Drop-kicking Stereotypes: Growing up Muslim in Australia

For someone with boundless talent, a unique world view and a spirit worth bottling, you have to admire Tasneem Chopra, with the world at her feet, for keeping it real and for fighting the good fight so close to home.

Culture, race and identity are the mainstay of her cross cultural consultancy which she now runs full time in Melbourne, helping people from all walks of life to possess their own narrative and to share it with others to help individuals and society as a whole. Smashing stereotypes is a daily hobby.

“A healthy understanding of who we are, without telling other people who they are is what my work is all about,” Tasneem said.

“’My fusion of Indian heritage, African birth and Australian upbringing puts me in a unique position to understand the importance of tolerance within communities and anything I can do to facilitate better understanding between people is a worthwhile and fulfilling pursuit,” she said.

You may already be familiar with Tasneem’s work through mainstream media, especially of late in relation to the proposed Bendigo mosque.

Happily, Tasneem says that the “No Mosque in Bendigo” campaign, fails to resonate with the spirit of her neighbours, friends and the community leaders she grew up with.

This includes her years at Girton Grammar where she credits Mr Jackson with sparking her interest in English and Mrs Jenkins in Year 11 and 12 for an enthusiasm for English expression that was infectious.

“Mr Jackson made English boundlessly fascinating and Mrs Jenkins’ personal encouragement bolstered my efforts and influenced my interest in reading and writing enormously,” she said.

Some of this enthusiasm must have rubbed off because Tasneem is now an author, activist and consultant with a Bachelor’s degree and a Masters in International Development.

She has spent 20 years based in Melbourne in the welfare sector specialising in community development and sits on numerous boards including Global Reconciliation, Possible Dreams International and is Chair of the Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights.

Following a few years of work for a Federal MP, Tasneem started her Cross Cultural Consultancy (see www.tasneem.com.au), taking on project work across the country, that touches on issues of diversity, racism and the arts.

From engaging on identity issues, workshops, public speaking and facilitating events to holding exhibitions, running events and project management, Tasneem’s work is well documented in a range of media and other outlets including SBS’s Insight, TEDx Melbourne, the Age, ABC’s Q and A, The Guardian, The Herald Sun, International Women’s Day and Radio Australia, to name a few.

“My freelance project work is varied and I enjoy that aspect immensely. It has availed me to a number of opportunities in the creative arts, multiculturalism, the media and the development sector.

“Social justice issues permeate all levels of society so my work has me side by side with all types of people from Supreme Court Judges to kindergarten teachers.

“For someone who thought they might end up opening a plush little psychologist’s practice in Manhattan, I am a far cry from where I thought I would end up when I graduated from Girton.

“My Bendigo roots are crucial to the life that I now lead.

“They grounded me. My school memories are positive and so the association at large is a positive one.

“From the classroom to the playground, to my neighbourhood – my experiences and friendships influenced the person I grew to become.

“I always had an adventurous spirit and great imagination, and I believe my environment spurred that along in many ways,” she said.

With an older sister in Sri Lanka and a younger sister in the UK, Tasneem has done extensive travel through Asia, Europe and East Africa. She also travels around Australia with her consultancy work and has three children – two girls and a boy aged 19, 15 and 12.

Tasneem lives in Melbourne and acknowledges her Girton music teacher, Miss Somerville, for her love of karaoke!

To find out more about Tasneem’s formative experiences in Bendigo as a teenager with reflections about school and community life, you can read the recently published book, “Coming of Age: Growing up Muslim in Australia” (Allen & Unwin). Tasneem is the author of the chapter “How I Happened”, or go to www.tasneem.com.au.

Tasneem head and shoulder