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
If you’re in Sydney on Tuesday 8th March, come along to “Comedy vs Racism”. All Together Now has organised this event in partnership with the City of Sydney as part of the Living in Harmony festival. The event begins at 7PM.
Comedy meets commentary in Comedy vs Racism, when three of Sydney’s funniest writer/performers are joined by an academic activist, a lawyer, and a columnist who writes about race and feminism.
Join us for an hour of laughs followed by a Q & A, with Tasnim Hossain, Suren Jayemanne, Bjorn Stewart, Professor James Arvanitakis, Pallavi Sinha, Ruby Hamad, and host Jennifer Wong.
Between comedy performances, the comedians and panellists will share their thoughts on the role of comedy when it comes to racism in Australia.
Together, we’ll be asking: How powerful is a punchline when it comes to standing against racism? What can comedy do about everyday racism? What conversations do we need to have as Australian audiences, comedy makers, and the media? And can we laugh while we’re having them?
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.
Last week on Thursday and Friday, the 5-6th of November, the 2015 FECCA National Conference took place in Sydney. FECCA, the Federation of Ethnic Community Councils of Australia, is the peak national body representing Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. The two-day conference brought hundreds of leading decision makers, scholars, and experts together, all with a collective desire to debate and discuss key issues relating to multiculturalism.
It was positive to have our politicians cohesively acknowledge how a better embracement of multiculturalism will lead to a better future for all Australians. Senator the Hon. Concetta Fierravanti-Wells acknowledged how important it is for Australians to recognise our country’s history of successful migration and how this is a legacy worth protecting. The Hon Tanya Plibersek addressed the tokenistic manner in which multiculturalism is often highlighted, and how “multiculturalism is more than the ethnic food festivals and parades” it is so often limited to. Senator Richard Di Natale confronted how the government cannot support multiculturalism through policy yet repeal s18C of the Anti-Discrimination Act and “open the floodgates to racism”. By our political parties dismissing their governmental differences in order to show a united front in the name of multiculturalism shows a common interest by our democratic leaders in the face of racial discrimination, and how important the issue of racism is to our parliamentary leaders.
The conference held concurrent forums on key issues related to multiculturalism such as equity in disability, productivity through diversity, cyber racism, and multicultural broadcasting and communications. In the forum addressing ‘The Cultural Dividend of Multiculturalism”, Ross Tzannes AM cited Anne Phillip’s quote “Harm could come to our minority groups if we trivialise their culture”, and noted how cultural diversity in the workplace is often paraded around as a marketing tool, without recognising the intrinsic value cultural diversity has in itself. Liz Deep-Jones also explored the idea of multiculturalism in the workplace. Having over twenty years experience at SBS, Liz brought up to the discussion how integral it was for her workplace of the media, in particular, to bring education of other cultures to the forefront of broadcasting. Liz expressed how Australia is a country so rich in diversity, we are able to put on shows such as Living Black, or a news program addressing Chinese Australians that is spoken in Manderin but with English subtitles, to be as inclusive as possible.
In “Enabling Better Health”, key scholars and medical practitioners brought together their unique experience and knowledge of how minority groups often struggle to get access to the Australian healthcare system. Dr. Sara Javanparast expressed her disdain at the resistance of general practitioners to using interpreting services to fully engage migrants with our healthcare system. This apprehension of interpreting services was also of concern to Rosemarie Draper, who has taken action addressing this problem with a health literacy approach. Rosemarie represented the Royal District Nursing Service (RDNS), and showed how the RDNS has created unique talking books that take all cultural diversities into consideration. For example, their talking book on Type 2 Diabetes in Vietnamese is freely available on the RDNS’ website, and provides both written and audible health information in Vietnamese at the equivalent of an English grade 6 level, in order to be more inclusive of the community.
Many more forums were held addressing key areas that have felt the impact and influence of multiculturalism, and all the speakers at the conference agreed that multiculturalism is the necessary narrative for the future of Australia. The conference ended on a positive note, with the 2014 Australian Youth Representative to the United Nations, Laura John, concluding the forum with some personal accounts of her own experiences that led to her personal understanding of what multiculturalism means. The 2015 FECCA conference was an irrefutable success, and All Together Now can’t thank FECCA Chair Joe Caputo OAM for bringing these creative and scholarly minds together to collaborate and discuss the possibilities the lie ahead for the Australian community.
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.
“Justice is what love looks like in public.”
What could you expect from an Evening with Dr. Cornel West? He is a man who is a theologian, philosopher, poet, author of 20 books, and a love warrior. His real, truthful and revolutionary philosophies reverberate in the changeable and mood swinging beats of jazz and blues greats of the 20th Century.
Dr. Cornel West opened with his most important point:
In the face of 400 years of being hated for the way [African-Americans] look the community has produced the ultimate counter product: “love warriors.”
This is the ability to love in the face of animosity and is the most beautiful action one could possibly take. The death of restrictions of social concepts like gender, race, sexuality, the poor and wealthy allows for openness through that positive force of love. This is what makes governments so timid and frightened by non-violent movements like Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.
The creation of love warriors is part of this three-point theory to create love that occurs in the social down-trodden and marginalized communities: At first grief and crying occurs; then there is silence; and finally, music.
Music and dance was one thing that could not be taken away from the African slaves taken to America. Even though their language, culture, food and children were altered until they no longer knew where they came from; they held on to what they could through dance, song and music. This is the case for many displaced peoples. Poetry and music are important parts of holding on to a culture and remembering history. This is a long tradition that is still relevant and important in our contemporary culture in reviving the untold history keeping this nation from moving forward.
What we learnt from Dr. West:
What Australian society can really take away from Dr. Cornel West is the point about collective understanding to create great social change. We should not white wash over the history of this nation. It is important to remind ourselves of the true facts and to teach them to the generations to come. The arts will play an important part in reclaiming that history and restoring it. The arts helps us listen to the voices of the marginalized, and most importantly of the Indigenous population of Australia to create a new identity. By embracing this, Australia would begin to move forward and become the harmonious country it is striving to be.
Australia: Are we ready to dance to the new sound track to reform this nation?
You can also sign up to the All Together Now fortnightly e-newsletter to see what projects we are undertaking to do our part in engaging in social reform and bringing an end to racism nation-wide.