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!

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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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How A Community Celebration Can Teach Tolerance

We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We share a dream and sing with one voice:
I am, you are, we are Australian.

Bruce Woodley 1987

Yesterday, I moved out of my comfort zone and celebrated Eid with a variety of fellow Australians who happen to be Muslim and have chosen to settle here like my parents did 53 years ago.

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Dina, born in Palestine, educated in Dubai as a pharmacist has reinvented herself as a painter, interior designer, book illustrator. Her husband is a doctor and works as an emergency consultant, in much demand all over the world – at the moment he is in Italy.

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A new friend from Eritrea
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A new friend from Egypt

How do we meet and get to know people?

Yesterday, I met people who live in suburbs I rarely visit (Springvale, Keysborough, Dandenong), so they are not near neighbours. I won’t meet them at school – my children have left those years far behind, plus in Australia schools are divided into private and public and many people send their children to private schools on religious or cultural grounds. My girls went to the local public schools.

I may meet some at work because I teach in community houses, but by and large students and teachers enrol within a locality, their “neighbourhood” so that likelihood is diminished.

The majority of people I met yesterday were Islamic; I wouldn’t bump into them at church either!

So how do I reach out and make them feel welcome to their adopted country? How do they meet me and have the opportunity to understand who I am?

We have to make a special effort – that’s how we can build tolerance and understanding –  to learn from each other, and accept each other.

Yesterday, at the EID Celebration – Many Faiths, One Community – in the Allan McLean Hall, Mordialloc,  for a gold coin donation we could have:

  • A hijab demonstration and buy scarves and dresses
  • Taste Eritrean coffee and cake (the coffee heavily laced with ginger!)
  • Our hands or wrists painted with Henna
  • Watch a delightful cultural performance
  • Be part of a Guided Blessing
  • Dress up as Pharaoh and have a photographic memento
  • Have tea and coffee and a selection of sweet treats

Islamic Australians more often demonised and feared than welcomed, opened their hearts, shared their customs and celebrated who they are and what they offer to Australia.

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A Sheik and Scholar explained the meaning of Eid and where the celebration fitted in the Muslim calendar and blessed the gathering with a prayer.  Poet Anton read 2 or 3 poems in his native language of Malaysian, ably repeated in English by a member of the audience who volunteered to do so.

As a writing teacher, I’m privileged to hear so many original poems from students, but also poems that have inspired them to write. A lovely woman from Iraq introduced me to the wisdom and talent of Rumi:

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A band from Lebanon played and sang songs – some religious, others popular – the musicians famous in the music circuit of their birth country before they came to Australia.

There are two Eids celebrated in Islam, and both follow major acts of worship.  The first is Eid al-Fitr, which follows Ramadan and the second is Eid al-Adha, which follows the Hajj.

Most major religions have times that demand particular behaviour – Christianity has Lent, Advent and Christmas.

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims focus on purifying themselves, getting closer to God, and growing in their faith. They fast from sunrise to sunset, which includes refraining from food, drink, sexual intercourse, bad language, and bad behaviour.

They may read an entire chapter of the Qur’an each day (it has 30 chapters), so they finish the book in a month.The knowledge gained by reading the Qur’an encourages good deeds and greater acts of worship.

By fasting, they become more sympathetic to those less fortunate. By understanding what it is like to go without food or drink, they should become more generous and seek to alleviate hunger amongst the poor.

Ramadan helps to bring people together with family, friends, and neighbours because they break their fasts together.  The community is brought closer to God by offering more worship in the form of extra prayer services provided nightly in Ramadan.

Eid al-Fitr (the Festival/Holiday of Breaking Fast) follows. This festival lasts three days and celebrates the successful completion of Ramadan and the newly renewed spiritual cleansing and connection.

Associated with sweets of various kinds, other names for it are the Sugar Festival or Sweet Festival.  There are many different ways to celebrate the Eid, but, in general, the morning begins with the special Eid prayer. On the way there and while waiting for the prayer session to start it is common to recite the Eid Takbir.

There was a selection of sweet biscuits and homemade cake available yesterday – delicious!

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After praying people have a feast of sorts with their families and or friends usually travelling to family homes.  Typical foods vary by country/region.  In the Middle East, it is common to buy new clothes for the Eid and children often receive Eidia (pronounced like ‘idea’) which is money.  The Eidia received from family and friends comes from an adult to child.  Gifts between adults are rare and gifts from child to an adult even rarer.  Children use the money to buy toys and sweets.

In the US, Canada, Australia and the UK it is often more common to give children presents, not money. This compares with active Christian gifting practices such as Christmas.  Some people make Eid goody bags with trinkets, party favours, stickers, temporary tattoos, and candy to hand out to children after the Eid prayer. Gifts between adults or from child to adult occur too.

Visits to amusement parks/carnivals/circuses also happen more in the West than in other countries probably because immigrants and subsequent generations do not have large extended families to visit.  They spend time going out in smaller family groups and because of the often minority status of their holidays and the abundance of Christian holiday commercialisation they may feel the need to make Eid “extra special” ensuring the interest of future generations.

The children and proud parents yesterday illustrated how to keep the young involved and feeling part of their religion and culture and yet quite comfortable living in Australia.

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Tarek Yousery, a Driving Instructor in real life, entertained us all as he paraded his Egyptian background dressed as a Pharaoh, encouraging us all to be Pharaoh for a photo shoot.  Tarek promoted Egypt by ‘working the room’ while his wife helped you decide what costumes and jewellery to wear. Their generosity and good humour a definite highlight of the day.

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The queues for Henna painting kept two young, talented women busy. Their artistic brilliance and calm, good nature impressive – I can imagine their hands will be sore because the demand to be “tattooed” relentless. Some children (and adults) went back for more than one decoration. Mine sketched in double-quick time – amazing. Unfortunately, scrutiny made me realise how aged my hands were – how could I have my mother’s hands already??  I still feel young!

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A table with an array of scarves to be transformed into the hijab had a backdrop of gorgeous dresses. Alongside was a table doing a brisk trade with intricate and clunky jewellery pieces. Eid like our Christmas – new clothes and gifts the order of the day as people celebrate peace,  love and family.

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The hall echoed with lots of chatter, laughter and children enjoying the relaxed, festive atmosphere. I’d hoped for more locals to witness such an array of talent but bumped into Jenny, a woman I’ve met at various meetings and workshops concerning the environment and community. She had seen the notice down at the Chelsea Hub and was glad she had come along ‘to have a look’.

We both wished there were more people to appreciate the diversity that has made us a successful multicultural country and agreed we must have more opportunities to mix.  Perhaps if we get to know each other, the disgraceful display of intolerance at Bendigo in recent weeks won’t happen again, and we’ll not allow some politicians and sections of the media to keep us in a constant state of fear.

If we could raise one generation with unconditional love, there would be no Hitlers…Mankind’s greatest gift, also its greatest curse, is that we have free choice. We can make our choices built from love or from fear.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Lisa Sun, the Manager of Mordialloc Neighbourhood House and her committee, deserve congratulations for organising this event in collaboration with Springvale Neighbourhood House, the Victorian Multicultural Commission and Al-Emaan Muslim Women’s Support group. The more people come together and share what we have in common, the less likely we will be pushed apart.

We’ve got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant. You can’t just accept it and leave it in the cupboard or just think it’s going to get on by itself. You’ve got to keep watering it. You’ve got to really look after it and nurture it.

John Lennon

A big thank you to everyone who made the day a success. I felt privileged to meet so many talented and friendly people. A day like yesterday more representative of the community and Australia I love than many of the stories the media seem to enjoy flaunting. Check out Mordialloc Neighbourhood House’s Facebook page for more photos.

The next event to break down cultural barriers will be a Diwali Festival – same venue, but next month!