Multiculturalism in Australia has come a long way and testimony to this was the event on Thursday 21 May 2015 marking the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Ethnic Communities Council of NSW (ECCNSW).
Founded on 27 July 1975, the ECCNSW filled a void by allowing a diversity of ethnic communities to form a coalition in one voice. As a peak body, the ECCNSW is a consistent and vocal advocate of multiculturalism and provides a conduit between ethnic communities, government and the wider community. Its strength lies in grass roots knowledge of the needs of ethnic communities.
The event was attended by more than 400 people from many different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds who assembled at the Conca D’Ora Event Centre in Riverwood to celebrate the occasion and great achievements.
Gone was the old White Australia policy taken over by the advanced and energetic Australian Multiculturalism way of life. To echo this sentiment in his video message of congratulations, Prime Minister Tony Abbott stated how we have found unity in our diversity and strength in our differences.
The evening kicked off with MC Natalie Ahmat, a proud Indigenous woman of the Mudburra and Mabulag Island people, welcoming the guests to this auspicious occasion.
In opening his address Peter Doukas, Chair of the ECCNSW, said “Tonight we are celebrating the work and achievements of the Ethnic Communities Council of NSW as a tireless advocate of the bold vision of a pluralistic and multicultural Australia.” But he added “Although we are a better and more open society, our work is not yet complete.”
In her address as Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Social Services, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells drew our attention to the role of the ECCNSW for its advocacy, education and community development over the past 40 years. She summarised it most aptly when she said “The ECCNSW stands as a mirror to multicultural Australia.”
Between the speeches of the evening came the fabulous entertainment:
The children of the Sudanese Australian Catholic Community performed an exhilarating dance routine that had the crowd clapping and stomping their feet. These 6-9 year old kids set the momentum going for the entertainment that followed. The Greek troupe had rhythms going that was unique to their culture and had the audience battling to keep up. And of course there was Marcus Rivera, the Filipino opera singer who had us all mesmerised with his unique voice. The encore he received was well deserved.
At the various tables were different ethnic groups from all over the world. The Afghani ladies with their colourful outfits stood out amongst the crowd. Their Ethiopian friend with his all white outfit complimented their dress appropriately. The Sudanese folk with their traditional apparel was iridescent in its splendour. And then there was action. The table representing the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies had an ongoing throng of people wanting to engage in conversation.
The radio station representatives from the Philippines and Hungary needed no broadcasting prowess to get people talking to them.The group from the University of Western Sydney had lots of action to and from their table. The ladies from the Italian Association of Assistance had their share of attention until they hit the dance floor.
The birthday cake was cut with lots of fanfare.
John Ajaka, NSW Minister for Multiculturalism, in referring to the partnership between Service NSW and Multicultural NSW, which enables anyone to have a document translated into English from another language by visiting a Service NSW centre, said “With 20 per cent of people in NSW speaking a language other than English at home, this is a practical and common sense initiative that will make life easier for our community.”
Michelle Rowlands, Federal Opposition Shadow Minister for Multiculturalism, reminded us how more accepting Australians have become in recent years to refugees from different lands. In talking of her passion in affording all Australians equality of opportunity, she said: “No matter where you live, or what your background is, everyone should have the same opportunities to succeed in life.”
Meanwhile Sophie Costis, NSW Shadow Minister for Multiculturalism, in her show for support to ECCNSW, showed her stance by stating “I believe in equality. I believe every member of the New South Wales community deserves and is entitled to equal access – equal access to opportunity, to fairness, to public services and to social justice.”
One thing many of the attendees did not know was that one of the ECCNSW major supporters was also having their 40th birthday at this time. Mandi Wicks, senior director at SBS Radio, in her forthright and positive speech, told of the long term connection between the two organisations and how their future is bound to be linked for many years to come. The long applause certainly indicated how much the public appreciated the contribution of SBS radio and television. Happy birthday also to SBS!
The evening ended with a tumultuous round of applause for the organising committee. Let us hope that the whole event will stay in our minds with the reminder that we can all get along despite our differences and despite our backgrounds. Australia is the lucky country and is becoming even luckier with such a diverse population.
Philip Feinstein is a Sydney based writer, musician and activist working for MUSIC FOR REFUGEES