Sometimes you talk to yourself. This usually happens when you find the environment around you too noisy or when people are not prepared to listen to you even when you are talking true. And that is happening these days with me - more so in the last few years.
As the federal election approaches debates are getting more heated. Turn on your television or open a newspaper and you will find a discussion, an interview or an article discussing issues that are vital for Australia’s future. Issues like environment, population, republicanism, migration, racism and ethnicity. The aim of these discussions, in all sincerity, is constructive i.e. to shape Australia for the better. Yet, at times you feel that the discussion, at least on issues like ethnicity or multiculturalism, changes into a discussion between “we and you” or between “us and them”. It is at this time that I start talking to myself. At such times, I tell myself that what ever Australia is today, it is due to the immense contribution of its diverse ethnic communities and some of their prominent members.
I remind myself of the late John Ilhan, a Turkish Australian businessman who started his retail mobile business in Melbourne in 1991: today Crazy John's is the largest independent phone retailer in Australia, employing more than 700 people with over 120 retail stores.
I recall that Tony Milhinhos, a philanthropist who was awarded Senior Australian of the year 2005, was born in Portugal and immigrated to Australia in his 20s. Tony became an inspiring role model through his donations to diverse Australian charities.
I remind myself of Professor Shahbaz Khan, an Australian scientist of Pakistani origin, who is currently on leave from CSIRO to serve at UNESCO in Paris. While at CSIRO, Professor Shahbaz led the Hydrology Research Group. He was also Professor of Hydrology and Director of the International Centre of Water at Charles Sturt University. He enjoyed world recognition, dealing with a range of issues in land use management and developed mathematical models of groundwater flow, flood forecasting and storm drainage. His team won many national and international awards.
Among other notable Australians of Pakistan origin are Usman Khawaja and Irfan Yusuf.
From the examples Australians of Indian origin, I recollect that Akshay Venkatesh is the only Australian mathematician to have won medals at both the Physics Olympiad and the Mathematics Olympiad at the age of 12. While registering this, my mind also goes to Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, former federal president of the AMA (Australian Medical Association) and to Guy Sebastian, the singer, who was born overseas and has a Sri Lankan father and a Hindi speaking mother.
I acknowledge that at the 2006 Census about 150,000 Australian residents declared that they were born in Hindustan (India). And despite the population of Pakistani Australians doubling in the last ten years, they are still easily outnumbered by the Indian diaspora.
Both Pakistani and Indian communities in Australia represent a highly educated class of Australians who are equipped with commendable professional skills. They are doctors, engineers, IT specialists, educationists, businessmen and tradesmen. The history of Indian migrants in Australia dates back to the 18th century; Pakistani migrants started arriving in the 19th century.
The Pakistani community in Australia, being predominantly Muslim, is often counted along with other Muslim communities i.e. Turkish, Lebanese and Indian Muslims. The people of these communities are proud of their religious identity, reflected in the mosques and Islamic Centres around Australia. The Rooty Hill and Turkish mosques in Sydney, Canberra Islamic Centre in the ACT, and Ummah Centre in Melbourne are just a few examples of the continuing tradition of grand Islamic architecture in Australia.
The Indian community, on the other hand, has built Mandirs and other beautiful religious and social centres throughout Australia, reminding us of the teachings of peace and shanti, which is an essential message of their religion. Both communities, Pakistani and Indian, are also known for their cuisine and, thanks to Bollywood and cricket, for their cultural and sporting heritage.
But I can not neglect the Italian and Greek communities and their contribution in building modern Australia. In 2001 some 800,000 Australians declared themselves of Italian origin. Who would not wish to go to an Italian restaurant and eat pasta? But Italian contribution to Australia is much more than adding variety to our dining tables, and is reflected through some famous names like Morris Iemma, David Campese, John Eales, Anthony Minichiello and Tina Arena.