On a rainy day in January 1975, a little over a year before I was born, my dad walked four and a half miles along King Georges Road in Sydney to apply for a job as a motor mechanic.
A bloke at the CES in Hurstville said there was a job going at a service station workshop in Wiley Park.
So my dad, on his second day in Australia, set about finding work.
Dad had come first in the state in his trade qualification back in India and having just married my mum, he was ready to work hard to start his life in his adopted homeland.
He need not have bothered.
On first glance the owner of the service station told him he couldn’t have the job because he “didn’t have his own tools.”
The workshop was already well stocked with tools - but that was that.
In 1975, Mum and Dad were pretty much the only brown people in Mortdale.
You went to the RSL for Chinese, and curries came out of a tin of Keen’s curry powder.
Times have certainly changed.
Fast forward 40 years and Mortdale, along with the rest of the seat of Banks, is among the most culturally diverse areas in Australia.
But we have failed to make the most of the opportunities our cultural diversity presents – and in this instance there are lessons to learn from Australian chefs who have taught us to embrace the flavours and tastes of other cultures over the past few decades.
Modern Australian chefs don’t just tolerate difference – they learn from it to produce something unique and wonderful.
As I spend time campaigning in Banks, it is clear to me that we can learn from this approach.
On one hand, I get to see our community for all of its diverse beauty, but on the other hand I see the untapped potential that could be unlocked if we move beyond ‘tolerance’ and ‘harmony’ to instead leverage the strength of our many cultures.
Food festivals are great, but there is so much more we can do.
We can teach our children diversity through language.
Making language lessons in schools a priority would strengthen our understanding and connection with other cultures and improve learning across the board.
Australians who speak Mandarin should not be a curiosity — it should be commonplace, as should fluency in a whole host of other languages.
We should also promote cross cultural networking in the business community.
Language can be a barrier to cross cultural connection in business, but is easily overcome with a modest amount of effort.
This networking could open up business opportunities and create spaces for more shared problem solving and knowledge exchange.
Curiosity and a desire for creative problem solving are at the heart of innovation.
Innovation is driven by a willingness to draw from many ideas and traditions – no tax incentive can substitute for a good new idea.
Perhaps most importantly, we can do more to tell the full Australian story.
Australia is no longer a place of dusty outback roads and meatloaf with a side of mixed veg and Gravox.
Australia’s story is rich, diverse and interesting, but all too often many of its characters are either missing or drawn in caricature.
If we are to succeed on the world stage, we must embrace our diversity as a strength.
Just like our top chefs, we can use our cultural diversity to produce something unique, wonderful and distinctly Australian.