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Diversity in action

Following the trail of diversity in the Australian Capital Territory.

Karen Middleton

Wendy Dawes

Karen Middleton is a Canberran of many talents – award-winning journalist, board member, writer, who has been described as ‘smart-ish’ and ‘not a bad singer’.

Karen is a familiar name and face to many of us, whether through her many years reporting Federal politics for SBS news, radio appearances, writing for major newspapers or as a regular guest on the ABC’s Insiders program.

Karen has a long history of providing practical support to refugees and others who have recently arrived in Australia. When she was a child, her parents volunteered to provide settlement support to a Vietnamese refugee family. During the 1990s Yugoslavian conflict, Karen supported a Bosnian family that had recently arrived in Canberra.

Although born in Canada, to Australia parents, Karen identifies as ‘pretty straight up and down Anglo-Australian.’

"I’ve got a bit of Scottish back there and a little bit of English."

Despite holding dual Canadian-Australian citizenship, she identifies primarily as Australian. 

"I feel like my cultural identity is in this country. That includes the diversity we have, and the multicultural nature of our country, and our Indigenous heritage, which I reckon should be celebrated a lot more than it is."

Karen has not been subject to racial vilification in Australia, but has sadly witnessed it many times.

"I’ve seen other people treated poorly. My Indigenous friends in particular, who continue to get rubbishing and worse in their own country. I always find it hurtful when I see that."

Karen recently joined the board of local non-government organisation, Companion House, which works with people who have sought refuge in Australia from persecution, torture and war related trauma. She is particularly conscious of the discrimination faced by others in the community.

"I’m very fortunate to be in a cultural majority where I haven’t had to deal with that as much.’
She did however suffer discrimination while visiting New York.

"I went into a restaurant in Harlem and was show upstairs and out the back to a room that wasn’t in the front…Suddenly I realised this must be what it feels like to feel like you don’t really belong or they’re not that keen to show off that you’re there."

Karen however understood why the African-American proprietors made that decision.

"Fair enough. They’ve been living with that their whole lives."

While conscious that she her perspective may not be the same as those from cultural minorities, Karen feels Canberra is generally a tolerant and diverse community. 

"I think as cities go, this is a pretty good one."

Karen suggests things could be improved not only by organisations hiring a diverse workforce, but ensuring they are supporting those employees.

"You need to stand with them. I think you need to be very conscious, right down on the ground about how all the people within that organisation feel and how you present to the world."

She has identified attitudinal change as critical to promoting diversity in our community.

"I think it is really important that we focus more on trying to change attitudes and stamp out some of the discrimination and prejudice that still exists in this country."

Diana Abdel-Rahman

Wendy Dawes

Diana Abdel-Rahman is a strong and proud voice for Muslim Canberrans and Australians. Whether speaking on national and local media, or hosting her own radio show during Ramadan or chairing the Canberra Multicultural Community Forum, Diana is passionate about bringing Canberrans of all backgrounds together.

She was born and raising in Brisbane to Lebanese parents, and proudly identifies as Australian of Lebanese heritage. She has called Canberra home for 25 years and has contributed widely to ACT’s multicultural and Muslim communities.  She is just as passionate about promoting Canberra as the cause of multiculturalism and acceptance.

"Canberra is a wonderful city with people who are open minded and are prepared to want to know you and find out about who you are."

She feels this success is due to the city’s small size, which necessitates people from different backgrounds mixing together. 

"In most cases Canberra is tolerant, because ethnic and multicultural communities live in all areas around the city which enables people to mix and get to know each other."

Diana is the recipient of numerous honours and awards. During the celebration of 100 years of International Women’s Day in 2011 Diana was honoured on the ACT Honour Roll and was chosen as one of ten prominent women in the ACT to present on the occasion. She received the International Women’s Day award in 2005 and the 2001 Centenary of Federation Medal for her contribution to the betterment of the Australian Muslim community

Radio is one of Diana’s on-going interests. She started her radio experience in 1993 working for the ACT Ethnic Broadcaster’s Council (EBC) and was instrumental in establishing Canberra’s very own multi-lingual ethnic broadcasting station, Canberra Multicultural Services (CMS). Along the way she gained a Bachelor of Communications from the University of Canberra. Her radio experience lead her to begin broadcasting from her Canberra lounge room during the month of Ramadan, under the auspice of Australian Muslim Voice, a organisation dedicated to radio, the arts and culture of Islam. AMV Radio during Ramadan is still Australia’s only fully English language radio broadcast.

Diana has identified young people as a key audience to promote the positives of multiculturalism and diversity. 

"The campaign needs to reach out to schools as that is where many issues are starting to arise," she says. "Children are influenced in what they are hearing in the news and reading on social media and taking it to school."

David Morrison

Wendy Dawes

David Morrison comes across as the quintessential army general. A withering glare that feels it could cut through steel, a face that doesn’t naturally fall to a smile, a posture that seems unnaturally straight and the close-cropped hair of most servicemen, Morrison himself admits he has been described as ‘overly stern’ and an ’authoritarian’.

Appearances can be deceptive. 

Morrison is now known – internationally – for his compassionate fight for inclusion, particularly with regards to women in the armed forces, thanks in part to a viral YouTube video made in 2014 where he emphatically stated the Australian army was no place for men who did not agree, telling them to ‘get out’. 

“Well, clearly I am white. Male. And I’m Anglo-Saxon,” he says about his own cultural identity. 

“I’m now at a point in my life where I understand that I have had, as result of my heritage, and my gender, and indeed my sexual orientation (which is heterosexual), opportunities that have been provided for me in my life, that haven’t been provided to people who don’t fit that stereotype.

“Having seen those issues, I can’t unseen them. I hear voices now, of people whose hurdles that they’ve jumped have been higher than mine - and I don’t want to un-hear them. I think we’ve all got a role to play, in ensuring that everyone gets the opportunity to reach their potential.

Morrison explains the complex issues of diversity and inclusion weren’t something he wasn’t immediately aware of.

“I have never been discriminated against, in my life,” he says. “But I know now, just how prevalent discrimination is, on the most peripheral of criteria. Someone’s beliefs. Someone’s skin colour. Someone’s sexual orientation. It holds them back, and as a result, it holds all of us back.”

Morrison began taking bold steps to changing the army’s culture, thanks in part to Elizabeth Broderick (Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner) who highlighted some of the worst cases of abuse in the army. He said the first steps were listening to some of the women who were subject to the abuse.

“[You can create a more tolerant, inclusive community] by listening. And seeing. And putting time into taking other people’s perspectives as you start to view your problems and your issues,” says Morrison.

“Often, I think you find, certainly in my case I can say this, the issues and challenges and problems you face are small in comparison. They change the way you think. And they make you a more inclusive person. Someone who actually goes looking for the diversity in our lives and celebrating it as a result.”

Morrison’s work offers an unparalleled example to other organisations on how to commit to creating a culturally diverse and inclusive environment. 

“Diversity is often just a box-ticking exercise,” Morrison laments. “What the real difference is, is inclusivity.”

“I’ve got no anthropological training. So I can’t give you a qualified definition of what ‘culture’ is,” he admits. “But I reckon, culture is the story that we tell ourselves, about ourselves. 

“So what’s the story you tell yourself, about yourself? As a family member? As a member of a profession or a sporting team? Or part of the Canberra community? If the stories are inclusive, if they celebrate diversity, if they are about making our community and through our community the nation a better place, then you are telling yourself the right story. 

“But if your stories are exclusive, if they confirm in your mind that you have a positive discrimination biased to the people who look like you, or sound like you, or believe like you, I think you’re probably shutting of parts of your life and maybe it’s time you stopped and thought about the culture that encapsulates you. Maybe ask yourself whether you need to be involved in changing that culture in a positive way.

“No man or woman is an island,” he says. “We’re all social creatures. We all live within society. I think if you take that as your starting point, the most important thing you can do is engage with open ears, and open eyes, with a keen mind to understand the differences between us all, but then celebrating those differences because when we use the potential that is on offer in everybody, everybody benefits.”

Beck Kiting

Wendy Dawes

Canberra United foundation player, Beck Kiting is one of those rare Canberrans - she was born in the ACT and has continued to live and work here (not counting a four-year stint playing soccer for a college in Connecticut, USA).

Her Indonesian father and Australian mother have given Beck a strong appreciation for her diverse cultural background.

“Since I can remember, I have always been told by my parents that I am different and special in my own way, because I am privileged to be able to be a part of two very different cultures,” she says. “My cultural identity has grown with both Indonesian and Australian influences to something quite individual and unique to myself.”

“In saying that, I believe I am an Australian,” Beck emphasises. “Which to me, is a very diverse group in itself.”

“But I feel fortunate to be equally comfortable in both Australia (my mother’s birth country) and Indonesia (my father’s birth country).”

The typically warm and friendly defender feels sorry for people who can’t see the benefits of such an upbringing. 

“I have been in a couple of situations where someone has said something to me about my cultural identity but instead of feeling animosity to the person, I feel sorry for them, because they have not been able to experience the wonders of my culture and what it has to offer,” says Beck.

“I have been lucky enough to have been brought up to feel comfortable with my cultural identity so when remarks are made to me I usually don’t get offended.”

Beck worries about others who may not have the same resilience.

“There have been many instances where I have witnessed others who are not as confident with their cultural identity and struggle when criticised about it,” she explains, adding that all individuals have a responsibility to treat others as an equal and with respect.

“If people in our community can have greater awareness for other peoples’ cultures - even if they don’t quite understand them - I think our society can be a much better place.”

Citing government organisations and individuals with public profiles as those who should be setting the example, Beck would love to see a firm commitment to diversity by these groups by modelling their behaviour and, “meaning what they say, and not just saying something because it is politically correct - but because they have invested time to learn from the experiences of others.”

“Walking the talk is really important,” Beck notes. “It shows that they know, understand and value cultural diversity.”

Nick Kyrgios

Wendy Dawes

Professional tennis player, Nick Kyrgios, was born and raised in Canberra. Attending Radford and Daramalan College, Nick initially showed promise as a basketball player (representing the ACT and Australia) before settling on tennis in his teens. 

“Canberra is home,” says Nick. ”I love so much about this town.”

With a Greek father (George) and a Malaysian mother (Nill) - Nick is also passionate about his diverse cultural heritage. “I recognise where I am from,” he explains. “I am proud and respectful of my heritage. My parents and grandparents bring a range of cultural backgrounds together.

"I am a proud Australian!”

Based on his experiences growing up in the ACT, Nick believes Canberra to be a tolerant community, but sadly notes there remains ‘small pockets of hate everywhere’. Nick believes education and awareness to be the key to eradicate those pockets of hate. 

“The promotion of ethnic diversity and how it benefits society in so many ways [will help Canberra become a more tolerant and inclusive community]”, Nick says.

“Throughout my professional career there has been a couple of well-publicised times where [our] cultural diversity is brought into an unwarranted negative spotlight,” says Nick, but he chooses to focus on the positive, rather than the negative. 

“I’d rather not dwell on that,’ he says. “I believe in embracing cultural diversity and [the fact that cultural diversity is] a strong characteristic of Australia.”

Nick believes we can all help by promoting tolerance and embracing cultural diversity, and adds that by being prompt to eradicate all expressions of racism, we will create a community where all can benefit.

ACT ATSI Netball Tournament

Wendy Dawes

Ignoring forecasts of heavy rain, organisers for the inaugural ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Netball competition began setting up at the Calwell Playing Fields early on October 31. Teams from Canberra, Queanbeyan, regional NSW, Victoria and even far-north Queensland, descended on the courts soon after, optimistic inspite of the weather – they were there to have fun.

Fallon Dalton (pictured above, with daughter Aneaka) said the idea was initially borne among a close-knit group of netball mums, who then all took an active part in organising the day-long round robin comp - which kicked off at 9am under sunny skies and wrapped up with the grand final being played in the rain.

The tournament also hosted international English netball star, Sonia Mkoloma, who as part of the One Netball team of ambassadors, was excited to be in the crowds cheering the teams on, and handed the trophies to the winning teams at the end of the day. 

Sonia is a passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion within sport.

Mohammed Ali

Wendy Dawes

Mohammad Ali is a name that for some, conjures images of red gloves, boxing rings, heavy blows, and provocative jibes. But this unassuming, slight and wonderfully polite gentleman is Mohammed Ali, president of Forum Australia, Canberra.

Mohammed Ali comes from Pakistan, and carries himself in a way that is reminiscent of the manners of yesteryear, there is no big-noting himself or chest thumping here.

"Firstly, I love being identified someone coming from the East. I feel that that part of the world is still holding on to the old traditions," Mohammed says. "My sense of cultural identity pops up from the long traditions of the sub-continental society, that puts men before material.

"I love my mother language, Urdu, and I love Urdu literature - particularly its poetry. I write Urdu poetry myself and have also written short stories in Urdu."

"Secondly, I am a member of a global Muslim fraternity," he says. "I am a Muslim and I believe being Muslim means to respect difference and give every other belief its space. I also equally respect atheists as I believe that while they may not follow any divine doctrine, they do have doctrines of their own, principles of their own. And any principle based on fairness and truth cannot be wrong."

Mohammed came to Australia in 1991, moving directly to Canberra.

"I have never moved anywhere else," he says, proudly. "Why should I have moved? Canberra is such a nice, loving and caring place that I or my family never ever thought of moving elsewhere.

"In the last 25 years here, the day is still to come in my life when someone points out afinger to me or my kids, or my hijab-wearing wife, just because we are Muslims or just because our skin colour is different, or just because I am from Pakistan. 

"All my friends in Canberra love me and I love them. Love means harmony, love means togetherness and love means care. So, I have never experienced any negativity in Canberra," Mohammed says. "However, we were at the Gold Coast once and waiting behind me in a queue was a rather impatient guy. He called my wife and I, 'queue jumpers'. I didn’t mind it - actually, we bumped into the same guy as we were going out, so I asked him if we had done anything wrong. He said no, not at all, it was just an adrenaline rush, and amazingly, he said sorry to me and my wife!

"I love Australia, it is a lovely place," Mohammed smiles. "And I love Canberra - it is the loveliest place! Canberra is a place that does not know how to hate any person on the basis of his or her race, religion or culture."

"Of all the places I have lived in or visited, Canberra is the most tolerant," Mohammed explains. "And the places I have lived so far include Pakistan, Nigeria, Germany, United Kingdom, and have visited USA, UK and France. Even Karachi, Pakistan - where I come from - is not that tolerant.

"In all of Canberra's suburbs you find people of many different ethnicities living in perfect peace and harmony," Mohammed states proudly. "My street in Gungahlin has people from Afghanistan, China, 'True Blue' Aussies, and people from Italy and Greece."

Mohammed finishes with a suggestion. "The ACT government should build a monument near Lake Burly Griffin to tell all those who come to Canberra that they are welcome in here," he laughs, possibly not realising that he himself is a living monument to diversity and inclusion.