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candleLast night, the soul of Australia lit up with thousands of candles across the nation as part of “Light the Dark.”

People gathered in major cities, small towns, streets and homes to honour Reza Berati, a 23-year-old Iranian asylum seeker who died during violent clashes on Manus Island under the care of the Australian government.

Last night’s photos of solidarity and love by Australians of all shades has restored my faith in humanity and our fate as a country. This is the heart of Australia, we beat with compassion and empathy and are not a reflection of our government’s cruel policies, nor will we be shadowed by their silence.

We will speak out, reach out, unite to restore mateship, a fair go, tolerance, qualities that built this country.

RIP Reza Berati, your light is a beacon that is leading the way to change.

When Mum was seven months pregnant with me, soldiers flooded the streets of Turkey.

It was 1980, and the streets were a mess of protestors.

Turkey was burning.

Leftists and nationalists fought for their ideologies, tried to shape Turkey with the hands of youth. The military intervened and overthrew the government and ruled for three years.

The 1980 military coup had devastating consequences.

650,000 people were taken into custody and 230,000 people were put on trial. 517 people received the death penalty and 50 people were hanged. 4,000 years of prison time was requested for 400 journalists while 31 journalists were jailed. Newspapers couldn’t print for 300 days and 39 tons of newspapers and periodicals were destroyed. (http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/1980-coup-facts.aspx?pageID=238&nid=17628)

I’ve seen the fire and destruction recreated in many Turkish serials. Mum would often cry for the loss of lives, the loss of freedom, the brutality. I’d watch stunned as the country of my birth burned.

Today, the flames of history have reached the present.

This time, though, Turkish people with many ideologies are standing together to fight for the most important virtue of all: freedom.

They fight for a patch of grass that will grow with their hopes of a democratic country. They fight to preserve Ataturk’s legacy of a modern, secular society. They fight for the freedom to wear the lipstick colour of their choice, to have alcohol if and when they choose, to raise their voice on any topic, to be able to peacefully protest the demolition of a park without being gassed by the very government that’s meant to serve and protect.

The same government that is silencing democracy by censoring the Turkish media. While the media has no voice, the public have raised theirs to resonate all over the world. The protests and police brutality are documented on mobile phones and flooding social media sites, spreading the word and their truth.

A truth that was Ataturk’s legacy.

In 1927, in his speech to Turkish youth, Ataturk entrusted the Turkish independence and the Republic of Turkey in their hands. “You, the future sons and daughters of Turkey!” he said. “Even under such circumstances and conditions, your duty is to redeem the Turkish independence and the Republic! The strength you shall need exists in the noble blood flowing through your veins.”

A legacy that can’t be tear-gassed, censored or contained.

Imagine a face with different shades of skin. With wide, narrow, soft, hard, wrinkly features. Imagine a broken, refined, guttural voice that speaks in slang or another language.

Yes we are many, but how are we one?

What makes us Australian?

I want to capture the voices of our nation, the nitty gritty, the polished, the broken, the loud, the proud, the silent. I want to rummage through the cracks in our society to see what makes us stick.

While multiculturalism is the heart of our nation, ignorance is our downfall. We need to communicate without the help of sensationalist media or the labels that pepper our society. Only then can we integrate. It’s time to break the silence, to write these stories, capture the faces, to bridge the gap and see what an Australian looks like.

It’s time to find a collective identity beyond hot pies and footy.

Who knows, maybe our difference is the very thing that binds us.

I’m going to find out.

Who’s with me?

Two weeks ago, the Northcote Town Hall was buzzing with another energetic performance by the Anti Racism Action Band (A.R.A.B) who hip hopped, sang, belly danced, rocked and Krumped their way through their latest production Conjure. The story was about a brave young writer from the ‘burbs’ who’s chasing a dream that’s not restricted by her past, her family or cultural comfort zone and follows her desperate attempts to please a demanding publisher. It opens with a young boy, Habs, who owns ‘Hab’s Kebabs’ a small, popular stand in the North. He is the boy next door, the one you pass at train stations with the loud wog accent and gold chains and quickly look the other way, the one you write off because of his Broady slang or his background which suggests his dreams can only reach as far as kebab stands or take away shops. But that night, the Northcote Town Hall was the writer’s imagination and her stories starred kids like Habs who did not disappear in the backdrop of society but raised their voices and conjured bold futures beyond the suffocating mould of their stereotypes. The publisher was going insane demanding “more Neighbours,” not Bollywood, not Broadmeadows, not reality. More fake backdrops, sterile characters, whiter streets. After all, who wants to read or watch a reality cluttered with migrant kids caught between two worlds, who are daring to believe in another future? These stories have always been reserved for budget productions, not for the big screen. Not anymore. As I watched the A.R.A.B kids act, dance, sing, and believe, I saw passion. These kids are no longer settling for “someone else’s kebab”. So line them up, Habs. We’ll risk the onion breath, the heartburn. Give us kebabs with the lot!

Selecting sessions from the Melbourne Writers Festival program guide is like a lucky dip. This year I picked no duds. One session that stood out was Our Restless Life with John Carroll and Brigid Delaney. John thought distractions pushed us away from ourselves (I couldn’t agree with him more) and touched on the Ancient Greek theory of achieving beautiful rhythms; normal acts carried out in every day life that make us transcend and quell restlessness. Brigid spoke of excessive choices that make us want to belong everywhere and as a consequence we belong nowhere. As I listened and scribbled illegibly on my notepad, I couldn’t help but feel restless. Yes, having too many choices can make us stray from the important things in life, but what about connection? Isn’t it possible that for some people this restlessness may stem from a faulty connection to Australia? No? Well how about our lack of national identity? I posed the theory to our panellists at the end of the session. Yep, with trembling nerves and an intro that may have been a tad too long, I put it out there. Multiculturalism is the strength of our country but I think it’s the very thing that divides us. Because of this diversity we struggle to find common ground. Our panellists didn’t agree but I stand by my words. We’ve lost our respect and tolerance for diversity and therefore can’t move forward to establish a common identity. We have labels instead. When we go overseas we are Aussies no questions asked. When we come back home we are wogs, Anglos, Italians, Turks, Lebos, Greeks, black, brown, yellow, white, Christian, Orthodox, Muslim. What if this hostility and division, this sense of not being welcome here that generations of migrants have experienced has reflected on their children and the current generation struggle to find a place? Or is it simply a case of not being able to find our identity on a land that was not ours to begin with?

Being an Australian is more than draping the Aussie flag, uniting at the MCG, the tennis, at a time of national crises. An Australian isn’t blonde haired, blue eyed. Australians have broken English. Some have none at all. They eat rice for breakfast, kebabs for lunch. They wear a cross, a head scarf, come in different shades. It’s time we reshaped the jigsaw of our society so the pieces fit.