Multicultural NSW Award Past Winners

Year Winner Judges' comments
2013

Don’t Go Back to Where You Came From by Tim Soutphommasane

Tim Soutphommasane’s Don’t Go Back to Where You Came From is a timely and vital intervention in the discussion around multiculturalism in Australia. It makes no apology for its agenda; it is, as the introduction announces, ‘a defence of multiculturalism grounded in liberal political philosophy’. An Asian Australian academic who has become an erudite social and political commentator, Soutphommasane is amply qualified for the task. He shuns the scholarly treatise and, though impassioned about the vitality of Australian multiculturalism. His voice is lively but composed and lucid as he gives a comprehensive tour through his subject and mounts a compelling case for cultural diversity. He doesn’t gloss over difficult issues like migrants’ civil responsibilities, their right to retain their culture, or the conflict between liberalism and patriotism, but navigates them with panache and wisdom. 

In positioning Australian multiculturalism in the regional and global contexts, Soutphommasane not only showcases Australia as ‘an international exemplar’ but also reveals how transnational flows of people and ideas are rapidly changing what multiculturalism means. Don’t Go Back to Where You Came From is much more than a handbook to Australian multiculturalism. It is an honest, balanced enquiry, an engaged and enlightened survey of multiculturalism in practice.

In a time when multiculturalism is being put on trial in Europe, Soutphommasane creates a compelling case in its defence, a cogent argument for civic involvement in its continuing narrative. It is a book that will make those who embrace cultural plurality passively think deeply about the complexities and challenges of inter-ethnic and cross-cultural exchange, and persuade the sceptics and critics to take a second look. It is a must-read for all and merits a place in the school curriculum.

2012

Good Living Street: The Fortunes of My Viennese Family by Tim Bonyhady

This fine volume provides an account of the deeply troubled background to the departure of the Gallia family who, as members of the Jewish community, fled Vienna for Australia in 1938, following the German annexation of Austria. By chance, the removalists engaged by the Gallias started work a couple of days before Kristallnacht, and the family’s collection of art and design — said to be the finest to escape Nazi Austria — was successfully transferred to Australia.

In the first part of the book, Bonyhady traces the sombre history of anti-Semitism in Austria and the turbulent events that cause over 50,000 Jews to flee from Austria under the Nazis. In its latter half, the book sensitively portrays the experience of a family of World War II Jewish refugees immigrating to Australia and their adaptation to the new land.

This is a classic, landmark account of a very troubled historical background to a family’s arrival in Australia as refugees, and the many features and difficulties of adaptation and finding a place and a way to contribute to the new, free society in which it was fortunate to land. Many of the themes of the family’s experience in Australia – acceptance of overseas qualifications; identity in the new country; religious affiliation; the sense of belonging elsewhere and alienation in the adopted land; and the relationships between the different members and generations of the family – are splendidly covered by the author. Tim Bonyhady shows a special and rare facility to blend the historical record with literary perspectives of the consequences for families forced to flee to new societies under extremely traumatic international conditions.