Think of Australia and it usually conjures up images of kangaroos, koalas, white sandy beaches and maybe even Alf from 'Home and Away' shouting about those 'Flaming Galahs!'. You don't usually think of black people being a part of the whole Aussie 'thang' do you??
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Black aborigines …..maybe. But black people from elsewhere? What? You didn't know that there were Afro-Caribbean people in Australia? Well that is in fact where I grew up. Yes that's right I grew up in Sydney, Australia and I have lived there for most of my life.
So how does a family of Jamaican origin end up Down Under? And for over 20 years? Well let me tell you a little story ……..
It all started when my parents moved to Papua New Guinea just before I was born in 1979. For those of you who don't know, Papua New Guinea is located between the South Pacific Ocean and the Coral Sea, just off the North east coast of Australia.
They originally moved there to pursue work opportunities in Port Moresby, the country's capital, and it was here that life for Kamara began those many moons ago. I actually spent the first three years of my life there just taking advantage of this tropical paradise-climbing up coconut trees, fighting wild crocodiles, and going for long walks along the beach… I wish it could have been that adventurous! In fact I was just a regular child, except I had the beach as my backyard where I would play with my pet turtle (no really! What? Didn't everyone have one of those???). Unfortunately I don't remember much else about Papua New Guinea but I have been advised that I was such a cute and adorable child (well at least my mother says I was) and I always had things to do to keep me occupied.
In 1983 when I was three years old, my parents embarked on their long journey back to London and on the way they got a little side-tracked by Australia. They decided to make a 'quick' trip to Sydney, you know, just to 'see the sights'…. twenty years later we were still there 'seeing the sights'.
Growing up in Sydney was wonderful. Contrary to popular belief it isn't full of bleach blonde guys and gals who drink four X beer whilst throwing shrimps on the 'barbie' (err umm…barbeque). Sydney is in fact a very multicultural and cosmopolitan city and I feel very fortunate to have grown up in that environment as it allowed me to interact with children from many different nationalities. As a child I never thought that black was 'different' (ahhh the innocence of a child…) because as far as I was concerned everybody had there own unique flavour.
Even the pre-school that I attended was multicultural so as a result I was taught Arabic as a second language. When I was four years old whilst at a Lebanese restaurant, I impressed the waiter so much with my near fluency in his native language (I could at least say a few sentences!) that we received our meal for free!! Now that's the kinda service I'm talking about!!
At both my primary and high schools I was always the only black student (okay so maybe one of two…) however I did make friends with children from all different cultural backgrounds. Although my parents and school teachers taught me to be accepting of all people regardless of race, religion, or sexuality I was always happy when I met other black children as they had that extra little bit of "sumthin' sumthin'" that I could relate to. They could understand why our hair was the way it was, why our body was the shape that it was, why our parents said the things that they did and cooked the food that they did.
As Sydney had a relatively small West Indian community (compared to London at least) a number of us joined together to form a West Indian cultural group. That's right we weren't alone! We were regularly invited to perform Caribbean inspired songs and dances at cultural and community festivals throughout Sydney and Melbourne and even performed at the Sydney Opera House.
These were particularly memorable experiences for me as I was able to interact with other black folk, particularly the talented and intelligent young black women. It was during these years that I realised how right my mother was…that it was wonderful to be a black female.
Apart from my performing with the West Indian Association Cultural Group, as it was called, I had the opportunity to participate in numerous festivals with my high school and my dance school where I had had lessons in ballet, jazz, tap, and modern dance from the age of four. Thankfully my love for dance has never faded, even when I got distracted with all of my many 'other' interests such as violin lessons, netball, athletics, gymnastics, rowing, and even fencing! Yes, I did say fencing….... what can I say, I like to try a variety of things!
After completing high school in 1997, I took a year off before going to university, worked, saved some money, and went travelling…first stop New York City. I thought the whole 'Fame' experience seemed kinda cool and I was lucky enough to get a place in a short course at The Alvin Ailey Dance Centre, home to one of the greatest black dance companies of all time. I completed the short diploma course over a few months and felt really privileged to have had training at such an amazing school established by such a well renowned African American performer and choreographer. It was an inspirational experience to have been exposed to various forms of dance, which incorporated African dance styles with ballet and contemporary dance.
It was also great to be part of such a rich dance environment that opened many doors to black performers and provided them with the opportunity to pursue their dreams of dance.
It was during these travels that I truly began to appreciate the wealth of Black culture, Black arts, Black history and the diversity of Black people. I mean I was now seeing Black people everywhere that I went and this was in fact strange for me. It's funny because when I was in Sydney I always said hello to any Black folk that I passed in the street. It made me feel connected to them in a strange sort of way. Just that little acknowledgement always made me feel that I was in touch with the relatively few Afro-Caribbean people who lived in Sydney.
So when I arrived at JFK airport in New York City, where there were Black faces absolutely everywhere, I soon had to stop myself saying hello to just about everyone that I saw. I quickly realised that saying "hello" in New York wasn't appreciated as much as it was in Sydney. I had to give myself a warning: Do not make eye contact and say hello to every black person that you see, as they will assume that:
a) you want to chat them up,
b) you want to start a fight, or
c) you're crazy!
I swear I almost got beaten up! You have to be careful who you make eye contact with in New York City!!
In addition to New York I also travelled to Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, Paris and London. In London I was able to meet relatives that I previously didn't know existed and it was great to finally spend some time with this "extended family". I stayed in London for six months and realised that I loved being in an environment where there were a lot of people of Caribbean and African descent. I loved having relatives that I could spend time with because in Australia I didn't have any, other than my immediate family.
That trip really opened my eyes and made me aware that there was a lot about the world that I didn't previously know about. It was a really wonderful experience for me as an eighteen year-old travelling alone. My mother had greatly encouraged me to make the trip and fully supported the need for such a learning experience. Of course she had told me a lot about culture and ethnicity but undertaking the trip and living the experience was much more powerful than I had ever anticipated. It was this trip that helped to mould me into the person that I am today and I now have an even greater love for my culture and heritage. Nevertheless there is still so much more for me to learn about.
Although I am now completing a University degree in Tourism Management, I still have my passion for the performing arts and as a result now dance and sing professionally. Now the kinda dancing that I'm talking about is the commercial stuff, you know, think Janet Jackson, not to mention musical theatre, which is also a passion of mine but performances do come in all shapes and sizes.
Perhaps my "biggest" and most memorable performance so far would have to be when I danced in the Opening Ceremony for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Just think, 110 000 people watching you in the Olympic Stadium and 40 trillion on TV (okay so I rounded it up a little bit) who I'm sure were all screaming my name (they love me! they really really love me!) …well maybe not exactly but that was a lot of fun in any case.
Another "big" highlight for me was in 2001 when I was a resident dancer aboard a cruise ship, The P&O Pacific Sky. It meant taking a year out from my University course but it was definitely worth it. Along with 9 other dancers and singers, I performed musical theatre style shows for the 1500 on-board passengers whilst cruising around the South Pacific Ocean on a massive cruise ship. Everyday I would wake up in a new tropical setting with white sandy beaches and crystal clear water surrounding me. I didn't want to leave!!! So now that that's over I'm still dancing and singing away just waiting for JJ (you know, my buddy Janet Jackson) to call to let me know when she wants me to pop over (I wish!).
You might be wondering why I am actually in London right now. Well…..in July 2002 my family and I made the decision to move to London for a while. There are many opportunities that exist here, particularly for black people, that aren't as prevalent in Australia and I for one would like to take advantage of these opportunities. In addition, my two siblings have never lived outside of Australia and it is a good opportunity for them to learn about their culture and live in an environment where they are one of many, as I have been able to.
My family and I are treating our time in London as an adventure even though many people think we are crazy to have left Sydney, which is a really great city. Being here has been an incredible learning experience for all of us even though it certainly hasn't all been easy. In any case, we have decided to settle here for a little while. (Ha! And you thought you could get rid of me!!!).
I am pleased to say that I am still performing and take regular dance and singing classes knowing that something really fantastic is about to come my way. I continue to study for my degree in business and tourism management by correspondence from Australia (really hard work!!). On top of that I work part time and somehow manage to find the time to spend with my family and my newfound friends. Needless to say I'm kept fairly busy!
Now that I am actually living in London, I've had the opportunity to meet even more distant relatives and enjoy and participate in a range of cultural pursuits…art, dance, music and so many other different things. I have been granted this opportunity to participate in this commendable showcase of gifted young black men and women. It is a real thrill to be a part of this. It is very important for us to be proud of who we are, what we are and to not stand in any shadows or be doubtful of our own potential. Despite my move to London, I still love Sydney and I am grateful for the opportunities that I had when I was there. I only now appreciate how much I learned when I lived there. I have some really wonderful friends who I left behind, who are of different nationalities and diverse social backgrounds. They are broadminded people who would never judge you on your race, religion, or sexual preference. They have been able to educate me about their culture and heritage whilst I have been able to enlighten them about mine. "Shared knowledge…better understanding".
With this is mind, if I were President I would strongly promote tolerance in the world. Too many people suffer from 'hateration' where they have a dislike for people who display signs of ambition or success. Tolerance however does not mean that one should lose sight of their own heritage or cultural identity but should in fact use this knowledge to educate others. Unfortunately there will always be prejudice and ignorant people wherever you go but I would like to think that these numbers could be minimised by education, an awareness of the diversity of people in this world, and acknowledgement that there is room for people of all cultures, all colours and all creeds.
As I said before, shared knowledge…better understanding". A greater overall acceptance of one another might even ensure that more black people are recognised for their intelligence and beauty the world over and not just in small circles.
As part of this move towards "shared knowledge…better understanding" it would be a priority for people to acknowledge that everyone should have access to basic amenities such as fresh water, shelter, health care and education. In a lot of countries the needs of the few outweigh the needs of many. Therefore equal access would be the ultimate accomplishment.
Another goal I would aim to achieve if I were President would be to ensure that people are encouraged to pursue their passions and be supported in reaching their goals just in the same way that I am being encouraged and supported to reach mine.
To make this very long story short (too late for that!), my experiences have helped to shape the person that I have become and hopefully my new experiences will shape the person I will become. Nevertheless I now understand that it always comes back to, "shared knowledge…better understanding".