Voice of Real Australia: My word, mind your language

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from Australian Community Media, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend. Today's newsletter is written by Australian Community Media journalist Jodie Bruton from The Border Mail.

The power of words cannot be under-estimated.

The power of words cannot be under-estimated.

As a boy, Kon Karapanagiotidis learnt the hard way that words can make or break us.

Growing up at picture-perfect Mount Beauty in north-eastern Victoria during the 1970s, the self-confessed Greek misfit was the subject of schoolyard taunts and racist insults.

"Mr Alphabet" and "dirty wog" were commonplace; even somewhat mild compared to the worst slurs.

Full of self-loathing as a teenager, Albury-born Karapanagiotidis found solace in books in the refuge of his school library.

Martin Luther King Jr (Strength To Love) proved life-changing for Karapanagiotidis, who channeled his hurt and shame into compassion and community work.

By 18, he was already helping out at a shelter for homeless men.

With six degrees under his belt, Karapanagiotidis founded the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne in 2001. It's now Australia's largest independent human rights organisation for refugees and people seeking asylum.

POWER PLAY: Kon Karapanagiotidis says his memoir The Power of Hope explains how he prevailed over a childhood of racism, bullying and isolation.

POWER PLAY: Kon Karapanagiotidis says his memoir The Power of Hope explains how he prevailed over a childhood of racism, bullying and isolation.

Karapanagiotidis has been in Wodonga talking about his memoir, The Power of Hope, which recounts how he prevailed over a childhood of racism, bullying and isolation.

"The most important thing you can impart on a child is empathy, resilience, manners, kindness and perspective," he said.

Wise words, without a doubt!

For journalist Ben Doherty, who won a Walkley Award for his examination of an asylum-seeker's death on Christmas Island, "words make worlds".

Doherty, formerly of the Bendigo Advertiser and Fairfax Media and now at The Guardian, is appearing on a panel on Friday at the 13th annual Write Around the Murray festival in Albury-Wodonga, where he will reflect on journalism and Australian foreign policy. The likes of Jane Caro, Alison Lester and Toni Jordan also feature at the week-long literary event, which explores the "humanising power of story".

"The language we use around asylum seekers, around migrants is hugely influential in shaping people's understanding of what we're talking about and who these people are and moulding and shaping community attitudes," Doherty told the Bendigo Advertiser.

He cites New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's statement about the victims of the Christchurch mosque attacks: "They are us".

Doherty: "Reaching out to people from different backgrounds and seeking these common threads of humanity between us and looking for the things that unite us rather than divide us. Language has a huge role to play in it."

Speaking of powerful words from New Zealand, celebrated Kiwi author and illustrator Dame Lynley Dodd is the subject of an exhibition at the Yarra Ranges Regional Museum in Lilydale, in Melbourne's Yarra Valley.

With my eldest born in windy Wellington in NZ, we whiled away wintry weeks-on-end, curled up with her larger-than-life characters: Schnitzel von Krumm (with the very low tum), Bottomley Potts (covered in spots) and Hercules Morse (as big as a horse).

Dame Lynley's way with words and animals proved just as wondrous to this journalist as it was to my toddler.

Another must-read for lovers of storybooks is Diary of a Wombat author Jackie French's recent spring gardening to-do list in her weekly Canberra Times gardening column.

"This week I am trying to lure the wombats away from the transplanted daffodils with bribes of carrots," French writes. "The wombats have probably already worked out that if they dig up the daffodils each night they'll get more carrots."

Sound familiar? Talk about art imitating life!

Jodie Bruton,

Journalist, The Border Mail

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