“Hellenism is a great survivor,” says Paula Masselos

Paula Masselos has worked in social policy across community, government and corporate sectors of Australia.

Ms Masselos has made many trips to Kythera, in Greece, where her parents are both from, describing it as a “beautiful, beautiful place”. However it was only on her most recent travels there that she really connected to her past.

So this idea that culture is learnt is true only to a point, to me it was almost like Hellenism is like a genetic thing, it was imprinted at that very genetic level -Paula Masselos

“It really confirmed my Hellenism but it also confirmed my Australian sense as well, that I was continuing the journey and that my family was now having roots here too,” she told Neos Kosmos.

While named after her father’s mother, Ms Masselos never had the chance to meet her grandmother who died in her 50s.

“It was quite fascinating, the last time I went to Kythera I got to speak to a lot of the old guys, the 85-year-olds and 90-year-olds, who knew my grandmother,” Ms Masselos said.

“I never knew my paternal namesake, so it was quite an amazing experience to get to know her through the first person stories and understand what an extraordinary woman she was.”

Ms Masselos described the trip as a powerful experience, saying in that instant she experienced an instant understanding of the purpose of her life, which was to extend the line.

Now she could see herself in her grandmother and understand that she was actually continuing the line not only in the name but in the sense and the feeling and experience.

“It also gave me a sense of belonging and a sense of place that I don’t experience here in the same way, even though I’m Australian born. So this idea that culture is learnt is true only to a point, to me it was almost like Hellenism is like a genetic thing, it was imprinted at that very genetic level.”

Ms Masselos says she thinks it is possible to maintain connections to both Australia and Greece. “I think Hellenism is a great survivor, it’s a culture that does well in the diaspora and it’s a bit like there is the core, the essence that’s there allowing you to attach to your new host culture but also allows you to take the best of both,” she said.

Ms Masselos, is currently a director at Cultural Partners Australia, where she works in multicultural communications developing strategic social policy campaigns to inform and educate multicultural Australia.

“It’s quite an honour to be able to work with our young people in our diverse Australia to help them understand what it means to be a person of cultural and diverse background in the Australian context,” she said.

Ms Masselos says the strength of hybridity and multiculturalism in Australia comes from the benefit of being in a western liberal democracy while also being able to embrace a different heritage.

“Being a Greek I think there is a thing of a ‘Greek Australian identity’ that has been allowed to flourish because Australia is a liberal democracy that is tolerant and allows diversity to grow,” she said.

Ms Masselos is quick to point out that maintaining cultural diversity is an ongoing process. “That’s not to say we don’t have to be vigilant, I think we do, and the work we do at Cultural Partners is important for helping keep that hybridity and strength and helping people understand,” she said.

Ms Masselos said she thinks there is still a long way to go for Australian companies to really understand how important it is to reflect multicultural values.

“When budgets are tight this is an area that goes quickly, the marketing budget gets cut, this gets cut, I still don’t think there is enough money allocated to this segment even though 40 per cent of the Australian population is migrants and their children.”

She said slowly Australia was seeing more and more people of non-Anglo backgrounds in higher management roles within the corporate sector.

“The question is how people identify and give expression to that and in my experience it’s people have varying degrees of how that’s expressed and whether it’s expressed in the work context or not… just because you come from a different background doesn’t mean the diversity mindset is something you’re aware of or understand.”

Now in her 50s, Ms Masselos has had many career changes, from starting out as a social worker for the Greek community in Brisbane, to working in social policy for the NSW and federal government, the human rights commission, the department of immigration, community relations commission, SBS radio, and for the corporate sectors in advertising and media.

“I’m now in my 50s and I’ve never been healthier and more engaged and I think as a woman in this sector it’s challenging and interesting and I think we’ve got a long way to go and make lots of contributions,” she said.

Ms Masselos says that regardless of the role or sector she has worked in, she always maintains the same philosophical framework. “

You come at it from a particular philosophical context and for me it is about a social policy, about how I contribute to civil society and the work that I do in whatever sphere.”

Ms Masselos said she thinks Australia has progressed in its diversity and acceptance of multiculturalism.

“I think Australia has come a long way, I look at my son who is in year 12 now and he’s at a school where there’s a significant diverse mix and for a lot of schools now it’s just part of the environment you’re in, you are exposed to a lot more cultures and you get to know people at that human level,” she said.

The country’s leaders and the media still play a significant role in ensuring the right messages are expressed to the public, Ms Masselos says, adding that some media stories don’t really reflect the general attitudes of Australians.

“I think most Australians aren’t racist and I think most Australians do abide by the philosophy of the ‘fair go’ and are tolerant and I think that that’s reflected generally,” she said.

“We do have to be vigilant and assure that sorts of attitudes don’t get a foothold because it’s easy enough to make people frightened of the different if it’s not understood and if it’s misrepresented,” Ms Masselos said.