Listen for the diversity

After completing a Bachelor of Arts (Psychology) at the University of Newcastle in 1992 and then postgraduate studies in Communications and Media at the University of Technology, Sydney, in 1995, Helen Kapalos continued on to an impressive career in broadcast journalism.

Among her many achievements are directing, producing, researching and writing the feature-length documentary A Life of its Own, detailing the medicinal cannabis debate in Australia. She achieved significant success in hosting Victoria’s flagship multicultural festival Cultural Diversity Week, attracting record crowds, and achieved great success from 2015 to 2019 in her term as Victoria’s multicultural commissioner.

What Catholic school/s did you attend?
St Columba’s Primary School at Adamstown, St Pius X High School, Adamstown, and St Francis Xavier’s, Hamilton.

Why did your parents choose a Catholic education?
My mother held deeply religious beliefs. She would often translate sections of the Bible in a manner that connected me to stories and people. It also connected me to a spiritual identity I could make sense of.

What is your fondest memory from your schooling years?
I loved playing guitar during the folk mass when I was at St Columba’s. I remember singing and togetherness in the playground where imagination thrived. I also remember some great teachers who had a huge impact on me and encouraged my writing and creativity.

What has been your greatest or most satisfying career achievement to date?
Most definitely writing, producing and directing my documentary on medicinal cannabis, A Life of its Own, in 2015. It had a very strong Newcastle connection in terms of musical score and production expertise from my former boss at NBN Television.

From 2015 to 2019 you were chairperson of the Victorian Multicultural Commission. What did your role involve?
The commission was established as an independent statutory authority and the main link between multicultural communities and government. The primary purpose of my role was to investigate and research issues impacting CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse communities), and to promote inclusion and belonging in diverse communities across Victoria.

As we prepare as a nation to celebrate Harmony Day, what advice would you have for people seeking to be more inclusive?
I remember reading a quote once that really resonated … that “it’s important to remember that people not like us are in fact people, just like us” (Rabbi Jonathan Sacks). Maya Angelou, the famous civil rights advocate said, “we are more alike, than unalike”.

If each of us acknowledged that we can play a part through our individual actions to accept others, and not be predisposed to an affinity bias – where we only identify strongly with those who look like us and have the same background us as – then the shift in attitude of the individual contributes in a meaningful way to create social cohesion and social capital.

What are some of the key challenges ahead of us becoming a genuinely inclusive society?
The rise in individualism, and a resurgence of ethnic and cultural nationalism, which have reignited tensions and negative attitudes towards migration. It has been a disturbing trend, but I also believe it has been a tipping point for change, where we prize community harmony and see we all have an important part to play in achieving that.

What advice would you offer leaders striving to be more inclusive?
Be an active listener. Take time to get to know people from different cultures and backgrounds, surrender judgment and embrace diversity as a societal asset. Humanity means we are all in this together – it’s our shared identity. It’s so enriching to think of inclusion this way. I think most people are looking for real and meaningful connections in the world. Early in my journalism career I witnessed that humanity always triumphed in the most testing of circumstances.

What tips do you have for all of us on embracing diversity?
Viewing our identity as a richly diverse nation, where we acknowledge migration has been an important chapter of our nation-building history. Diversity adds value to society and is an asset. We need to remember that.


Follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Brittany Gonzalez Image
Brittany Gonzalez

Brittany Gonzalez is a Marketing and Communications Co-ordinator for Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

Other Aurora Issues