is that we live to a different rhythm. Like when we dance salsa. We just feel it and dance to it. Australians dance it by counting steps, so I guess timing is important to them.

Privacy - Australians tend to be more reserved. You can live in the same place for years and not know or see the face of the person living next door. We tend to be more laid back, more upfront and warmer. We have a smile for everyone and at any gathering we make friends. Australian society would be more regimental if I had to describe it succinctly. 

  Will with his niece Zoe. Photo by Ian Waldie

Will with his niece Zoe. Photo by Ian Waldie

Piece of advice

Give it a go - If you are adventurous, not afraid of hard work and not scared of drop bears this is a great country to grow as a person and to call home. I once heard that the "once in a lifetime opportunity" comes by at least twice a day. So be prepared to grab it and create your own opportunities. Australia is still the land of opportunity.

Be outgoing - Use the accent to your advantage, be self-deprecating in a good way, smile a lot, do not complain too much, don't be scared and mix with the locals. Have your circle of Latin friends, but do not forget to network outside it. I am a big advocate for integration and I have strived to integrate and assimilate to the Australian way of life.

Look for help - I found that migrant centres were of great help to explain a few of the quirks of Aussie society. These days with the proliferation of Facebook groups it is even easier to find information about these things.

In the next few years...

Will wants to build a multi-disciplinary studio in his property and get involved in education. He had a health scare last year that made him realise how fragile life is and that he needs to be grateful for what he has been given and achieved, and for the people around him. He believes on making a difference in the world by passing on life experiences and skills for others to use as tools to create their own paths; to write their own stories. If you wish to contact Will email us at latinstoriesaustralia@gmail.com