Celebrating Harmony Week


Harmony Week in Western Australia starts today 15 March and runs through to Australia’s Harmony Day on 21 March. Harmony Week is an opportunity for all Western Australians to celebrate our vibrant multicultural State. The fabulous artwork used for this year’s Harmony Week banner is by local artist Alina Tang. Her parents were Vietnamese refugees who came to Australia in the 1980s.

Harmony Day in Australia takes place on the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which started in recognition of the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre when police fired on a peaceful demonstration against apartheid in South Africa, killing 69 unarmed protestors.

Harmony Week has become an opportunity for all of us to celebrate our diversity while working to remove barriers that still exist in the community. The message of Harmony Day is everyone belongs. The day aims to engage people to participate in their community, respect cultural and religious diversity and foster sense of belonging for everyone.

Since 1999, more than 70,000 Harmony Day events have been held in childcare centres, schools, community groups, churches, businesses, and federal, state and local government agencies across Australia.

The 2016 census showed Western Australia is one of Australia’s most culturally diverse States. You can see other States results on the website.  I found it particularly interesting to be reminded that one-third (32.2 per cent) of Western Australians are born overseas — that’s the highest percentage of the population for any Australian State or Territory.   Among those born overseas, people from non-main English speaking countries (410,291) outnumbered those from main English speaking countries (387,423) for the first time since the Census began in Western Australia.   What’s it like where you live?

Everyone can join in Harmony Week: community organisations, businesses, State Government agencies, local governments, schools, colleges and universities. More information is available from the Harmony Day and the Office of Multicultural Interests websites.

These websites have suggested activities or events: simple things like organising a morning tea, inviting speakers to your groups or cooking up a variety of different food from different countries at home or with friends.

A Taste of Harmony has some super recipe suggestions from Syria, Turkey, China and Vietnam and so many other places. I’m rather fond of the Iranian Marinated chicken with charred limes on the BBQ myself, but I am yet to tackle Baklava, which I love.

What will you do to celebrate?


International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is a worldwide event that celebrates women’s achievements, from the political to the social, while calling for gender equality. It has been observed since the early 1900s and is now recognised each year on 8 March.

In Australia, it has just been confirmed that in 2018 the gender pay gap is 22% – which makes me question just how far we have come on the road to gender equality for women. The principle of equal pay for equal work was introduced in my country in 1969, so how can there still be such a disparity?

There is no doubt women from a refugee background face much bigger issues than pay equality. Issues such as persecution, conflict and often violence.   Some of these threats are quite distinct from those that men and boys face. According to the Women’s Refugee Commission, 50% of female victims of sexual violence are 15 years old or younger. In the world’s conflict zones 10 million girls are not in school; girls account for only 30% of refugees enrolled in secondary school.

As I enter the last year of my PhD at Curtin University, my research and writing is concentrated on how the stories of refugees are narrated.  I did not set out to focus on women, but that is how my four years of study has turned out.

So, on this International Women’s Day, I am choosing to celebrate by sharing some success stories about women of a refugee background.

While I can’t share the stories from my PhD research yet, I wanted to give you some links to stories from women who have faced much more challenging backgrounds than most of us and yet have found a way to not only survive, but to thrive.

And finally, to gain some insight into what is going on in Western Australia – that could also be applicable in other countries – look at Ishar Multicultural Women’s Health Centre  which encourages the health and wellbeing of women of all ages and from all cultural backgrounds, as well as the Edmund Rice Centre WA.

Sisterworks catering - refugees

Sisterworks Catering – a Melbourne business run by women from a refugee background

Inspiration at Perth Writers Week

Congratulations to Will Yeoman as guest curator of the 2018 Perth Writers Week.

My head is still spinning from all the great writers I heard. And isn’t that what a good festival does?   It inspires us; it educates us and it entertains us. It also provides time for new or different ideas to be presented.

One of the highlights for me was listening to Kim Scott (Taboo) and Helen Garner (Everywhere I look) in conversation.  These are two of Australia’s literary giants.  It was an interesting pairing – but what a rich evening they provided for the sold out crowd at the Octagon Theatre in Perth.   It was also obvious how much they respected and admired each other’s work.


Helen Garner and Kim Scott

Tim Winton’s solo performance about his new book The shepherd’s hut and his powerful interwoven messages that society has failed young boys because they have ­remained trapped in an idea of manhood that is toxic, was fascinating and quite disturbing. I thought about the implications as I made my way home.

I came away inspired from a session with Liz Byrski, Rob Dessaix and Alex Miller, who discussed creativity in later years. They reaffirmed to me that I have a bright future ahead and gave me permission to become more selfish with my own time, say no and even be a little bit rude!

I was lucky enough to interview three women from the Arab world: Manal Al-Sharif, Amal Awad and Tess Woods. With Palestinian, Egyptian and Saudi Arabian heritages the conversation showed the audience life from three different countries and cultures. It was an informative, amusing and sometimes poignant conversation. I recommend all three books – Daring to Drive, Beyond the veiled clichés and Beautiful Messy love.  All would be great book club reads.  I’ll have a review of Daring to Drive up soon, as I spent another hour with Manal in a different session discussing her life and activism in more depth.

So hats off to all in the Perth Writers Week program. Reading ideas abound!


Manal Tess and Amal

Manal Al-Sharif, Amal Awad and Tess Woods



Writers Week is here

The Perth Writers Week is almost here. It starts on Monday 19 February and runs until Sunday 25 February.  I am pleased to be involved again this year, and particularly to be chairing two discussions that demonstrate, once again, that there is always more to the story.

On Sunday I will be interviewing Saudi Arabian woman Manal Al-Sharif who is best known for her YouTube videos for the Women2Drive campaign.

Manal campaigns for women’s rights. Her life story of being raised under a religion of strict fundamentalism to her change to an activist who fights women’s equality in a society that is unequal is incredible. Her book Daring to Drive is a story of resilience. I can’t wait for the conversation.

Manal will also be participating on panel conversation on Saturday called ‘Free to Love, Free to Learn’.  She is joined by Amal Awad who has written a book that is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the Middle East. It’s called Beyond Veiled Clichés. The third participant is Tess Woods who draws on her Egyptian heritage, cross cultural marriage and her insider’s knowledge of professional football (She’s a physio in her day job). Her book is called Beautiful Messy Love and is set in Western Australia.

Will Yeoman, who is curating his first festival, has also catered for my love of crime writing.   I re-unite with Alan Carter who splits his time between Australia and New Zealand these days. We’ll be discussing his new book Marlborough Man at a free event on Wednesday at the fabulous Perth city library.

The full program is available on line or you can pick up a free, easy to read, printed program from most good bookstores. If you are not in Western Australia, some of the Perth Writers Week sessions will be recorded by ABC radio and available as podcasts.

I’ll see you there.


The year ahead

This time last year I wrote a blog looking back on the previous year for people from a refugee background. In 2018 I thought I would direct my gaze towards the future.

While I don’t have a crystal ball, I hope that 2018 holds the promise of better things for over than 65 million people worldwide, who are refugees, asylum seekers or displaced people. The situation in places like Yemen and Bangladesh reminds us there is much to do.

refugees fleeing - by Mohammed Salem

Photographer – Mohammad Salem

The refugee crisis remains a global issue requiring a global solution. Nearly one in every 110 people is fleeing war or persecution. This cannot be managed by one nation, governing body or multinational organisation alone. I read an interesting article ahead of the 2018 World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland that asked: What if multinational businesses welcomed refugees displaced by social and political upheaval and worked with governing bodies to assimilate them into our global workplaces?

I’ll share one example on the Davos website that recently moved me. After making a 2,300-mile journey to Berlin, Mohammad Basel Alyounes, a Syrian refugee and accountant by profession, was greeted by a German news crew. When asked what he hoped for his new life in Germany, he said, “I want to work for Ernst & Young (EY).” An EY manager in Germany saw the interview, used social media to locate Alyounes — and EY hired him. He now works with their German Diversity Charter refugee support team.

Wouldn’t be great if more companies around the world took this approach?

Some countries continue to do more than others, just as individually some people do more than others. I’ve loved talking to people who have got involved with volunteering and working with refugees. There are some ideas on this website of organisations you could consider helping, either by volunteering time or donating money.

In Australia, our harsh Sovereign Borders policy remains in place and we continue to only accept around 13,000 refugees a year through our humanitarian program (plus a one-time additional 12,000 people from Syria). Canada accept 250,000 refugees per year.

Some bright news in 2017 included the re-settlement in the US of several hundred men who had been detained on Manus Island indefinitely by the Australian government – although many more wait for an outcome. In a recent edition of The Saturday paper there was a particularly moving article written by Imran Mohammad who is a Rohingya refugee held on Manus.

Manus protests

Peaceful protests continue on Manus

Also pleasing is the increasing number of university scholarships being provided to those who came to Australia seeking asylum.

Personally, I feel the number of Australian voices speaking out about inhumane policies in relation to refugees is increasing and getting louder. One of my main hopes for the year ahead is that more people take the time to learn about what is really happening in Australia and around the world.  My go-to resources in Australia are The Refugee Council of Australia and The Guardian Australia which is usually the only newspaper that provides detailed factual reporting about the issues and thoughtful insights. The latest opinion piece from Tim Costello, Chief Advocate for World Vision, comparing his visits to Bangladesh and Manus Island makes sombre reading.

For a global perspective, I follow the United Nations six monthly reports and updates and Human Rights Watch as well as a number of other sites listed on this website.

Sometimes, it is hard to stay positive and not be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the problem, but I always remind myself that making a difference in one person’s life can sometimes be enough.

Books of the year

I love this time of the year when you can sink into a good book. Depending on where you are in the world, you could be reading in your deck chair in the summer garden or snuggled up in your favourite chair by the fire. I’m really looking forward to taking a break from work and study and some guilt-free reading time

As the year comes to a close it can be a time for reflection, regardless of your culture or religion. I’ve been thinking about the many interesting and inspiring books I have read this year and wanted to give you some recommendations. It’s hard to pick the best but I have chosen two fiction and two non-fiction books for your summer/winter reading list or as a Christmas gift suggestion.


Shokoofeh Azar’s The Enlightenement of the Greengage Tree is an introduction to the wonderful world of magical realism and I highly recommend this for a different reading experience.

This year I re-read an old favourite and thought I would include it. Café Scheherazade by Arnold Zable traces the experience of Jewish survivors whose lives reflect the courage of refugees everywhere.   Arnold is one of my favourite authors – a master story teller.

Non- fiction

City Of Thorns by Ben Rawlence is my stand out book for the year.   It traces nine lives in the world’s largest refugee camp, Dadaab in Kenya. It is haunting and at the same time inspiring.   I was lucky enough to meet and interview Ben at this year’s Perth Writers Festival.

Not Quite Australian by Peter Mares is easy to read and informative at the same time.  I learnt so much from this book. Peter discusses how temporary migration is changing Australia. Did you know there are more than a million temporary migrants living in Australia today? Case studies, personal stories and supporting data are compelling in this book.

There are so many more books and I am sure you have your own favourites… I’d love to hear from you about your list. 

Season’s greetings to all and happy reading.

P.S. I am really looking forward to a new release called The Power of Good People – surviving Sri Lanka’s Civil War by Para Paheer with Alison Corke.



Human rights begin close to home

Eleanor Roosevelt HRD“Where after all do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world.”

Eleanor Roosevelt (pictured), chair of the drafting committee of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, said these words 70 years ago when the Declaration was launched. She went on to say unless these rights have meaning close to home they will have little meaning anywhere else.   This is surely something on which to reflect during International Human Rights Day on 10 December 2017.

This is a milestone document that proclaims the inalienable rights which everyone is entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property birth or other status. The United Nations General Assembly adopted the declaration in 1948. It is the most translated document in the world available in more than 500 languages. There’s more information on the United Nations website.

Wherever you are – there will be all sorts of events to recognise the day.   I’ll be attending a meeting at the Centre for Stories to discuss forming a Western Australian chapter of PEN, which is the worldwide association of writers that emphasises the role of literature in mutual understanding and world culture. PEN is also concerned with opposing restraints of freedom of expression and working to promote literacy itself.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights empowers us all and reminds us of what we all have in common – our humanity. The principles enshrined in the Declaration are as relevant today as they were in 1948. We need to stand up for our own rights and those of others.


UDHR Poster idea C2