All Together Now volunteers are always coming up with new ideas on how to educate more people about racial equality. One idea we’ve come up with recently is a Monthly Mystery Book Box (or MMBB for short), which is a spin on our monthly book club.
According to the University of Western Sydney’s Challenging racism project national survey, 76% of people expressed a commitment to personally challenge racism. If you’re one of these people, this MMBB is for you. Every month, we’ll send you a mystery book about the experiences of migration, racism, belonging, and related topics. Most books will be written within the past three years by Aboriginal people and people of colour based in Australia.
Please let us know your opinion about this Monthly Mystery Book Box idea. Do you love it or hate it? Would you subscribe? Do you have your own ideas that build on this concept? Please let us know at [email protected] – we’d love to hear from you!
The Sydney Morning Herald recently published an article about 7-Eleven workers of Indian descent continuing to being exploited, despite the outcry back when the exploitation was originally exposed in September 2015.
These immigrant workers were being paid as little as $16 to $0.43 per hour, and well below the minimum rate.
You have to congratulate the Australian Press for and not discussing the broader issue at hand i.e. racism.
Why is racism such a taboo topic to us? Australia is still marred by its own history, the period of colonisation and assimilation, which upended the First Australians and many migrants.
Much has been said and talked about the past, including former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd saying “Sorry” to the Stolen Generations of Aboriginal people. However, there is a sense of hubris here in the analogy here that once an apology to Aboriginal people, forever no more racism in Australia altogether.
The reality is very different.
Today the country now has over 40 different ethnic racial groups living inside our borders and roughly 1 in 5 Australians have experienced racism in their lives.
Enter Malcolm Turnbull, the Prime Minister who claims to be right-progressive. For the incumbent PM I have one of my own policies: vouch for a multicultural (and intercultural) Australia.
Alongside the $1bn Innovation boom and the $1bn Clean Energy Innovation Fund, put aside some money to a government initiative: Cultural Diversity Future Fund.
The aforementioned Cultural Diversity Future Fund will be two-pronged: Firstly research into contemporary ethnic and racial issues for 22nd century Australia. And secondly, commercialising these ideas through the creation of a multicultural, intercultural Australia, which defines people based on talent, or contribution to the economy, instead of ethnicity.
A culturally diverse 22nd century Australia.
Australia is a country where people from very different cultural, ethnic and national backgrounds live together, build a common future and improve their society. National coherence has become one of the key goals of multiculturalism in Australia.Given this environment, why is it that people from certain ethnic and cultural backgrounds are less represented in mass media than people from other ethnic backgrounds? This state of affairs sometimes raises curiosity about the underrepresented groups, but more often it leads to indifference to their needs, prejudice, and uncertainty about them in the cultural and social sphere.
There are several ethnic groups in Australia which rarely appear in the media. And among them are Russians in Australia. At the present time there are so many articles and talk shows about Russian international politics, but we never hear voices of everyday people from a Russian background who live on the same street with us, go to the same shops, work and study with us. Why did they come to Australia? Which place in Australian society is occupied by new Australians with Russian roots?
It is important to note that the wave of Russian immigration from the transitional Russia of the 90s, who witnessed the period of crisis and restructuring of the economy after the collapse of the Soviet Union, hasve adopted a particular trait to rely only on themselves. It shapes the image of Russians in general as a resilient nation with mentally and physically strong representatives. Such self-sufficiency in making decisions and building one’s own life makes young people from a Russian background, first, devoid of illusions that life is an endless fairy tale where everything is always smooth, and second, the experience of growing up in the new Russia teaches them to rely on their own strength and to look for flexible ways out of difficult or stressful situations.
Many stories of success of Russian immigrants in Australia started with hard work, openness to change and self-belief. Unfortunately, the flip side of this particular mindset is the difficulty in building group relationships between different generations of Russian immigrants and as a result, there is no solid Russian community, which on behalf of the group would help Russian immigrants in Australia to address domestic issues, organise events with Russian cultural flavor and present itself as a group with a common cultural identity.
I talked to three young Russian Australians. Let me shortly introduce our heroes. Bogdan, Natalia and Olga have the same background: they came from the new post-soviet Russia.
Bogdan represents the newest generation of Russian immigrants. He is still in the process of immigration to Australia. In his past Bogdan graduated from the college in England, lived in Russia, England and the Czech Republic and then decided to try Australia, where he was able to study for a Bachelor of Business, Management and Finance at Bond University.
Bogdan thinks that business education is very practical and reality-oriented in Australia. Therefore it maintains a high standard and prepares students to start their professional life on a relatively high level right after graduation from the university.
In addition to his studies at Bond University Bogdan periodically participates in different socially-oriented initiatives. For example, as a volunteer, he helped to organisze a charity race at his university to raise funds for the Heart Foundation. This organization funds life-saving heart research, and works to improve heart disease prevention and care for all Australians. Currently Bogdan helps with the creation of business plans for the organisation, which aims to help people with mental illness so that they had the opportunity to start a business.
Thinking about the future, Bogdan, like many young representatives of his generation, who came from Russia to build a better life in Australia, knows exactly what he wants: to gain financial independence and build a career in order to be able to help his loved ones in Russia. Setting goals and striving for success, he does it for the sake of others, and, is willing to work hard and benefit Australia. Like all young people who have left their home country chasing a dream, he has a plan for the future.
Bogdan: “The main goal is, of course, to begin to build a career, because there is a responsibility for the family, responsibility for myself, and responsibility to build a financial fundament for the future of me, my parents and future family. Plus I’m determined to help my family.”
Natalia first come to Australia in 2000. Before immigrating, she studied in England. During her life in Australia Natalia transited to the Australian environment, graduated from the university, took part in social initiatives, and found a job. Currently she is the Chief Executive Officer position of a membership-based organisation in the health sector.
Now Natalia feels more Australian than Russian, however, the strength and resilience which formed the core of her personality during the childhood in Russia help her in life here.
Natalia came to Australia to work hard and do well and found out that this really works in Australia. She was very determined to be successful in life and didn’t let herself relax as much as others could. She thinks being from Russia was a real advantage, because of her strict past in the soviet-model school environment where children learn to be street-smart.
Natalia: “When you experience moving from one country to another one, you need all your smarts to adjust in the place you are. When you first come and don’t know anyone you are trying to meet people and to understand what to do. That makes you very strong, but also quite flexible. You don’t have to be a rock, you become like a river. And you learn quickly under pressure, you just flow over obstacles.”
Natalia also believes that it is important to contribute to the society in which she lives. For 6 years she was on the Management Committee for NSW at Australians of Native Title and Reconciliation. This is a civic organization that supports the rights of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders within Australian society. Natalia organised a Parliamentary Greeting Event for Aboriginal people in the New South Wales Parliament and hoeld responsibilities of a treasurer for this organisation.
Natalia: “I believe that issues experienced by Aboriginal people in Australia are severe and unjust. I think as an immigrant to this country I don’t have to be blinded by some episodes of the history by which some Australians have been blinded. Because of growing up in this country they cannot see the injustice that is still faced by Aboriginal people. But I didn’t grow up with it and these problems are obvious to me. I think that it is important to volunteer on issues that are close to your heart if you are going to contribute to the country in which you live. And for me it’s a social injustice and issues of human rights.”
school. Coming through different stages of immigration, Olga has realized the uniqueness of her Russian cultural identity and opened “IZBA Russian Treats” which is a Russian-flavored bakery located in Sydney. Through theis business Olga opened the channel to Russian cuisine and culture for Australians who wants to try something new and start discovering a distant Russia.
Olga believes that all barriers are in your mind. If you really want to achieve something, all is in your hands. Australia contains a lot of opportunities and it is very important to step across your fears and start trying something.
Olga: “Our generation grew up in the country where life wasn’t easy at that time. We came through the disintegration of the Soviet Union, crisis in all spheres of life in 90s, restructuring of Russia…It is fair enough to say that we’ve seen a lot of restless times. And I think that this gave us a more realistic view of life. We can easier adjust to different situations. I mean, we are able to respond more flexibly to certain things, to get used to any kind of situations. Maybe, because of this side of Russian mentality we are stronger in difficulties. Additionally, Russian culture exists for many centuries and that influences our perceptions of reality, that gives us a bigger perspective. I feel that all expats from Russia and former Soviet Union have this advantage of great and long-standing Russian culture which gives them a specific perspective of life.”
Relying on themselves and inspiring others by their own example, the founders of “IZBA Russian Treats” help schools in their business district, act actively as representatives of small businesses on different professional forums and promote Russian culture supporting such cultural initiatives like Russian Film Festival.
Being Russian as well, I personally share the idea of our heroes that we have to be persistent and goal-oriented in our work, be open to new ideas and cultures and help the society where we live to become a better place. As one of my interlocutors noticed, from whatever background a person is, there are always some strengths from the culture that you have. Only through acceptance of yourself and your background, acceptance and understanding of other cultures, do you have a chance to live harmoniously in multicultural Australia.
I’ve seen the power of the arts to move, to educate, drive change and foster social cohesion many times. I experienced it intensely first hand, when I produced Crossings: Songs from the East in 2013.
The concert showcased a cross-cultural collaboration of traditional and improvised music spanning the Greek, Kurdish, Arabic and Persian traditions. It was an exciting coming-together for the first time of local Sydney-based musicians; four out of the five were first generation Australians from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. They drew from both their musical heritage and their contemporary experience of multicultural Australia.
The audience, which we surveyed, said things like:
“Beautiful to see a coming together of cultures through the arts”…
“Brought back memories of home”…
“Wonderful! Especially watching the musicians improvising – working together… so much richness (and they say multiculturalism doesn’t work)! It is alive and brings so much richness to our lives and to Australia”…
The experience of that production impacted all involved, from the artists to the audience and everyone in between, in ways that only arts and cultural experiences can sometimes – on the level where words cease and only the senses and the human spirit exist. One comes away from an experience like that with a sense that something in them is a little different… a little changed.
As an audience member watching the Sydney Theatre Company’s latest production of The Secret River, I came away with exactly that feeling. I was shattered at the brutality of the story – the brutal truth in the story – but I was compelled to watch and listen.
I felt like I was bearing witness to a history not told often enough. In the author, Kate Grenville’s, words: “This book isn’t history, but it’s solidly based on history. Most of the events in the book “really happened” and much of the dialogue is what people really said or wrote.” Knowing this, I felt the weight of responsibility, like I was almost charged with the duty of carrying this history on, of re-telling it. So I made it my mission for days afterwards to tell everyone I met to go see the show.
It was hard to watch at times. The woman sitting to my left had her eyes closed for much of the massacre scene. It wasn’t explicit or visually disturbing – but it sat in that space – the space where words cease and only the senses exist. Clearly for the woman beside me, her senses were in overwhelm. I was grateful that the night I attended happened to be followed by the Q and A session with the actors and co-director afterwards – it was an opportunity for the audience to re-compose and debrief almost. More than that, it was a way to bring the savage racism of our history into the present.
The discussion that ensued was open and honest. The actors told of their own experiences of facing and witnessing racism today. Actor Ningali Lawford-Wolf told of how she was refused a ride by four taxi drivers on the street just outside the theatre. Richard Piper, who played the most savage of the white characters, talked of how the experience of being a part of this production changed him – made him reflect on times where he had been a bystander to racist incidences and had not acted. He spoke of the need for us all to speak up and take a stand in similar situations, and of his resolve to do differently next time. An audience member asked the questions: “What can we do? How can we do better when we leave this theatre?”. One of the younger cast members, Madeleine Madden, spoke about the power of the arts to move and affect change. Everyone on stage seemed to acknowledge a sort of shared social responsibility to tell the story with authenticity and sensitivity.
I came away with the feeling that the sentiment in that Q and A session was shared company-wide, and with 2 mins of online research I discovered the Sydney Theatre Company’s ‘Human Rights and Social Performance Statement’ As part of STC’s commitment to “operating as a responsible organisation” they state: “STC’s statement on Human Rights and Social Performance reflect our ability to uphold human rights within our organisation and our sphere of influence. We adhere to both international and local human rights legislation and reflect these in our human resources policies, practices and Code of Conduct.” Further down, in relation to audiences and the arts industry, it states: “We share our learning and promote human rights issues through giving voice to social issues by our choices in productions and our industry networks by contributing to conversations.”
This initiative – of writing the importance of social responsibility into the policies and strategic objectives of an organisation – is exactly what we need more of – especially in the arts and cultural industries, whose core ‘business’ is in the creation of meaning.
Go and see The Secret River if you can. Or read the book. Or watch the TV series. And share the story. Continue the conversation. It is our shared responsibility.
Review by Kiriaki Koubaroulis
posted by Kiriaki Koubaroulis
Last Sunday I went to the theatre. It was a show that had caught my attention earlier in the week in my Facebook feed. Urban Theatre Projects was posting about it. The Belvoir was posting about it. It had popped up in several status updates of friends, too.
The name didn’t give much away. But the promo shots spoke volumes. At least they did to me. Now, I’m a keen consumer of the arts and culture, from screens to stages and concert halls to the streets; and I’m a self-defined ‘cultural omnivore’, so my palette thrives on the alternative and diverse, but when a man clearly of ‘Middle-Eastern appearance’ (actor Hazem Shammas) hits my feed accompanied by words like theatre, Belvoir, Surry Hills and Muslim-Australian, it tweaks my interest in a special kind of way. Read on and you’ll understand why.
The Tribe, is a series of vignettes – snap shots in time told through the eyes of the main character, Bani, a young boy growing up in Lakemba, and second generation Australian. The stories are centred around his experience of family and major life events, and sit at that beautiful confluence – that point where the culture of his ancestors and his experience of growing up in Australia merge.
The Tribe tells Bani’s stories – stories that are familiar to many, me included. I know the streets and places described because I’ve been there. Arabic music and language lace the edges of the script, punctuating the stories. This is music and language familiar to me. I know the quirks of family and culture that Bani tells of, intimately. They’re all part of my lived experience growing up Greek-Australian in places like Lakemba, Wiley Park, Carlton and Canley Heights. So to see them all in this context – that is, placed on a stage in a suburb far from their origin for an audience perhaps not so acquainted with them — was a powerful thing.
Placing honest, personal stories not often heard on a new and bigger stage like this, adds a legitimacy and confers a new value both to the stories themselves, and to the writers, actors and producers behind them. It offers a doorway into a deeper sense of belonging and acceptance for the people represented by these stories – an embrace into this country’s bigger story.
In the words of the writer, Michael Mohammed Ahmad: ‘The Tribe is my attempt to counteract the limited and simplistic representation that the Arab-Australian Muslim community of Western Sydney has received to date, and to offer a broader, more intimate understanding. It is also an act of self-determination – a declaration of the right to reclaim and tell our own stories in our own way.’
So in this light, The Tribe, and other works like it, are also powerful anti-racism vehicles. Yes, they are theatre, pure and simple. Yes, they are art and culture.I’m not advocating for an instrumental approach to the arts – to theatre-making in this case. But works like The Tribe are instruments of social cohesion by their very nature. They are stories, faces, music and languages not seen often enough on our screens and stages, where what dominates does not reflect the whole lived reality of the diversity, plurality and inter-sectionality around us.
We need more theatre like this! The Tribe runs through til Feb 7th. Go see it – no matter where you grew up or if you identify with Bani or not. You’ll be entertained and moved, and you might even come out with a new understanding.
Kylie O’Reilly is the Managing Director of the Agency Division for Australian Associated Press (AAP), the national news agency of Australia. Kylie has over 15 years’ experience in the media industry and holds an MBA from the University of Technology Sydney.
Kylie has been the Chairperson of All Together Now for some years, helping to lead the organisation through to some great achievements.
We now interview her about her role in the organisation, her passions and goals before she heads off to run in the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival, this Sunday 20th September, 2015.
All Together Now: You can be a role model of modern woman. Many girls in Australia can take you as an example, how to be successful in life. Can you tell me what story is hidden behind your decision to refocus from Managing Director at AD AAP to the role of a chairperson in not-for-profit organization? Why did you choose anti-racism focus?
Kylie O’Reilly: Firstly, the reason, why I chose to contribute my time as a chairperson to All Together Now, was because I want to do something to make a difference. So, for me was important to be sure, that I can contribute my skills into their work, make a difference into the community. But the most important driver was an ability to participate. My previous experience was very much commercial and corporate, and it’s great, it’s nice to help businesses to make money and to employ people. But, when it gets down to having children and to be a part of a family and a community, I realized that I want to see my children living in a better place. That’s why I chose All Together Now. And I thought, that one of these topics (racism) would be committed to, because it is a hard work, [and] it is not an easy thing to be part of it. It’s not one of the topics, which everyone would easily contribute to, such as animals’ rights, cancer or children, – it is much tougher. As for me, I like challenges and being able to contribute to the good.
ATN: Kylie, if you could compare from the perspective of racial discrimination Australia of your childhood and Australia today, what differences can you list?
Kylie O’Reilly: I think, nowadays we are much more aware. There are two major things. First of all, when I grew up it was a very white Australia, where I was. Australia wasn’t so multicultural. I spent my childhood on the Northern beaches of Sydney and it was a very Anglo-Saxon place. Now, when we are near the beaches it is much more multicultural. I can see that children integrate much more in classes. They ask questions about different religions, different customs and many other things. As a child, I didn’t have any of that. So, I see differences in all of these things that were changed since the time of 30 years ago till now.
I would say that modern Australia is much more integrated. People are more aware now about dangers of racial discrimination. I don’t think that 30 years ago we did understand the impact of racial discrimination, how is it felt like to be an excluded outsider to someone new to the country. Nowadays we are totally aware how harmful that is. So, I think, Australia became very different in that sense.
ATN: As a mother, how do you explain and will explain multicultural differences and diversity to your children? Is it possible to erase racism from Australian society in future, educating a new generation today?
Kylie O’Reilly: Yes, I believe so. I have always believed that it’s possible, because I believe in the strength of acceptance and love. So, for me, why would not I accept everybody’s differences, we are all similar human beings with a heart and a brain…You know, it’s just because you look differently and speak differently to me, it doesn’t mean that we are that different from each other. All these differences are things which need to be celebrated. So, as for me, I will teach my children about it: differences make us unique, there are many things that we should celebrate and be curious about, [and] learn more about. All these things make the world so interesting, [like] when we are travelling, doesn’t it? We get to learn about different cultures and different places, we can learn different things and taste different food and we can immerse ourselves [in] something completely unknown.
ATN: Apart from being a chairperson of All Together Now how do you oppose racism in everyday life?
Kylie O’Reilly: I would say that the first level of racism, that I would see, is joke. People are making jokes. What they think is a joke in the reality is a statement. Basically, it is framing of our culture into a joke. So, for me, I would say that joke is a way of framing the culture. I don’t think that it is much more diverse in that. In everyday living we can frequently hear jokes about Asian drivers or…you know, when people say those kinds of things. To me that is a crazy talk, because I am not my one culture, you are not your one culture. Same as it doesn’t mean that I am a great driver or a bad driver, just because I am a female. For me this is much more complicated now. So, in everyday life racism usually appears in those kinds of comments and inappropriate jokes. Me as a person would stand up and say something about that. And I would try to educate people, why that’s not appropriate.
ATN: It is great to hear you are so active Kylie. Thank you for having this attitude. .
Kylie O’Reilly: It’s the way to be, isn’t it?
ATN: This shows the strength of your character. Not everyone is brave enough to speak up and be opposite to racism.
Kylie O’Reilly: I think, what you can do is to deliver your thoughts through the humor. It doesn’t have to be controversial. It doesn’t have to become confrontational. If I’ll deliver it with actual curiosity and humor, when I say to you: “Why do you say that”? It is not threatening, isn’t it? So, if I can deliver it in non-threatening way, sometimes it can be educational. I think this is what people struggle with sometimes: how to communicate to another person if anything is inappropriate.
ATN: How do you see Australia in 20 years?
Kylie O’Reilly: My vision for Australia in 20 years would be that it’s much more embracing and has different cultural identities. It gets down to a couple of values instead of identities. I would like to think that my children will have multiple kinds of friends of different color, different races and different backgrounds and that’s generally accepted as we become more global. So, that’s what I would like to see in the future. I don’t want to see an Australia where everything is only Anglo and white. In this case we would be very limited and especially in terms of Australian values. So, for me diversity is the way to go.
ATN: Could you, please, share your plans for the future? What projects do you want to realize?
Kylie O’Reilly: Well, my job as a chairperson is to help forming a strategy together with the managing director and a board. Talking on behalf of the board, we are very committed to educating and standing up against racism through education. So, I am very excited about the projects that are useful for children and for teachers. I can comment that they are really great projects to be involved in, because putting yourself in the shoes of somebody else can educate you more as it is like to be a victim of racism. And once you have some empathy to that situation, it helps you to understand more, you are even able to curiously challenge people on their views. So, as for me, I love that project.
I also like how we are associated with sport. It is important, because there is a lot of racism in sport. Sport is a one avenue where people can really embrace each other and come together with the common goal of going to their teams. And I think that to be a part of this and to generate an awareness of All Together Now is really important.
So, our projects are connected with everything that can be put on a plate for educating and helping people to stand up against racism. As an example, we created educational mobile application. And on the other side we would like to associate with sport.