Perspective, Prejudice, and Positivity

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Marie Lightman, an accomplished writer/poet/performer based in Newcastle, England was so incensed at the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees she asked for poets throughout the world to contribute towards an anthology Writers for Calais Refugees

Reception conditions for the refugees in Calais are worsening and there is an increasing death toll of refugees attempting to cross the channel from Calais to Dover. People are getting together all over the UK to send basic aid, that is not being provided in the holding camp in Calais. Writers are in the unique position to be able to express their concerns about the situation that the state does not seem to share.

Writers for Calais Refugees is an anthology in support of people seeking refuge.

After one of my poems was chosen, Marie and I have kept in touch,  through emails and Facebook. In the last few weeks, she called again for writers to raise their voices, particularly after the shocking death of  Jo Cox MP and the divisive BREXIT Campaign but also many incidents across Europe and throughout the world, where bigotry and prejudice flourish.

A new website was born:

WRITERS AGAINST PREJUDICE

As I write this, an alarming number of cases of intolerance are being reported in the press. We as writers are in the unique position to express our concerns over people being discriminated against because of their race, faith, sexuality, or for any other reasons. Everyone should be appreciated for who they are, without fear or judgement.
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Dictionary.com

Prejudice (noun)

1.an unfavourable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.
2.any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favourable or unfavourable.
3.unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile nature, regarding an ethnic, racial, social, or religious group.
4.such attitudes considered collectively: The war against prejudice is never-ending.

Prejudice is Everywhere

As a society, we have to be aware of prejudice, and consistently challenge each other about assumptions and word choice, even if that means being uncomfortable and starting controversial and difficult conversations .

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Writers, in particular, must be aware – after all, stereotypes (we use them all the time in our writing, especially on screen), are assumptions and tropes about certain people (characters)  whether it is the picture postcard Scot who is mean or drunk, the stiff-upper-lip or foppish Englishman, the stupid Irishman, the dumb blonde, the nagging mother-in-law, the larrikin Aussie  etc.

Prejudice is often masked as jokes, perpetuated by media by sensational reporting, and stirred up by irresponsible politicians.

However, we can make a conscious effort to not be prejudiced. Choose to speak out for tolerance and harmony like Marie and countless others do. The power of storytelling and words encourages creative thinking as well as writing. Conversations can change relationships and attitudes.

Perspective -A Cautionary Tale

This week, my family experienced the perfect example of prejudice.

My youngest daughter was coming home late (10pm) Tuesday night after dropping her sister off in Elwood. She stopped the car at traffic lights at Glenhuntly Road and a man appeared from a nearby park and tried to get into her car.

She only got a glimpse of a hooded figure and a gloved hand at the window as he yanked at the door because she screamed and automatically hit the central locking switch, planting her foot to drive away as fast as she could.

Twenty minutes later, she was with me in Mordialloc, ashen-faced, shaken and relating what happened. I insisted on phoning St Kilda Police to report the incident. If the attacker is hiding in the parkland, the next female on her own may not have such a lucky escape!

The telephone call went like this:

I dialled the number for St Kilda Police – the nearest station to the incident. A robotic woman’s voice told me if it was urgent to hang up immediately and dial 000. If not urgent, I had a press-button selection to work through:

Press 1 to speak to a uniform officer…

I didn’t wait for the other options and pressed 1.

After what seemed an interminable delay Constable A answered. I explained briefly why I was ringing and handed the phone to my daughter.

I listened to her story again as told to the officer and she said the word caucasian a few times. She explained the man wore a hoodie or a beanie, it was dark, the encounter was scary and brief, but yes he was caucasian.

Apparently, the police officer’s first question after her explanation of events, happened to be, ‘Was  he black or…’

His questioned trailed off into an uneasy silence as if he was searching for another word to describe people. This was why my daughter said ‘caucasian’ and why she had to repeat it because he asked her if she was sure.

Prejudice by the police against people of colour is well-documented and often in the news. But it isn’t until it affects you personally, or you witness the prejudice like my daughter did that you can fully comprehend the extent and consequences of such bias.

The officer should have asked: ‘Can you describe the person who tried to get into your car?‘ Not immediately lead with, ‘Was he black?’

There are a lot of homeless in the St Kilda area and some will sleep in the parks, and a percentage of those are Aboriginal and also migrants, but the preconceived idea and prejudgement that people of colour are more likely to car jack or attack lone drivers just perpetuate prejudice and intolerance. It also can’t be assumed that the man who tried to get into my daughter’s car was homeless or mentally ill – two other groups of people often targetted.

In daylight, there is an obvious scratch near the door handle of the car – the likelihood of the man being armed with a knife a probability.

We haven’t heard any more from the police – no follow-up phone call. We don’t even know if they bothered to go and check out the park or intersection. Perhaps my lack of confidence that they took the complaint seriously shows my prejudice!

Positive Action Required

In these troubled times,  we all need to make more of an effort to encourage harmony and tolerance. To be careful of our choice of words, aware of our own cultural biases, the labelling and placing of people in pigeonholes.

If we make an effort to smile more, be welcoming and open to new friendships, barriers can be broken, prejudice lessened. You can make a difference to someone’s life.

Tolerance
Mairi Neil

To those who fear the
Other
Look not only with
Eyes, but with
Respect, reason, logic and most of all heart.
Are people less human, more evil, if different?
Nationality and ethnicity
Culture, religion, identity
Each of us, ache, bleed, cry, desire – all children of Mother Earth.

Harmonious Haiku
Mairi Neil

To have Harmony
Set aside your prejudice
Give everyone a chance

And to End With a Bit of Positivity

sunflowers

Sunflower Happiness
Mairi Neil

Sunflowers in bloom
Symbols of sunshine
Petals flutter as bees buzz
And butterflies flitter
Interconnected, dependant
Beautiful sunflowers are
Tough and easy to grow
These tall bright blossoms
Enormous examples of
Resilience and adaptability.
Vacant blocks transformed
Into gardens of yellow
Ugliness dispelled
Blandness abandoned
Stunning visual feasts
Sunflowers in bloom
Instant smiles installed!

Colours of Harmony Work Towards Peaceful Co-Existence​

 

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sunrise over Albert Street Mordialloc

 

This post about a wonderful event is late, because as my husband John, used to say, you can never budget for ill-health – it strikes at any time.

He wasn’t just talking about finances, but also the time lost when yourself or a family member is sick. I’ve experienced both recently with the emergency hospitalisation of my youngest daughter and then becoming ill myself with labyrinthitis, a condition I’ve had before and often recurs because of stress.

To top the unfortunate week off, the family dog Aurora had to be taken to the vet and is now scheduled for an operation and treatment we hope will be beneficial for the eleven and half-year-old, who has been remarkably fit. She is lying beside me as I type, still sulking after the visit to the vet! 

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Colours of Harmony Art Exhibition

Therefore, apologies in advance if I don’t do justice to an inspiring local art exhibition I was lucky to be invited to attend as Kingston Citizen of the Year. The Mayor, Cr Tamsin Bearsley, spoke at the Colours of Harmony Art Exhibition sponsored by the City of Kingston Interfaith Network and held at St Nicholas Gallery, Mordialloc.

Interfaith Network in Kingston

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Despite heavy rain drumming on the pavements, and outside becoming the ubiquitous “dark and stormy night” the venue oozed light, love, and harmony.

The title of the art exhibition apt.  I walked through the door to the buzz of conversations and laughter contributing to a feeling of harmony and happiness. I spied a couple of faces from my past association with the church and years melted away.

There is a special aura around people comfortable in their faith, regardless of denomination or creed, as well as those without a religion but who believe in humanity’s goodness.

Kindness, compassion, and spirituality warm and encompassing, like the sunrise and sunset’s predictable beauty of benign light.

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It was the first time I had been inside the renovated church and ‘new’ gallery (renovations occurred 2011!), although many years ago, I attended services regularly, helped out with the children’s program (the J-Team), and Father Tony, the priest at the time, officiated at John’s funeral.

However, 2007 was the last time I attended as a parishioner when we took Mum to the midnight mass on Christmas Eve, a service I adored. It’s a memory the girls and I treasure for many reasons, particularly since Mum died in 2009.

For me, a  special ceremony in the calendar of any religion is a spiritual experience and celebrating the birth of Jesus at St Nicholas is always joyous. Even for those who don’t profess a deep faith, Christmas can be special.

The thousands who attend Carols by Candlelight events(or watch them on TV) throughout Melbourne, including events in Kingston, and most notably at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in the city proper, often discover a sense of community and of peace.

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Renovations and Transformation…

I was impressed by the transformation of the inside of the church building and the addition of the gallery. The sanctity of the church building enhanced and inviting the public to come in and use the space. A link to the world outside and recognition that symbols and ritual have value because meaning will come from interaction and thoughtful contemplation.

St Nicholas will be celebrating 150 years soon and a member of the congregation is researching and writing its history. I understand the commitment he has undertaken because I put together the history of St Aidan’s Anglican Church, Carrum for their centenary. What a wonderful addition to Mordialloc’s history Colin’s research and the resultant book will make.

Little church on HIll
Published 2004

The beauty in the renovated church, especially of the restored brick archways, the polished wood and the lovely baptismal candle and wall hangings, illustrate the care of the congregation in retaining the essence of the original church.

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Given the multicultural nature of the Australian population sometimes the needs of faiths other than Christian are forgotten and so interfaith networks are important.  

I’ve been fortunate to have many life experiences meeting exceptional human beings in places such as:

  • a ceremony in Japan on the Buddha’s birthday,
  • in a Hindu Temple in Singapore,
  • at Harmony Day and Eid celebrations in Mordialloc
  • and countless workshops and events where people gather to advance equity and social justice without professing a particular faith.

It was good to hear the Chairman of the Interfaith Network thank two long term members taking retirement from active involvement in an organisation committed to tolerance and acceptance of other religions. He also encouraged some of the artists to come forward and share their practice and inspiration for the theme of Colours of Harmony.

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art teacher from Parkdale College

The enthusiastic art teacher from Parkdale College bursting with pride at the magnificent display of students’ efforts, admitted she could have filled all the walls of the gallery and it was difficult to choose just a few works to display such was the response to the topic.

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the wall of art from Parkdale College

The students found inspirational quotes or thoughts and went where their imagination and artistry led and produced a variety of responses to Colours of Harmony. Their efforts a comforting balance to the mainstream media’s ‘shock/horror/outrage’ news-bites designed to either keep us all in a constant state of fear and/or ignorant of any in-depth analysis of national and international affairs.

Sadly, the digital age and proliferation of social media contribute to a reduction in quality journalism and as I considered the thoughtful responses to this exhibition’s brief,  I pondered all the challenges the younger generation face. How lucky we are to have teachers like the young art teacher who embraced this opportunity to get her students involved and share their creative responses.

(Sadly, last year was the final year of a creative writing competition I judged involving Parkdale College and Kingston U3A, which initiated the project. Mordialloc Writers’ Group provided the Encouragement Award for the ten years of the project but alas all good things come to an end and Kingston U3A has decided not to continue.)

However, we are lucky to have teachers who embrace opportunities to get students involved with community groups and share their creative responses. Parkdale College has a good track record of doing this.

we dont have to be ordinary
We don’t have to be ordinary
dont get harmony etc
You don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note
do not judge
Do not judge my story by the chapter you walked in on

 

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It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day, and I’m feeling good.

We live in troubled times and Australia is having many difficult conversations around tolerance and multiculturalism and a recent incident where a group of people calling themselves patriots dressed as Muslims and invaded the progressive Gosford Anglican Church last Sunday, indicates we have a long way to go to reach harmony. 

Congratulations to a local school with no problem embracing the topic and producing insightful artwork like the ones in the exhibition.

The Gallery and Exhibits

Artist/Photographer Suzanne Ashton spoke about seeing the tiny details of life in the ‘big picture’ of the natural and human world. The beauty and wonder others may miss.

Diana Muller’s art is eclectic and her card and crochet pieces depict the soul inspired by poems of Keiko Takahashi. Her message profound, it is in our hands – we can change the future. Her piece The Source reminds us:

We come from the Source, we go back to The Source, and we are The Source.

Felice Cortese in Moordi Walk uses Melaleuca broad-leaved paperbark with water base paint and pigments to create a spiritual piece on prayer and reflection.

Colour on an indigenous tree background inspired from my walks along Mordialloc Creek. Its spirituality and natural beauty.

Richard Newton captured Harmony of Buddha with oil, acrylic, bitumen, gold and silver leaf and layers of resin/mixed medium.

The Thai images of the Buddha are very spiritual and I have attempted to counterbalance the image with a harmonious abstraction… there is an unnatural harmony between the classic old image and the use of colour and line.

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Harmony is about coexistence, and interfaith harmony is a reality when people respect each other’s right to believe and worship their religion without discord and violence. This calls for cooperation and a level of understanding, which may require education and effort – moving out of our comfort zones, reaching out and looking within.

Exhibitions like the Colours of Harmony supported and encouraged by council and community help us grow towards what may seem elusive – an achievable world of mutual respect and appreciation of all cultural traditions so that interfaith and intrafaith dialogues are guided by love and tolerance.

 

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Mother Earth in Harmony by Charmaine Crisp

This idea encapsulated by artist Charmaine Crisp, in her work depicting the Tree of Life and all its nuances. The ethereal glow and exceptional detail in her painting not done justice by my photograph!

“We wake under the one rising sun, which provides warmth and light for all. May love, hope, and charity be our guide in life.”

The Exhibition lasts until August 30 so I hope as many people as possible make the effort to enjoy the 41 pieces of work by talented artists.

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And for those interested in learning more about other faiths in Melbourne we have The Interfaith Centre, which organises World Interfaith Harmony Week. A Multifaith Calendar is available so that organisations can plan events and be mindful they don’t clash with or inadvertently exclude other faiths.

I studied at the ANU in Canberra in the 70s  and often return to visit friends.  I love this statute of Ethos by Tom Bass,  in Civic.  It embodies how I feel about humanity, the world and belonging to a place where people work for harmony, peace, and reconciliation.

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Acrostic by Mairi Neil

Healing words soothe
A heartfelt hug or sincere smile
Reason, not racism
Multicultural vibrancy Australia’s style
Outsiders no more
Not only tolerance but acceptance
You are welcome – we are enriched

Christmas – Let Us All Rejoice

“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.”

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Recently, I celebrated and wrote about Eid and Diwali, major religious festivals at this time of year with similar customs to the Christian celebration of Christmas.

Over the next few posts I’ll share memories of Christmas, the celebration that is part of my culture and Christianity, the religion most familiar to me.

All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree.

Albert Einstein

As I finish my teaching term before the holidays, it is customary to exchange cards and gifts and share special festive foods in the lead up to Christmas.

Some schools and workplaces have Secret Santas or Kris Kringles, special Christmas parties and meals and even outings. It helps that we are heading into summer and annual holidays. The thought of a long break and perhaps an exciting time ahead certainly makes it easier to be in a jolly party mood.

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I’m also aware of the celebration of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of light because several students are Jewish.

Just as Christians believe Jesus was the Son of God and the Light of the world, Jews celebrate the importance of light.

Hanukkah celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, of purity over adulteration, of spirituality over materiality.

Jesus “Christ” is known as the founder or central figure of “Christianity.” Christmas is a Christian holiday on December 25 that commemorates the birth of Jesus. Ancient Romans also commemorated Jesus’ birth by marking a division of the calendar still in use today. The years before Jesus’ birth are marked as B.C. (Before Christ), and the years after Jesus’ birth are marked A.D. (Anno Domini, which means, in the year of our Lord).

Christmas literally means the Mass (celebration) of Christ. “Christ” is a Greek word and title, meaning “anointed” or one set apart by God for a special purpose. “Christ” is equivalent to the Hebrew word “Messiah.” Based on the words of ancient prophets, the first century Jewish people expected the arrival of the Messiah promised by God as a great deliverer of the people.

When the world seems to be in disarray, it’s wonderful to be surrounded by happiness as people plan family get togethers, holidays, and special meals. Festivities and rituals brighten the mundane to give deeper meaning to communities and individual lives.

In a multicultural country like Australia where Christmas festivities and decorations last through to the New Year, schools and workplaces celebrate regardless of whether people are Christian – it is a time to reach out and spread goodwill.

Love and joy can be infectious!

A Christmas Triolet
Mairi Neil

Peace on Earth, my Christmas dream
Regardless of your religious persuasion
Togetherness, binding like whipped cream
Peace on earth, my Christmas dream
Love and kindness must reign supreme
To mark the joy of a global occasion
Peace on Earth, my Christmas dream
Regardless of your religious persuasion

Shadows of suffering can be dispelled
Light will always banish darkness
No matter where evil has dwelled
Shadows of suffering can be dispelled
Belief in humanity encouraged and upheld
To do otherwise is destructive madness
Shadows of suffering can be dispelled
Light will always banish darkness

Let tolerance be your guiding light
To thoughtful words and deeds
The spirit of Christmas can unite
Let tolerance be your guiding light
Christian principles shining bright
Spreading Love’s promising seeds
Let tolerance be your guiding light
To thoughtful words and deeds

Houses are decorated as are shopping centres, public buildings and even streets. Although it’s only the beginning of December evidence of people embracing Christmas mode is everywhere. The staff at Mordialloc Railway Station have added some new tinsel to well-worn decorations and a house near Longbeach Place in Chelsea is into the spirit of the season.

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Today, as I walked down to Mordialloc foreshore for the annual Brunch for Peace at the Beach with the Union of Australian Women Southern Branch, soothing Christmasy songs floated in the air. The nursing home on the corner of Albert and McDonald Streets prepared for a family Christmas party. Young people helped staff decorate several tables arranged under a marquee.

Hopefully, the music, planned festivities, and presence of family will trigger happy memories for the residents of the home, many of whom suffer dementia. Even if they don’t know what the fuss is about, the activity and presence of young people should brighten their day – it certainly brightened mine as I walked past.

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Some people have the tradition of sending a letter to all of their family members and friends reporting on the major events of the year. Others have particular traditions like decorating the tree, attending Carols by Candlelight, or baking Christmas cake, plum pudding and sharing a meal with extended family. Others always holiday at the same place each year and prepare for Christmas away from home.

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we always have a ‘real’ Christmas tree, the smell of pine needles synonymous with Christmas

I was brought up a Christian and in my Scottish Presbyterian (Church of Scotland) childhood, celebrating the birth of Jesus made Christmas Day and the days leading up to it (Advent), exciting and special. The emphasis on the New Testament’s teachings about loving one another and peace and goodwill towards all mankind were the messages stressed in prayers and hymns.

Although I only occasionally attend a particular denominational church today, I still see Christmas in this light. Santa Claus, rampant consumerism, eating and partying to excess is not my idea of Christmas.

In fact, Scotland did not declare Christmas Day a public holiday until 1958. Christmas in Scotland was traditionally observed very quietly, the emphasis on religious observance not the Christmas festival.

Christmas Giving
Mairi Neil

Generosity heart warming and kind
Inspiring others to rejoice and give
For children the anticipation is exciting
Their joy and delight infectious at
Sharing gifts as well as receiving

Father Christmas  a benign fantasy figure when I was a child. My working class parents explained that he only brought to each child what the parents could afford. This explanation the same one I gave to my children while emphasising it is a season more about giving than receiving!

A great example of bringing Christmas joy to children while practising Christian charity is Senator Sarah Hanson-Young’s “Give a toy to a child in detention”. An opportunity for us to show compassion and care – qualities our Government has lost in its shameful treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.

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I teach adults from many different backgrounds and with a range of life experiences. Here is a poem one class wrote:

Class Acrostic Poem 2008

Coming together at Christmas
Happiness for families
Rituals rich in memories
Insights are gained playing inside games
Stirring the pudding
Tinsel and berries, togetherness and traditions
Merrymaking, mulled wine, and mistletoe
Acceptance of gifts and family idiosyncrasies
Sweets, sauces, and sugar plum fairies

More than families have idiosyncrasies looking at Melbourne City Council’s Christmas decorations this year – they’ve got into the craze of yarn art like Longbeach Place! The expertise, time and effort in ‘dressing’ these trees certainly shows devotion.

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The Council workers are also erecting a traditional Santa’s Village which was under construction the night I was in the city.

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The magnificent spire of St Paul’s in the background – a good reminder Jesus is the reason for the season.

Christmas Joy
Mairi Neil

Let’s celebrate another Christmas,
perhaps relive the happiness and joy
that those first Christians felt
when they heard of the birth
of that special boy.
The baby fulfilled God’s promise
from the East travelled Kings three
guided by the Star of Bethlehem
knowing that they would see
a host of angels singing aloud,
and shepherds leaving their flocks
Around the manger all would crowd
to witness the amazing miracle
of the birth of that special child
agreeing He’d been sent to Earth
To secure peace,
Also tolerance and Love
and a place for the meek and mild.

One of my lessons last week focused on Christmas and similar religious celebrations. This is always a rich subject for writers to mine, particularly if you seek publication.

Shelves of bookshops and libraries sag with specialised or niche books. You can start writing today and have something ready for next year’s season – or the year after!

  • Write your annual letter  to family and/or friends recounting the good and bad things that have happened to you this year that could be considered noteworthy. (This could be factual or exaggerated, poignant or amusing.)
  • Write a poem titled Christmas Is… (substitute  your special celebration/belief if it differs from Christmas)
  • List all the trappings, events, beliefs, ‘to do’ list that make your  celebration memorable.
  • How has the celebration changed for you since childhood.
  • Is there one particular year that stands out?
  • Write a memory of the happiest Christmas.
  • A Christmas that was a disaster.
  • Have you ever celebrated Christmas,Hanukkah, Ramadan,Diwali… away from home? With people who had a different custom?
  • Have you a favourite recipe to share that marks these festivities?
  • What difference has technology made to your celebrations – do you still post cards? Have you discovered old or new friends through social media?
  • Did you believe in Santa Claus? When did you stop? Were you honest with your children/grandchildren?
  • Did you ever take part in a school play – what part did you play?
  • What’s the best present you ever received? Why?
  • What’s the worst present? Why?
  • Have you ever regretted or been embarrassed by a present you bought?

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Shining a Light and Celebrating Multicultural Australia

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To encourage diversity and inclusion, Mordialloc Neighbourhood House and members of the Aumsai Sansthan Temple hosted  Diwali celebrations in Mordialloc at the Allan McLean Hall.

This Indian Festival of Light aims to bring joy, happiness and luck into your life and when I attended the event on Saturday, joy, happiness and luck (for those with winning raffle tickets) abounded.

The MC for the afternoon, Gabrielle Fakhri, Cross-Cultural Trainer and Community Development and Welfare Consultant, acknowledged the traditional owners of the land before introducing official guests. She also acknowledged the generous support of Victoria’s Multicultural Commission when welcoming the VMC Commissioner Mr Chidambaram Srinivasan. First appointed in 2011, his current term is from 2013 to 2017.

Mr Chidambaram Srinivasan (known as ‘Srini’), has worked in the IT industry in Australia, India, Japan and USA for more than 32 years. He brings a variety of skills, empathy, knowledge and experience in the areas of technology, community and business (including small business) as well as volunteering for a charity. He has successfully worked in cross-cultural business and social contexts, thanks to his proficiency in multiple languages including English, Tamil, Japanese, Hindi, Bengali and Sanskrit. He has been a long standing supporter of cultural activities in the community.

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Srini, the VMC Commissioner with Mayor Tamsin Bearsley being careful not to ruin the lovely henna decoration on her hand!

Srini explained how Diwali was the biggest and brightest of all festivals – spiritually signifying the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair.

The celebration in Mordialloc of many faiths, one community, allowing new cultural experiences and everyone present to learn about others. He encouraged those present to enjoy conversations and broaden understanding of each other’s customs because this was the way to social harmony and peaceful co-existence.

Victoria celebrates cultural diversity and in a recent poll, 86% agreed that multiculturism has been good for Australia. Government at all levels in Victoria encourage people to practise their faith and culture without discrimination. As a commissioner, he is a link between government and community and is also privileged to advise the government on policy.

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Diversity is Australia’s strength, and we are fortunate people in the community appreciate this, and become dedicated to fostering harmony and peaceful co-existence. He commended Mordialloc Neighbourhood House as being a community hub promoting social inclusion and peaceful cohesion.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else. Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.

Margaret Mead,author and American cultural anthropologist.

This is the second year, Lisa Sun, the manager at Mordialloc Neighbourhood House has organised the celebration of Diwali aiming to break down cultural barriers and to increase understanding of other faiths and cultures. An aim close to my heart and encouraged by the City of Kingston Council with the Mayor and some councillors present.

Mayor Tamsin Bearsley and Manager MNH Lisa Sun
Kingston’s Mayor, Tamsin Bearsley and Manager of Mordialloc Neighbourhood House, Lisa Sun

A month ago I attended the Eid Celebration at the same venue and although Diwali is a traditional Hindu celebration, there were people of Christian, Buddhist and Muslim faiths enjoying the afternoon. A reclaiming of the multicultural society that makes Australia such an exciting and peaceful place to live.

Gabrielle pointed out the beautiful Rangoli of coloured powder painstakingly drawn on the floor by several women and explained this sacred welcoming area for the Hindu deity Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, is common during Diwali and hoped everyone shared in the good luck.

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Srini had mentioned that on 20 December 2013, the UN General Assembly 68th Session proclaimed 2015 as the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies a fitting juxtaposition for the spiritual celebration that is Diwali, a festival dating back to ancient times showing humankind has always recognised the importance of light. (A not surprising connection considering his CV!)

Light plays a vital role in our daily lives and is an imperative cross-cutting discipline of science in the 21st century. It has revolutionized medicine, opened up international communication via the Internet, and continues to be central to linking cultural, economic and political aspects of the global society…

… a global initiative adopted by the United Nations to raise awareness of how optical technologies promote sustainable development and provide solutions to worldwide challenges in energy, education, agriculture, communications and health.

Gabrielle focused on the inner spiritual light and introduced a representative who presented the priest Aditya Sharma from the Aumsai Sansthan Hindu Temple to bless the proceedings and encourage those present to light the candles on the rangoli. The representative from the temple, Srini and Tamsin were invited to share in the prayers and gift flowers and fruit to the deity. They removed their shoes out of respect before joining the priest at the shrine.

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After the official guests had lit candles, members of the audience were invited to light a candle too. For many present this was the first time they’d been privileged to participate in a Hindu ceremony. Several faiths light candles at different times of the year. The meaningful rituals we share have more in common than we realise.

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After the all-important blessing, there was the first of several draws on the door prize raffles – just to make sure some people had a kick-start on the promises of wealth and prosperity!

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Lucky door prizes winner

 

The entertainment by an array of fantastic singers and dancers demonstrated traditional Indian culture and the increasingly popular global phenomenon that is Bollywood. The audience loved it all. The first two young women sang traditional songs in Hindi; one praising Lord Krishna and the other sang a song from a popular movie.

The performers on stage added to the colour and light of the day, traditional costumes jangling and glittering. The flexibility, gracefulness and energy of the dancers, the epitome of joyous celebration whether from the expert adults to the enthusiastic children demonstrating their talent.

choreographer acknowledged
Choreographer acknowledged

Sridevi Challapalli, the choreographer of the dance group who performed Muddu Gare Yasoda, a keerthana (hymn sung in the praise of God) written by the famous Indian mystic saint composer, Tallapaka Annamacharya, deserves a special mention for her talentThe songs praised Lord Venkateswara, the deity of Seven Hills in Tirumala, India where unbroken worship has been offered for over 12 centuries. Lord Vishnu manifested Himself as Lord Venkateswara. The song and dance adaptation a description of the mischievousness of Lord Krishna.

Sridevi runs the Sri Sai Nataraja Academy of Kuchipudi Dance, and two of the dancers are her twin daughters – their beautiful but elaborate costume and make-up takes an hour to prepare!

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Sridevi Challapalli with her daughters
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The girls displaying the red adornment – Alta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another attractive dance display that left me gasping for breath was the energetic Saranya whose beauty and flexibility had the audience iPhone cameras struggling to keep up with her movements.

The costumes and expertly arranged hair of the dancers looked exquisite from the front or the back.DSC_1511-1.jpg

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The classical and semi-classical dances all told stories, whether traditional tales or modern versions of love stories or everyday dramas. The dancers bodies and faces expressive and lively – you didn’t need to understand Hindi –  some stories cross all language and cultural barriers! The young boys strutting their stuff could have auditioned for Grease.

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The audience remained enthralled and respectful although plenty of mobile phone cameras worked overtime. Traditional Indian sweets were served with a complimentary bottle of water. Suresh had a stall with Indian clothes, jewellery and other small gifts. Another stall sold gorgeous sari length materials.

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Hinduism is one of the great religions of the world and is also one of the most tolerant.  Diwali, Festival of Light celebrated throughout the world at a time of year close to Christmas.  Like Eid, there are similarities of gift giving, sharing, aiming to love one another and joyous celebration of life as well as light, bodes well for communities, like Mordialloc, who live in harmony and appreciate the richness of many faiths.

There were several memorable highlights of the afternoon, Sridevi’s young dancers a treat with their enthusiastic interpretation of a classic story.

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However, the grand finale of two shy little girls singing Peter Combe’s Mr Clicketty Cane in English and then a final exhilarating Bollywood style dance of most of the youngsters in the room had me itching to join them on stage.

 

Memories of school concerts, kindergarten party pieces and fun family parties revived. What a successful afternoon. Special mention must be made of the sound technician who never missed a cue, the men who helped in the kitchen, and those stacking away the chairs when I left.

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Community, Faith and Joy in action. What a great combination!