The Victorian Multicultural Commission (VMC) celebrated this week the formation of a promising five-member body, tasked with the mission of championing multiculturalism and its benefits, while countering negative stereotypes.

With support from the Victorian Government, the inaugural Multicultural Ambassadors Program brings to life one of the commitments outlined in its Multicultural Policy Statement for 2017, in a bid to improve social cohesion and support our diverse communities in celebrating and sharing their culture with pride and respect.

Our newly-appointed Ambassadors for Multiculturalism made their first joint appearance at a special event hosted at Melbourne Museum last Tuesday, where attendees had the opportunity to hear their personal stories of how diversity shaped their lives, learn about the drivers behind their decision to join the program and what they hope to achieve.

One of them was actress Olympia Valance, best know today for her role as Paige Smith in the soap opera Neighbours. Within the Greek Australian community however, Olympia’s past also bears a special significance as she happens to be the granddaughter of Neos Kosmos founder, Dimitri Gogos.

“I’m very proud of my Greek and Serbian heritage, while I’ve always felt safe to be able to celebrate where I come from, which I think is something everyone deserves to feel. So, it’s nice to be able to use my voice and platform to share my story and get people to talk about their stories, just starting the conversation again,” Ms Valance said during the event.

Olympia Valance. Photo: AAP Image/Julian Smith

The proposal to become a Multicultural Ambassador was also met with enthusiasm by AFLW star and league-leading goalkeeper Darcy Vescio, successful corporate personality and NBL chairperson Larry Kestelman, Victorian chef, restaurateur and media personality Karen Martini, and AFL premiership star, Jack Riewoldt, who was unable to attend the event.

The VMC Chairperson Helen Kapalos introduced the ambassadors to the audience and coordinated the panel discussion, while Minister for Multicultural Affairs Robin Scott was also a key speaker.

In her introductory remarks, Ms Kapalos stressed how Multicultural Ambassadors can act as change agents, shining a light on the positive contribution diversity has made in Australian society, “because they all bring with them a personal story of how multiculturalism has played out in their lives and impacted their lives”.

Thanking the delegation members for standing up to share these stories, Mr Scott spoke about how their lived experience encapsulates the trajectory of diversity and multiculturalism in the country and how promoting these stories helps strengthen bonds in our community and fight prejudice against people with different religion, language and culture.

Celebrating this spirit of diversity and inclusion is a foremost consideration for Ms Valance in her new role.

“Without the myriad of backgrounds and cultures and ethnicities, we wouldn’t have all this beautiful food and music and festivals that multiculturalism opens us up to.
“After all, that’s what makes Victoria what it is and it wouldn’t be one of the most liveable places in the world if it wasn’t for its beautiful mix of people,” Ms Valance said during the panel discussion.

Helen Kapalos addressing the panel.

In the same vein, 25-year-old Darcy Vescio explained how sports can be a great driver for young people to focus on things they share and stated she is determined to help promote a sense of pride in multiculturalism, wanting people to see each other for who they are, instead of where they come from.

Karen Martini brought to the fore the irrational face of racism, describing incidents where people who had experienced discrimination in the past often become the perpetrators years later, while Larry Kestelman focused on the positive impact of immigration on business and economic development.

“If you don’t have diversity in your workplace, then you’re probably missing out on a great opportunity,” he said.

Born in Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union, he migrated to Australia at the age of 12, before moving initially to Italy with his parents.

In sharing a glimpse of his story during the event, Mr. Kestelman made a funny yet emotional comment about the stigma of being called a ‘wog’ back then.

“I’m a proud wog,” he then exclaimed and the same statement was echoed by his fellow ambassadors.

The event was the first time the members of the delegation met each other, but it seems they are more than ready to work together for their special mission: promoting Australian multiculturalism, the element that makes this country so unique.