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Diversity in action

Following the trail of diversity in the Australian Capital Territory.

Profile: Omar Musa

Wendy Dawes

Queanbeyan wunderkind Omar Musa is busy. Having just returned home briefly after a trip to Europe, Omar is about to pack his suitcase and jump on another jet plane to America and India on an extensive book tour (oh, plus a string of dates performing in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney before that).

The book in question - Here come the dogs - is currently short-listed for the ACT Book of the Year, and was described by the Canberra Times as possessing "of an originality and daring that does not mind nearing the reckless … A striking debut.' 

It is Omar's fierce and unapologetic honesty about the experience of growing up in regional New South Wales as Malaysian-Australian that runs as a consistent theme across his many creative endeavours.

"My sense of identity has come from growing up in a mixed household, growing up in between worlds: Asian and Irish-Australian, religious and secular, country and city," says Omar. "I think that people are too keen to adhere to a rigid idea of what identity is. I am more interested in fluid identities, about living on the hyphen."

It is this unwillingness to cage himself in racial stereotypes and cast others with the same forge that sees his voice resonate with many. But not all.

"My name is Omar bin Musa," Omar emphasises. "In the post-9/11 world, I have experienced a lot of discrimination, whether it be on the street or online. I don't want to dwell on it, but I will just say that there is a certain, considerable segment of Australian society that reacts very aggressively to the idea of a man with a Muslim name speaking his mind fearlessly and freely."

Despite the tired Queanbeyan-versus-Canberra hoopla and amidst the packed schedule of an artist on the rise-and-rise, Omar found time to lend his voice to the "Diversity goes with our Territory" campaign - which leads one to believe he sees in it a valuable message that needs to be spoken. 

"One thing I like about Canberra is that it doesn't seem to be as ethnically broken up as a lot of other Australian cities. It's all very mixed," said Omar. "Having said that, like any city or country, there are always going to be problems with tolerance and racism, so it's something to be eternally vigilant about."

Omar suggests the arts as a conduit to an inclusive society.

"I always look at everything through the prism of the arts," he explains. "I would like to see a concert/poetry slam/exhibition that shows the myriad stories of Canberrans from diverse cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds."

Perhaps when he has a bit of time to spare?