Say ciao to familiar faces as motivated migrants reshape old identities
I hate conferences but they are a necessary evil. It's often the only way we can get everyone to understand what's really going on and what we should do about it. It's probably a deeply ancient practice that started in a cave somewhere, with the Neanderthals getting together around some smoky fire to work out how they were going to kill the next beast.
And the tradition continued down through the centuries. People met on corners, climbed onto soapboxes in parks, assembled in their thousands to protest about wars and celebrate the arrival of a new year. The great suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst met secretly to form "The Bodyguard" - 25 ju-jitsu trained women charged with protecting the suffragettes at their rallies across Britain. "Too right," Louise says, "and now we have a female PM, GG and goal umpires."
And speaking of football, who conferences more than a footy club - they can't keep away from themselves, huddling as they do around bars, running the Kokoda trail, even knocking their own heads together in the middle of a field with 50,000 people watching and wishing they would just get on with it. I've often wondered what they could have forgotten in the last 15 minutes of play. Yet conferences have their place it seems.
My conference this week has been in Rome and the first thing I noticed was it was filled with Romans ... and very small motor cars. I don't know if you've ever had to push your way down a Roman street, but if you have, you will understand why the smallest Fiat is called Bambino.
It's like a birthing experience to be squeezed through what we would call back streets, to arrive at the Trevi Fountain where Romans have been turning their backs on the wonderful centrepiece and throwing coins into the water over their shoulder for donkeys' years.
Apart from this all being a great metaphor for Italian financial management, I just can't work out why it's not piled high with cash.
Oh well, just another one of those Italian economic mysteries attempting to be a miracle. Not even Charlie, our finance oracle who is travelling with me, can work this one out.
Meantime, our Australian economy is booming, relative to the rest of the world, and part of the reason for this has been the great waves of migration that have established our remarkably diverse and harmonious population. Over decades now, perhaps our hardest, most motivated workers and entrepreneurs have been "new arrivals" who have gone on to become distinguished Australians in so many walks of life - many of them from Italy. Sir James Gobbo comes to mind in the hall of migrant fame - a celebration of what opportunity really means.
My mate George Megalogenis, the author of that great book The Australian Moment gave me this amazing set of facts about how the global mixing of peoples is changing the world dramatically, both here and other countries.
George's research of the 2011 census showed 26 per cent of Australians were born overseas and another 20 per cent have at least one parent who was an immigrant. Add another 2 per cent for indigenous Australians and exactly half the country has a world view that extends beyond the old Australian mainstream.
And in Sydney, the Chinese-born now outnumber the British.
The story is similar in Brisbane, except it's the Kiwis who outnumber those born in England, and are tied with everyone from the British Isles.
It's nonsense to cling to ideas of past and fixed identity.
Our economic, social and cultural future will be driven by the changing face of people around the globe. How else would the US have become great? Even the Vatican sees the importance of selecting an Argentinian to lead its 1.2 billion flock.
They say Rome was not built in a day, well time and space are shrinking even quicker in a world where almost anyone can get to anywhere in a tinny with an outboard motor.
The lesson is diversity is inescapable ... and it works.