My father used to be a teacher. He taught philosophy at a university in Sri Lanka. It was his dream job. He made friend with activists and students and loved being able to share his knowledge with them. Although he didn’t know it at the time, my father was being closely watched. The Vice Chancellor of his university compiled a list of Tamil academics he felt were behaving suspiciously and gave it to the authorities. My father’s everyday activities were observed and reported to the police. Ultimately, his association with Tamil students and activists made him a terror suspect. He was questioned on the notorious Fourth Floor of Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigation Department – reputedly a torture facility, with rumours of people falling from windows. Thankfully my father survived. That was thirty years ago.
Arriving in Australia
In 1987, my family and I fled Sri Lanka, leaving behind the arbitrary police searches and the fear. My earliest memories are of us being resettled in a generous neighbourhood. While others have been forced to come by boat or re-routed to offshore detention facilities, we were sponsored. Community-led, neighbourhood-driven solutions are how my family, and I escaped a life of persecution, cruel racism, and life-threatening situations. As a four-year-old, I remember the gifts we received from church groups at our home in Mount Waverley, such as beds, a TV, and even the food we ate. The house we were renting was a social housing property managed by the Council and a church. We later bought it, and it’s still home today.
Over the last fifteen years I have been dedicated to building more inclusive and welcoming neighbourhoods, schools and workplaces. Today I am a Commissioner for the Victorian Multicultural Commission, and Deputy Chairperson of the Migrant Workers Centre.
I have also worked for Oxfam Australia, National Heart Foundation, Amnesty International and the Red Cross. And been an advisor to State and Territory members of parliament (including members of Cabinet). My appointments have also included sessional teaching at Charles Darwin, Monash, UNSW and Deakin universities. I am an accredited Mental Health First Aid trainer and have worked as a mental health support worker with migrant, refugee and first nations communities.