Distinguished Sri Lankan Australians profiled by the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade … with photographs by Nathan Fulton of that institution
Peter Kuruvita: Chef, restaurateur and television host Peter Kuruvita’s career was forged in early childhood accompanying his grandmother to markets in Sri Lanka. Kuruvita would observe her devotion to preparing the family meal, while she explained the significance of each ingredient. After emigrating to Australia, Kuruvita’s father allowed him to leave school to follow his dream – on the condition that he pursue an apprenticeship. He has gone on to forge a career as a chef, restaurateur, author and host of his own television series. Kuruvita has worked to transform Australians’ perceptions of Sri Lanka by promoting Sri Lankan culinary traditions and heritage. Through his published works and television series, Kuruvita has played an important role introducing Sri Lankan culture to a wider audience.
Victor Melder; Researcher and historian– In nearly 50 years, Victor Melder, founder of the Sri Lanka library in Melbourne, has grown his collection of books on Sri Lanka from his first initial volume to over 5000 published works. Melder has been motivated to contribute to Australia’s multicultural society, providing a resource for Australians to expand their knowledge of Sri Lanka and the region. Melder is able to reflect with pride on his active role in developing the relationship between Australia and Sri Lanka and can personally attest to the transformation that has occurred since his first arriving in Australia.
Urfa Masood: Magistrate; Magistrate Urfa Masood developed a passion for the law early. Her dedication and desire to master her chosen field resulted in her appointment as the first female Muslim magistrate in Victoria in 2016. Her love of beautiful Sri Lankan cuisine and cricket remains strong, but no matter where in the world she finds herself, home is always Australia.
Michelle de Kretser: Award-winning author — Award-winning author Michelle de Kretser has keenly observed the changes occurring in Australian society since she and her family first emigrated in 1972. In those days, the influence of the recently abolished White Australia Policy could still be seen in the insularity of Australian society. The cultural and ethnic diversity that now forms such an integral part of Australian culture was not evident. As an author, de Kretser has been best positioned, or perhaps best able, to study these changes and their impact on people and culture. Her works, which benefit from the breadth of her reading, reflect the liberties and opportunities that life in Australia has afforded her.
Jitto Arulampalam; Executive and entrepreneur – Jitto Arulampalam, philanthropist and Executive Chairman of Lanka Graphite Limited and Chairman of TBG Diagnostics Limited, credits his Sri Lankan heritage with developing the resilience that would found his success. Arulampalam relocated to Australia with his family in 1985, arriving with only a suitcase after the family home and possessions were lost during the 1983 communal riots. Arulampalam takes pride in Australia’s cultural identity and its ‘fair go’ attitude. The spirit of multiculturalism that he encountered in the 1980s has endured and strengthened through greater exposure to different cultures and through increased interaction with international markets. Arulampalam’s own work in the areas of business and philanthropy have played no small role in developing the society in which he takes such pride.
Dr Sam Prince: Doctor, entrepreneur and philanthropist–Dr Sam Prince does not ascribe to the view that good luck forms the foundation of business success. The founder of the multi-million dollar enterprise ‘Zambreros’, restaurant ‘Méjico’, not for profit ‘One Disease’ and company ‘Life Letters’, accepts that chance and misfortune each play a role in shaping business success. However, Prince identifies an optimistic mindset, applied as a lens through which to take the measure of each opportunity and misfortune, as the key to entrepreneurial achievement. Prince’s approach reflects the influence of his mother, who joining a queue that had formed outside the Australian High Commission in Colombo, applied for, and was granted, a skilled migrant visa – apparently on a whim. Prince believes that Australia’s free society creates a greater obligation on its people to share the opportunities that it offers. This responsibility drives Prince to create opportunities and share the kindness that he believes laid the foundations for his businesses’ success.
Arun Abey: Executive, author and philanthropist–The wisdom that colours businessperson, author and philanthropist, Arun Abey’s business approach was forged as he moved between Sri Lanka and Australia in his youth. Displacement left a lasting legacy on Abey. He would recognise early that achieving financial security and a sense of place were not sufficient to ensuring a happy and meaningful life. Abey’s sense of the importance of harnessing financial gain to support emotional as well as financial wellbeing, has allowed his career to thrive. Exposure to Sri Lankan and Australian societies and observing Australia become more engaged with the region and the world, equipped Abey with important perspective that has been indispensable to his career and worldview. The founder of ipac and Walsh Bay Partners, continues to contribute his financial expertise to the benefit of many.
Upulie Divisekera: Molecular biologist–Upulie Divisekera decided to become a scientist early – at just seven years old. Taken under the wing of Professor Ponammperuma, the former director of NASA Ames, she was granted access, as a kid, to the Institute of Fundamental Studies in Sri Lanka. Divisekera would come to appreciate deeply the importance of making knowledge readily accessible. Her belief that science is for everyone has inspired Divisekera’s ventures in science communication, including as a radio and speaker at TEDx Talks. The molecular biologist credits features of Australia’s culture, like a sense of humour and persistence, with developing her ability to communicate and share science with the world.
Padmini Sebastian: Cultural and community leader–Manager of the acclaimed Immigration Museum, Padmini Sebastian ’s curiosity and interest in people can be traced back to her youth in Sri Lanka. Sebastian’s home by the Indian Ocean would welcome family and friends every Sunday to share stories and debate topics affecting the community. Sebastian describes this hospitality and interest in community as the essence of her Sri Lankan heritage. Her desire to contribute to, and celebrate Australian multiculturalism is the product of exposure to both cultures, and has found expression in Melbourne’s renowned Immigration Museum.
Professor the Hon. David de Kretser AC: Medical Researcher and former Governor of Victoria–Professor David de Kretser’s early understanding of the risks that his parents’ took in migrating to Australia, shaped his resolve to identify and strive for the opportunities that life in Australia would make available to him. Equipped with the sense he ought to provide ‘a return’ to his parents for the sacrifices they had made, de Kretser would build a successful career as medical doctor that would culminate in his appointment as Governor of Victoria from 7 April 2006 – 7 April 2011. De Kretser shares his achievements with his family and wife of five decades, Jan de Kretser. His hope is that the strength of Australia’s multiculturalism and spirit of opportunity will endure and continue to enable others to strive to achieve their potential.
Professor Siri Kannangara AM: Rheumatologists, sports medicine professor and teacher–Born with a passion for sport, Professor Siri Kannangara immigrated to Australia in 1977 with his wife and children, in the hope that he would find a safe environment in which to bring up his family. In addition to a home for his family, Kannangara would discover a nation with an enthusiasm for sport to match his own. In this context, and armed with a desire to unearth the opportunities that Australia had to offer, the Professor of Medicine’s career would flourish. To date, Kannangara has made a considerable contribution to Australian sporting history, serving as a physician and consultant to Australian Olympic teams and at World Cup events.
Dinesh Perera; Dancer and founder of Sankha Ridma Dance Ensemble-Dinesh Perera, founder of the Sankha Ridma Dance Ensemble, knows that a person’s heritage and culture are integral to their identity. Living in Australia, Perera’s enduring passion for Sri Lankan dance would imbibe him with a sense of duty to create a venue where members of the Sri Lankan diaspora could celebrate and engage with their heritage. The accomplished musician and artist believes that members of a diaspora community must be provided with the opportunity to engage with their cultural heritage in order to be able to thrive. Perera’s dance ensemble offers members of the diaspora this opportunity, and is a landmark of multicultural Australia.
Naomi Selvaratnam: Award-winning journalist–Award-winning journalist, Naomi Selvaratnam, credits her mother with developing her passion for human history and storytelling. During her childhood, Selvaratnam and her brother were encouraged to be proud of their Sri Lankan heritage, but also to recognise and learn about the value inherent in other cultures and histories. She believes that this trait: respect for Sri Lankan heritage combined with a willingness to embrace Australian culture and opportunities, is one of the greatest strengths of the Sri Lankan community. Through her work, Selvaratnam hopes to shed light on suffering or disadvantage where it occurs, and in doing so help to strengthen the fabric of the community.
Earlson Forbes: “The White Australia Policy, Ceylonese Burghers and Alice Nona,” 5 Septmebr 2012, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2012/09/05/the-white-australia-policy-ceylonese-burghers-and-alice-nona/