Today is Harmony Day in Australia. Since 1999 this day, which coincides with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is a celebration of our cultural diversity – a day of cultural respect for everyone who calls Australia home.
The message of Harmony Day is ‘everyone belongs’, This special message aims to engage people to participate in their community, respect cultural and religious diversity and foster a sense of belonging for everyone.
Since 1999, more than 70,000 Harmony Day events have been held in childcare centres, schools, community groups, churches, businesses and federal, state and local government agencies across Australia.
These events take on many forms – concerts, faith services, long table meals and dance parties. I attended one such event this morning, which moved me to write this piece on a day which has significance for us all.
As parents we all want the best for our children. For many of us that means providing every opportunity we can for our children to realise their full potential, but in an environment where respect, gratitude and love abounds. We remind our children how blessed they are to grow up in such a beautiful, safe, prosperous and diverse country, and we teach them to remember those that are far less fortunate than them.
As a child of a migrant and proud first generation Australian, I consider myself so lucky to have an extended family and group of friends that represent many of the colours, races and religions that make up my country. It’s something my children happily take for granted. To them and many children that are still filled with innocence, colour blindness and love, every day is Harmony Day.
This morning my children’s school celebrated Harmony Day with a special assembly, cultural costume parade (that the Principal, teachers and the students took part in) and beautiful music. The assembly started with an inspiring Welcome to Country given by the indigenous students from the school – two cultural dances performed to the contagious rhythm and sound of a didgeridoo. The guest speaker at this assembly was my friend and 2017 WA Young Australian of the Year, Abdullah Alim.
Alim reminded us of how on this special day we must first remember and celebrate our first peoples. The ones who were here thousands of years before the rest of us, and to whom we owe our gratitude and respect. He then looked out into the sea of gorgeous faces in the school hall and asked the Year 1 students to put their hands up and identify themselves. He explained to the assembly that he was the same age as these children when he arrived in Australia as a refugee from Somalia with his parents.
He described how Somalia is a country that has gone through so much suffering. Where many children live in fear and don’t have access to schools or decent education. Alim talked about arriving in this country without speaking a word of English. Where he was too embarassed to ask his teacher questions when he couldn’t understand something in school, and too afraid to speak to his class mates.
He told the children that in those early days he never dreamt he would be standing in front of them many years later holding the Young Australian of the Year Award, and reminded them that no matter what you look like or sound like, no matter how different you feel or appear, anything is possible, we are all unique and everyone belongs in this country.
He concluded his beautiful message (pitched at just the right level for 4-10 year olds) by explaining that many adults call Australia a ‘melting pot’, but that he didn’t agree with this description. He described a melting pot as like a soup, where lots of different ingredients are added, heated up and stirred, and that eventually all these ingredients lose their ow flavours and come together to taste of something different.
He preferred the analogy that we in Australia are like a beautiful salad. Where many vegetables and fruits are added, and that each still retains their own unique taste and appearance, but come together to also produce something special and attractive.
His talk left the children, teachers and parents feeling touched, inspired and filled with a renewed love for the diversity within the school, community and country.
As I reflected on this special assembly and Alim’s talk, I was reminded that when I arrived in Australia, at the same age that Alim also arrived to this country, ‘White Australia Policy’ was alive and well, and ‘assimilation’ was the buzz word. Many of us that came from foreign shores felt we had to become invisible and like everyone else in order to progress and thrive in this new land.
Thankfully we have come a long way since then and much has changed – most of it for the better. In many respects Australia and it’s people have matured. The majority of us now speak a different language. A language that includes the words integration, first people, diversity, equality, inclusion, mutual respect and uniqueness.
Attending a Harmony Day assembly for 4-10 years olds was exactly what I needed today. I was reminded thought the eyes and ears of our children that our diversity is our strength and that everyone truly belongs in this country.
Like Alim, I will also now look at Australia as one big beautiful salad. Make mine as colourful as possible!
Happy Harmony Day to you all.