3 October 2023

Australian of the Year award winner's cross-cultural message on referendum promotes unity, humanity

| Keeli Royle
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Man and woman with Yes sign in front of truck

Amar Singh and Jaymee Beveridge in front of the truck that has travelled the country for the Yes campaign. Photos: Keeli Royle.

A nationally recognised local hero has joined with people of all ages and backgrounds for an emotional cross-cultural conversation about the referendum in Wollongong after travelling 25,000 km around the country in support of the Yes campaign.

At the start of 2023, Amar Singh won the Australian of the Year Local Hero award for changing the lives of people in crisis through his humanitarian work with the charity Turbans4Australia, but his choice of accessory on the day would be a sign of another cause that would become close to his heart.

Not long before he was honoured, Amar spontaneously asked to borrow a friend’s scarf that was adorned with the Aboriginal flag.

“I worked with many communities through the bushfires, COVID and the floods and I said I want to take that to the stage,” Amar said.

“If I, that migrant that landed here 25 years ago, get to take that stage for this most prestigious award, I want to show my colours and what I support.”

But with his new-found prominence and a growing conversation around the referendum, a symbol of support was not enough for Amar.

“A part of me wanted to do something bigger, and being the year of the Voice I thought I can’t just sit here idle.”

READ ALSO Port Kembla pit stop rallies support for campaign to support the Voice vote

He travelled the country in his truck, visiting regional and multicultural communities to help promote and educate people about the Yes campaign.

“If we don’t do this now, it will never happen again, no government is going to put it on,” Amar said.

“Right now, what we are telling Indigenous people is that we are with you and we’re with you all the way.”

Amar’s mission, as is the mission of many in the campaign, was to combat misinformation and promote togetherness, but he was disappointed to see the choice of approach from the opposing campaign.

“I think for the No campaign, if they ran a sensible campaign, that would have been fine but it’s the below-the-belt stuff that people are going to take your house or kick you out of the country,” he said.

“And using our community, migrant communities, by saying we don’t have a voice. I do have a voice, look at me, I’m talking to you right now, we’re talking to all the ministers to represent issues when they come up in our community, so please don’t talk on behalf of us, we’re right to talk on our own.”

Now, after almost two months on the road, Amar stopped at the University of Wollongong to talk to volunteers and the community.

Woolyungah Indigenous Centre director and UOW vice-president of Indigenous strategy and engagement Jaymee Beveridge said the support and reinforcement of volunteers had been humbling.

“I think having Amar here is a true representation of the support that potentially hides in the shadows at other times but is more than happy to come out and stand beside us, walk in front of us if we need to, or behind us when times are calling on them to be wherever we need them to be,” Jaymee said.

“As an Aboriginal person, I’ve never felt so supported. I didn’t know that there was support in these pockets and places and it really has united our community.”

Amar joined dozens of others in a smoking ceremony followed by an open conversation about what the campaign meant to the individuals there.

“For me, having the volunteers here and having Amar here, it’s just a celebration of the work that can be done when people get together and have the same end goal,” Jaymee said.

“Allyship isn’t about culture, allyship is about being a kind, decent human regardless of where you are from.”

READ ALSO The Voice is a beginning for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

But despite the support from big names and their own volunteers, the local Yes campaign still has some challenges to overcome in the fortnight leading up to polling day and eliminating the fear factor.

“People aren’t going to lose out, we’re not after your kids or your land or compensation, we’re just here to have a voice in spaces that will impact us,” Amar said.

“They’ve welcomed us with open arms – look at what we’ve built.

“We’ve got places of worship from synagogues, to churches, temples and mosques – they have never kicked anyone out; in fact, we are the ones mistreating them.”

And they hope people will change their perspective to see this vote as a humanitarian issue rather than a political one.

“This is not about black and white or blue and purple or whatever the hell they’re saying,” Amar said.

“It is about us being humans, us recognising each other and coming together.”

Jaymee said: “History is going to change. There’s going to be a new chapter, so what do we want to be known for globally?”

The referendum will be held on 14 October.

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