Who is an Australian?
HOW do we define ourselves as Australians? What makes you feel you belong in Australia? And who does not feel Australian?
These were three questions raised at a panel discussion in Lismore on Saturday.
The responses led to a larger discussion surrounding the past and future landscape of multiculturalism, equality, and inclusion in Australia.
Northern Rivers Peace Group Remembering and Healing hosted five panellists to speak about their personal experience living in Australia, as citizens but not of full British heritage.
A concerning and repeated theme during the talk were events of racism, disconnection and a lack of belonging experienced or observed by all panellists.
Panellist Edda Lampis was born and raised in inner Sydney by migrant Italian parents.
She has lived in Lismore for 21 years and said she has never really felt Australian, 'always an Italian Australian'.
"The Australian identity part has always been a very rocky place for me,” Ms Lampis said.
Ms Lampis said she felt being accepted into Australian culture was based on English literacy, the colour of your skin and assimilation into the Anglo way of life.
"My identity is based on my values, the values I have been raised with and the values I have been cultivating as a I grow. The values of compassion, equality, self reflection, self accountability and contribution to Lismore,” she said.
The other panellists shared their own stories, united by feeling sometimes confused when asked, 'What does it mean to be Australian?'
Head of the Northern Rivers Muslim Association Abdul Aziz who has lived in Australia since 2005 said he struggles to explain whether he is Australian or Pakistani.
"For the last 10 years I haven't been able to get anyone to define what the Australian way of life is. I'm happy to live that way.”
He spoke of the detrimental impact of racial profiling Muslims as terrorists in Australia.
"Even if we are not labelled in public, the majority of the public have this is in the back of their mind; that this guy with a beard, that is wearing a dress, has got some sort of association to terrorism.”
The audience asked the panel questions about tolerance and choice around identity that began a conversation around the way society, narratives and stories shape our perception of self.
Event organiser Sabina Baltruweit said these talks need be had throughout the country.
'Its a very important issue that needs to be addressed when a lot of people don't feel included and there is this 'us and them' mentality,” she said.
Although the panellists were challenged with a difficult and emotionally charged subject, it was apparent that all shared the vision of wanting to contribute and craft an Australian identity that they were proud of.
Whether it be current policies put forward by the government, the way Australia celebrates Anzac Day, or how we respond to events like the Christchurch massacre, everyone in the room appeared keen to take positive, progressive action to ensure that people in our country know what to say when someone asks 'What does it mean to be Australian?'.