By Hope Dolino
On 21 January 2016, the Australia Day Council announced Gary Lee as New Australian of the Year for 2016. A former international student from Malaysia, Gary is an exceptional leader among international students for more than 15 years.
As the Founder of PoisE’n and PoisE’n Bollypop, Gary uses dance as a platform to engage with new migrants, particularly international students and has been doing so for more than a decade. It is also through dance that he connects international students with his other passions including cultural diversity, events and empowering disadvantaged communities.
Bollywood dancing and Philippines connection
Gary Lee is a long-time advocate for the Australian-Filipino community. In 2013, Gary and a cast of over 40 performers and friends put on a concert that raised over $5355 for the Entertainment Extravaganza to support victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Funds were used to support ‘So You Think You Can Dance 2008’ Demi Sorono’s on the ground relief work including clean-up and rebuilding of homes in Cebu.
In 2015, Gary, as part of his role as Managing Director with E&E Events Management, crowned Eva Giollo as Miss Latina Australia. Born in Australia, Eva’s father is Argentinian and her mother is Filipino from Pasay City, and she represented Australia in Mexico.
Hope Dolino from Davao City is currently doing her Masters in Social Work at Monash University and has worked alongside Gary in many capacities. She is also part of PoisE’n Bollypop. “I feel very privileged to be working alongside Gary in many of his projects. He is someone I look highly upon because of his attitude towards work and life. I appreciate his giving nature and bringing out the best in people”.
Both Hope and Gary work with Melba Marginson, Executive Director of the Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Coalition in supporting international students, migrants and refugee women through the annual MOSAIC Festival, a vibrant multicultural marketplace celebrating women from all over the world through arts and music events. Ms Marginson, of Filipino background is a mentor to Gary and Hope with her years of experience in the area of multicultural affairs.
The three were involved in the wonderful work of Demi Sorono and her one woman show ‘A Touch of Grace: Shadow Warrior’, produced by Phunktional Limited. Showcasing the diverse talents of Demi, Australia’s best female hip-hop dancer, the show follows her story of hardship as she moves to Australia with her family from the Philippines.
“People who have worked with him describe him as the glue between communities, and bringing together communities that don’t traditionally meet – such as between refugees and international students,” said Wesa Chau, Chair of the New Australian of the Year selection panel.
The New Australian of the Year is an award introduced by the Australia Day Council for the first time in 2014, sponsored by Clark Rubber, to recognise the contributions of migrants and refugees in Australia. The award is open to any new Australian who excels in academia, business, sports, community, among other fields.
Gary’s acceptance speech:
This article was first published in the January 2016 edition of The Philippine Times.