Shanaka Fernando gets Local Hero Award in 2007 Oz Day Honours

Shanaka Fernando, already the winner of the Metropolitan Local Hero Award, has gone the next step and won the Australian Local Hero Award on Australia Day. The Victorian Government has decided he is a “social challenger” lauding his victory thus:

‘By establishing the ‘Lentil as Anything’ concept, Shanaka Fernando has set a wholly successful example to society of how a commercial enterprise can be operated on a socially responsible, idealistic and altruistic basis and still be financially successful and popular with the public. Since Shanaka relinquished his personal capital in the first restaurant and turned it into a cooperative and youth training enterprise, the business has grown into four restaurants employing about eighty young people and providing space for artists and writers. This not-for-profit business celebrates compassion, individuality, and artistic expression under a philosophy that challenges and defies our consumerist society. The policy of ‘no set prices’ where customers pay only what they can afford or what they think the meal was worth is a social experiment that encourages people to have an internal conversation with their conscience and their ethics. And on top of that, the food is terrific.”

This is what John Howard’s men are saying about the Fernandomeister:

‘Melbourne’s Shanaka Fernando was awarded Australia’s Local Hero in recognition of his work founding not-for-profit restaurant group ‘Lentil As Anything’. The business has shown how a commercial enterprise can be operated on a socially responsible, idealistic and altruistic basis and still be financially successful and popular with the public. It operates on a policy of ‘no set prices’, where customers pay only what they can afford or what they think the meal was worth. Shanaka relinquished his personal capital in the first restaurant and turned it into a cooperative and youth training enterprise.The business has grown into four restaurants employing about 80 young people and providing space for artists and writers. The 38 year old, who was born in Columbia, Sri Lanka, arrived in Australia in 1989. His father is Sri Lankan with Portugese lineage and his mother is Sri Lankan with Irish descent.

“Being named Australia’s Local Hero means a lot to me and, hopefully, it means the nature of what is happening through our organisation is important and will spill out to the greater society.

“I hope this award will inspire other migrants and anyone in the community, who may have ideas that might not seem normal and which have no prior format, to go ahead and try these ideas and to follow your heart.

“On Australia Day, I will celebrate the generosity of spirit which exists in the Australian community.” Accepting his award on the eve of Australia Day, Shanaka’s view on what being Australian means was poignant.

“I didn’t know the answer to the question of what it means to be Australian until quite recently,” said Shanaka.

“I went out into country Victoria with refugees and we had a tree planting weekend and I came in contact with what I considered an amazing spirit of community and openness.

“To be Australian is, I think, to be welcoming of others. “To be Australian is to be encouraging of each other, to urge each other to shine and reach our full potential.

“Which is,” he said with a grin,”very contrary to the tall poppy syndrome.”‘

This all makes him sound somewhat earnest, but he is more interesting than that. He  mixes in patahysical circles, and bangs on his boogie. And the latest Convent Muse contains this passage from an interview with him:

‘As a result of his recent Award, Shanaka has been invited to speak at ABC Haywire, a national outh Conference in Canberra.  He hopes to encourage creativity in young people, so they can feel self-empowered to tackle issues with a minimal sense of convention.  When asked how this could be best communicated he said: “For example, if kids think the answer to alcohol problems is for everyone to walk around with pineapples on their heads – that is exactly what they should do”’

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