A Hall Full of Harmony

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Harmony Day is a celebration of Australia’s cultural diversity held each year on 21 March.

On Sunday, I was fortunate to take part in a Harmony Day celebration organised by Mordialloc Neighbourhood House. Billed as ‘A Taste of the World‘ and supported financially by the City of Kingston, the event involved displays and performances from a variety of cultural traditions. There was food, music, and dance by immigrants who now call Australia home and homegrown poetry and song.

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Harmony Day is held every year on 21 March to coincide with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The message of Harmony Day is everyone belongs. It’s a day to celebrate Australia’s diversity – a day of cultural respect for everyone who calls Australia home.

  • around 45 per cent of Australians were born overseas or have at least one parent who was
  • 85 per cent of Australians agree multiculturalism has been good for Australia
  • apart from English the most common languages spoken in Australia are Mandarin, Italian, Arabic, Cantonese, Greek, Vietnamese, Tagalog/Filipino, Spanish and Hindi
  • more than 60 Indigenous languages are spoken in Australia
  • 92 per cent of Australians feel a great sense of belonging to our country.

These facts are taken from ABS 2011 Census Data

About 30 per cent of Kingston’s population was born overseas, with 22 per cent from non-English speaking backgrounds including Vietnamese, Indian, Sri Lankan, Greek, Italian and Chinese societies.

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Lisa Sun, the manager of Mordialloc Neighbourhood House and many of the staff were ably supported by volunteers, including Gabrielle Fakhri who was a magnificent MC as always. Gabrielle travels an hour and a half from the other side of Melbourne to support Mordialloc Neighbourhood House’s multicultural activities.

This is the second year for a Harmony Day celebration and there were a greater number of performers and a much larger audience proving indeed that

From little things big things grow


From little things big things grow

Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody

The local MP, Tim Richardson and also Councillors Geoff Gledhill and Rosemary West OAM attended to show their support with Tim and Geoff presenting raffle prizes. Our elected representatives moving between several events in other parts of the city and left to attend even more.  A great effort that should be acknowledged!

As Tim mentions on his Facebook page:

Incredibly the more than 150,000 residents in the City of Kingston come from 150 different nationalities and heritages, speaking more than 120 languages. Our cultural diversity is one of our greatest strengths in Melbourne, whether it is the celebration of the arts, food, creative arts, culture or history.

Local businesses donated prizes and I was lucky to win an organic facial from Endota Spa Mordialloc. Perhaps I channelled the luck of the Irish (thank you Mum) it being so soon after St Patrick’s Day because I rarely win anything.

Jaden Williams, the grandson of Boon Wurrung elder Carolyn Briggs offered Welcome to Country. As first people of the bay areas Boon Wurrung are proud  to share the history of their people and offer insights into their culture.

The opening act for the afternoon was the spectacular Lion Dance by The Hong De Lion Dance Association  formed in April 2008 by a group of passionate lion dancers with the aim to teach and promote the art to the community. The Hong De Lion Dance Association is a member of the International Hong Teck Association. The instructors have over 20 years experience in the art of the Chinese lion dance.

The next contribution came from Vivace Voices, one of the choirs at Kingston U3A. The choir was formed 12 years ago and has an extensive repertoire performing at concerts in various venues.

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The Pilipino group P.E.A.S.E.R., (Pilipino Elderly Association of South East Region) a voluntary senior citizens group founded in 1993 to assist elderly Pilipinos and their families had a strong presence and entertained a delighted audience with singing and dancing. They also had a well-stocked stall. The group was recognised for community volunteer work by Premier Steve Bracks in the International Year of Volunteers 2001, received Victoria’s Award for Excellence in Multicultural Affairs for Meritorious Service in the Community in 2004, and on Australia Day 2006 they were the City of Kingston’s Community Group of the Year:

… for making its own unique contribution to the broader community while still keeping the Pilipino cultural heritage alive.

Over the years P.E.A.S.E.R. has focused on the broader community.

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After the Pilipino Group, Vanessa Fraser sent the blood pressure of some of the audience sky high and had the rest of us in awe at her belly dancing expertise, energy and how easy she made it look! An absolutely stunning performance of a dance with origins in the Indian sub-continent, Middle East, Mediterranean and northeastern Africa.

We then had the first of several traditional dances by the Kingston Chinese Senior Citizens Club Inc. There was also an instrumental solo of a traditional Chinese instrument like a flute, a difficult instrument to master.

The upbeat dance music had toes tapping and hands clapping and the sound engineer and myself even had a jig. The joy, enthusiasm and desired harmony in the room palpable.

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When it was time for me to read some poetry and acknowledge the power and flexibility of the English language to contribute to harmony and diversity I had many hard acts to follow!

However, words can acknowledge and celebrate our humanity, our differences, our similarities, our needs, our sadness and happiness… and have the power to engage, encourage deeper understanding and appreciation of each other and events, even incite change…

I read three of my own poems:  a haiku, a short poem about asylum seekers, the acrostic poem Words Words Are All I Have and finished with the wonderful poem Unity by aboriginal poet/ author/ artist Kevin Gilbert.

Ningla a-Na! This our land
Indigenous and immigrant
Now sharing history

Seeking Asylum

Despair and desperation in their eyes
they plan to seek a new life
as far away as possible from strife

Seeking a safe haven is the prize
perhaps leaving behind children and wife
despair and desperation in their eyes

For many it may take several tries

Living on the edge of a knife
their only crime seeking a new life
despair and desperation in their eyes.

 

Words Are All I Have

Words are my business
Often they flow, or stay sealed like a time capsule
Remembering, imagining, creating, forgetting…
Depending on mood, knowledge, skill… the dictionary
So they can colour the page: language, meaning, interpretation… frustration

Why does the sentence not work
Or the words engage? Where’s the impact?
Rambling, nothing of substance… stuttering
Don’t start… don’t stop… less is more… Oh, decisions!
Structure? Be sensible, sensitive, sarcastic, serious, succinct, smart, strong

Alliteration can work
Repetition a crafty tool. Pizzaz needed
Especially metaphor and simile

Am I mad?
Losing it?
Laughing, crying, anxious, arrogant, scared… confident…

I squeeze the words from the pen

Hammer the keyboard
And shape the words and worlds to
Vindicate the term ‘writer’
End of story!

Unity by Kevin Gilbert

I am the land
I am the trees
I am the rivers
that flow to the seas
joining and moving

encompassing all
blending all parts of me
stars in my thrall
binding and weaving
with you who belong

sometime discordant
but part of my song
birds are a whisper
the four breezes croon

raindrops in melody
all form the tune
of being belonging
aglow with the surge
to life and its passions
to create its urge
in living expression
its total of one
and the I and the tree
and the you and the me
and the rivers and birds
and the rocks that we’ve heard

sing the songs we are one
I’m the tree you are me
with the land and the sea
we are one life not three
in the essence of life
we are one.

Mairi Neil _n
Yours truly

We then watched a riveting performance of Korean drumming by Mordialloc’s St Brigid’s Primary School . Later, the teacher told me that next year they will also have Korean dance. How lucky  to have access to another culture this way from an experienced teacher and to see the children embrace it so enthusiastically!

St brigid's korean drums

The local Aumsai Sansthen Temple again supported the event and the children gave us the delights of Bollywood, the three-year-old girl setting maternal and paternal hearts aflutter.

After the planned performances finished there were a range of activities to see and do encouraging people to move out of their comfort zone and dabble in diversity: Dressing up in Egyptian costumes and having a photograph with pharaoh, sipping Eritrean coffee, making Chinese lanterns, having a henna tattoo, face painted, tasting delightful delicacies, receiving a balloon animal, and joining in the singsong around the piano.

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There is so much to do in Melbourne every weekend, the March calendar particularly crowded with Moomba, the Labour Day weekend, the Grand Prix and of course this year Palm Sunday and Easter.

I had choices to make too  regarding ‘where to go’ but was thrilled to be part of this lively celebration of multiculturalism. What better way to promote harmony and acceptance  of our diversity than ‘A Taste of the World’ in your own backyard.

For me, it was also a chance to share my thoughts.To remind everyone that we all came from ‘somewhere else’ to this great country and yet the first people still welcome us although we invaded their land. What generosity of spirit to have and encourage.

While we celebrated, laughed and sang, thousands of others marched through Melbourne’s streets asking our political leaders to have a more humane approach to the refugee crisis engulfing the globe.

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Harmony Day in Mordialloc an example of the richness other cultures bring to an already talented community. Long may we continue to celebrate diversity and work to spread that welcoming and inclusiveness.

I look forward to a bigger and better bash next year.

Well done to  Mordialloc Neighbourhood House for initiating this event.

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8 thoughts on “A Hall Full of Harmony

      1. Well, I’ve just had a spirited exchange with whoever runs the KCC Facebook page about why this wasn’t promoted… it seems there’s so much going on (really??) that they can’t promote everything. If that’s true, I wonder what their criteria are for choosing the events that they do add to FB?
        Anyway it appears there is a community website which lists everything, but you can’t subscribe to it, so you have to be bothered visiting it on your own initiative … it all seems very clumsy and ineffective to me.
        I would have thought that after that rather worrying incident at Fed Square last week that Harmony Day would have been a very high priority and that they would reach out not just to people like you who are already involved in community events but to the wider community. And that Twitter and Facebook are cheap and easy ways of doing that.

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