Anthony Swan OAM
Leaving the familiar behind for want of a better life is not an easy decision to make. But knowing there’s a community that feels like home waiting for you can make the journey easier. Motivated by his own experiences, Mr Anthony Swan OAM helps others take this journey.
Anthony, better known as Anton, has been the Honorary Consul for Sri Lanka in Queensland since 1990. Anton was recognised with a Medal in the Order of Australia in the Australia Day 2021 Honours List for his service to the Sri Lankan community of Queensland.
Anton attributes his passion for helping the Sri Lankan community to his own experiences migrating to Australia as a Sri Lankan. After migrating to Australia in 1970, Anton worked four jobs to make ends meet: he worked in the bank, stacked shelves at Coles at night, cleaned office buildings in the morning, and worked at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on the weekend. Anton also speaks of the difficulties of trying to assimilate into an Australia under the White Australia policy. “It was a complete cultural change. At that time, Australia wasn’t so multicultural, and I experienced a lot of racism. I remember in 1974 when I came to Brisbane. Walking down the street around the bank where I used to work, I would see one Sri Lankan and that was it”.
It was this desire to connect with other Sri Lankan Australians who had gone through the same experiences as he had, that led Anton to seek out the Sri Lankan Society of Queensland, where he later became President in the late 1980s. In addition to his role as Honorary Consul for Sri Lanka in Queensland, he is also Patron of various Sri Lankan associations, a Justice of the Peace, and was the coordinator of the Sri Lankan Pavillion at the World Expo in 1988.
Speaking about his Medal in the Order of Australia, Anton recalls that he “just couldn’t believe it. You get a bit teary. My wife got teary, my kids got teary. In fact, I’m getting a bit teary again now”. He adds that “these are things you don’t expect, you just work with the community, I don’t do what I do for awards or accolades. This award goes to all of us community workers”.
For Anton, the most rewarding part of his career has been helping others. He was heavily involved in fundraising during the Queensland Floods 2010-11 and Cyclone Yasi, dropping packets of rice and curry off to the emergency relief workers. He also describes another rewarding moment in his career as one relating to a Sri Lankan Australian man he was frequently visiting in jail through his role as Honorary Consul. “This man told me that my visits saved his life. And for me, it was the most touching moment of my life”.
As if he wasn’t busy enough with some 20 people going through his house each week, Anton is also an avid sports player. He was involved in rugby, swimming, water polo and surf lifesaving in Sri Lanka, and was drawn to Australia for its sport culture, where he continues to play a number of sports.
Speaking about the Order of Australia, Anton encourages people to nominate those who work hard in the community. “If you know anyone who deserves recognition, please nominate them. There are so many others who deserve this award”.