PEOPLE

Against all odds: how Filipino migrants are reshaping the Australian landscape

Michelle Baltazar

There’s a story that needs to be told about Filipino-Australians and you won’t see them on the pages of the Sydney Morning Herald or The Australian.

It’s not because their stories aren’t news-worthy, it’s just that the Filipino-Australian community is just a fraction of those newspapers’ readership base.

But within this small cross-section of the society lies a rich and diverse pool of individuals who have excelled in their chosen career, passion and civic work.

Among them are John Rivas, who this year was awarded the Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his significant service to the Philippine community of the Northern Territory; Lolita Farmer, a human rights lawyer who was the first Filipino to receive a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) back in 1981 in recognition of her service to migrant welfare; and Deborah Wall, also an OAM recipient and best known for her work on reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians (though she was acknowledged for her service to the community in the areas of social justice, reconciliation and multiculturalism).

And in the Filipino heartland in Sydney, Julie Nunez received an OAM for her service to the Filipino community in Blacktown.

The shortlist is statewide: Dante Juanta of South Australia (one of the first OAM awardees), Orly Vargas of Queensland and Manny Castillo of NSW.


Underneath the national accolades for these three outstanding individuals are stories of sacrifice, determination and hard work. They are among those who will be recognised in the inaugural Community Builders Awards, which will be held in Sydney next month (see details below).

The Community Builders Awards started off in Canada but will build new roots in Australia through Adhika, Inc., a non-profit organisation made up of members of the Filipino-Australian community media. 

“We recognise that the trailblazers in our community are probably running out of cabinet space to keep their trophies and awards, but levity aside, we believe their achievements are still relatively poorly-documented and need re-telling for the next generation of Filo-Aussies,” said Josie Musa, overall coordinator of Adhika.

Centering on the media theme, the event will feature video interviews with some of the awardees as well as a special magazine featuring all 20 “community builders” in the fields of education, law, medicine, among others.

A post-humous award will also be dedicated to award-winning illustrator and multimedia artist Edd Aragon, who passed away late last year. 

“Edd was a beloved member of the community and his artistic talents were world-class. There are no awards body that have recognised his work, which again reinforces the need to have CommunityBuilders to fill that gap,” said Musa. As part of the post-humous award, Adhika will be making a donation to an art project in the Philippines on Aragon’s behalf.

Guests include members of the Philippine Consulate, the Philippine Embassy, and several representatives from state and federal government.

Community Builders Awards 2016

“It will be a night to remember. And for those who don’t know these “community builders” in our midst, it will also be a chance to meet them face-to-face and swap stories,” said Musa.

The awards night will coincide with the celebration of the 70th year of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Australia. Event proceeds will go to Adhika’s charity works including book donations to a school library and funds to disaster-prone areas in the Philippines.

Tickets are only $70 per person and includes dinner and drinks, with entertainment, on Sunday, 13th of March, at Dooley’s Catholic Club in Lidcombe. Tickets through adhikaapp@gmail.com or 0412 906 224.

Disclosure: Michelle Baltazar is part of the organising committee of Adhika, Inc.

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