It is just after 9am on a sunny Sunday, and The Daily Grind cafe is a bit quieter than usual. A young woman working behind the counter waits for customers as the Katanning community enjoys a weekend sleep-in. Suddenly, a burst of colour contrasts with the white walls of the cafe, moving closer with every second. After a friendly greeting, Alep Mydie makes himself comfortable at one of the wooden tables. Sitting in a modest, windowless section of the cafe, half of his face is covered by a grass-green coloured disposable mask. Yet there is no doubt that a big wide smile is concealed underneath the government-enforced COVID safeguard. There are many titles you could give to Mr Mydie — small business owner, imam, local leader and mentor to name a few. Now he has another to add to his list - 2022 Shire of Katanning Community Citizen of the Year. Mr Mydie received the award at Katanning’s Australia Day celebrations last week for his counselling work and promotion of multiculturalism in the town. However, none of these titles appear to give him as much pride as ones related to his family “I am a husband, a father and a grandfather of seven grandchildren,” he said. Mr Mydie’s story starts on Christmas Island, a far-flung tropical Australian territory about 2850km north-west of Katanning. While the island might be better known for its red crabs and infamous immigration detention centre, it is also home to a significant Malay community. Twelve per cent of the island’s population identify as Malay, compared to the 0.1 per cent nationally recorded during the 2016 census. Growing up in such an isolated location, Mydie did not know much about the outside world. “It was remote, in the middle of the Indian Ocean and the furthest we could see from the shore was the sunset,” he said. “I was imagining ‘is there any land across from that sunset?’” He recalls listening to the murmur of radio broadcasts at night from Indonesia and Singapore, with no television services and limited ability to listen to Australian radio. But at the age of 13, the life Mr Mydie knew was about to be flipped on its head. In 1974, the Katanning meatworks was on the hunt for people who could prepare halal meat. The company looked to the north, recruiting workers from Christmas Island and the nearby Cocos Islands. The Mydie family was among the second group of Islanders to settle in Katanning, an historic town at the heart of the Great Southern agricultural region. “It’s isolated, small, it’s so unique but it’s got a variety of things,” Mr Mydie said. “Back in the 70s, the streets were full of small shops, big shops, there was the David Jones emporium and there was one or two supermarkets.” Although there were employment opportunities, fitting in was a challenge in itself. “It wasn’t easy,” he said. “(The Islander community) knew it was a white man’s society and our intention was to learn about it.” Therefore, like the other new migrants, Mr Mydie did his best to learn about his new hometown. He made it through school, despite being called a barrage of names, including “sambo” and “choco” due to his darker skin. Continuing his studies was Mr Mydie’s dream, but with his family unable to afford the costs, he followed his parents to the meatworks as the payroll officer. Within a few years of graduating school, he was thrust into a new position. When Mr Mydie’s grandfather died shortly after the opening of the Katanning Mosque, the position of the local imam became vacant. Having already studied theology overseas, Mr Mydie took over the leadership position at the young age of 24. “To say I forced myself into the role is wrong,” he said. “It is the will of God; someone needs to take over the position of imam. It comes to my mind, ‘if someone does not take it up, who is going to?’” Mr Mydie continued to work various jobs, including managing a hardware store and running two Malaysian restaurants in Katanning and Bunbury. Then in 2005, he decided to run for the Katanning Shire Council. “To be included, you have to be in the local politics,” Mr Mydie said. “I don’t know many imams which associate with politics, but I did.” He bursts into laughter as he tells the story, calling himself a “silly boy” for choosing to run for council. However, his mood changes as he reflects on the opportunities his council tenure presented for the Islander community. “For 12 years, my wife said ‘we support you, just open that gap, open that door for others to follow’, and we have,” he said. During his time on council, Mydie returned to the hospitality sector, taking over the operation of The Daily Grind cafe seven years ago. While he left the council in 2018, he still keeps himself busy, starting his work day at 4am every day. Katanning Shire president Liz Guidera refers to Mydie as a “Super Imam”. When asked what his thinks of the nickname, his laughter rings through the cafe again. “It is a great honour,” Mr Mydie said. His influence extends beyond the town, and in some ways he is an unofficial ambassador for Katanning. “He has become the face for international tourists to recognise,” Ms Guidera said. Mr Mydie has appeared in TV programs in Australia and abroad, featuring on the ABC, SBS and Malaysian public broadcaster RTM. However, it is a video on a Singaporean YouTube page titled “A Malay Kampong in Katanning” which has had the biggest response. “I received texts and phone calls from friends saying ‘you’re going viral in Malaysia,” he said. The video has been viewed more than 1.1 million times. His story is part of the story of Katanning, an agricultural town that has become a unique multicultural melting pot. Proud to call Katanning home, he says the town is highly regarded in communities overseas, as far abroad as the Middle East and the United States. His values were instilled him by his late father, who said he “would rather die poor without wealth than die rich without principle”. Mr Mydie says his view of community life can be summed up in one word - passion. “You have to love it. You have to take the negative and the positive side of life,” he said. “You’ve got to laugh, you can be angry here and there but at the end of the day, if someone benefits from other’s efforts, to be recognised, accepted and included, I’m happy.” In her speech on Australia Day, Ms Guidera described Mr Mydie as the embodiment of humanity. “Whoever he sees and meets, he has a smile for them and a welcoming word and I think particularly in these uncertain times, that is just so valuable,” she said.