Thursday, April 24, 2014

Meeting with the Governor General!

We met at the Horsham Library before being briefed about the Governor General's meeting with some of the WOW participants. That's Yasmin Harradine's mum above, Nola Illin, and me below. Buket's mum, Canan, was there also, and Yasmin, Buket and Soe Son Di. 
Talking to the girls about the Wow theme from last year: Belonging
Being briefed by Melissa Morris, Horsham Council's Community Development manager, and the Governor General's "aide-de-camp"... Yasmin looking suss at Charee taking photos already.

Introductions and handshakes with Governor General, Sir Peter Cosgrove, and also Lady Cosgrove

Brief explanation of the Wow project

Yasmin Harradine, Wow's indigenous Australian participant, chats about her two statements installed in stainless steel:
"I love learning about my culture" and "There is so much air to share".
Hoping to catch up with Yasmin regarding their topic of conversation, as I couldn't catch what they were saying.
Will update this post then.
I am delighted to have Bernad and Harrison turn up in time to meet the Governor General.
Bernad Ngendakumana explains that he was born in Tanzania, raised in Burundi, and lives here now with his family.
Bernad reads his statement aloud: "Life is a journey. I am happy it has brought me to Horsham".
Bernad is asked by Sir Peter if his school friends know how to pronounce his surname yet. Bernad answered that most of his friends knew now how to say it.
Soe Son Di Shwe ta Lee explaining why feeling calm and safe is a part of "belonging". She talks about war and her old life in refugee camps on the Burmese/Thai border, how there is so much uncertainty as to whether you will ever have a home, and that there was so much danger each day. Soe Son Di's message was a very strong and important one to deliver to the Governor General. Sir Peter Cosgrove agreed that war is terrible and wrong, that there should not be any wars.

Buket Aziz answered Sir Peter's questions on leaving Turkey to live here in Australia, then he read her poem on the library wall:
"Every night my heart sleeps with me
Now my heart lies in this country"
Both Sir Peter and Lady Cosgrove were very impressed with the poem, especially the first line, which Sir Peter explained reminded him of what is inscribed at the Ataturk Memorial in Turakena Bay, Gallipoli.
Sir Peter called Buket's mother, Canan, over to where we were standing in front of Buket's wall poem.

He then quoted Mustafa Ataturk's full tribute to the Anzac soldiers:
Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.
                 It's Anzac Day today as I write on this blog, and I look at Ataturk's quote above and wish that it didn't take terrible wars and violent deaths to unite the Mehmets and Johnnies in this country or Turkey. 

I introduced Sir Peter to Harrison Htoo Po Kyaut. Harrison's profound piece of writing about dreams, which is installed on the wall next to Horsham's Regional Art Gallery, was too far a detour for the crowd to walk there.  When I asked Harrison if he could recite the poem, he responded that he couldn't remember it off the top of his head, which was understandable after racing to the library from a Horsham College Athletics Sports day.

So Sir Peter asked me to send him the poem, and promised that he would personally reply to Harrison after reading it. He was genuinely very interested in knowing what Harrison had written, especially after hearing that Harrison's past was spent living in a refugee camp on the Burmese/Thai border.
Here is Harrison's poem:
"Once my dreams were dull and cold
Now my dreams are bright and gold"
We will publish the Governor General's reply when Harrison receives it.
What a great moment! We were all on a bit of a high after this important meeting, especially as our esteemed guests turned out to be so friendly and genuinely interested in meeting and learning about the Wow participants present. I am so pleased that this meeting happened, for validating all the hard work put into the project by so many people, but also for reinforcing the ever-increasing need to celebrate and promote the wonderful cultural diversity in our region.

Oasis Wimmera Weekend Camp, Dimboola.

I was very happy to be invited along to help out with the Oasis Wimmera migrant group camping last month on the Wimmera River in Dimboola. The Arura Girl Guides venue was fantastic. Canoeing, building girls and boys "forts", swimming at Horseshoe Bend, sleeping in tents and the dormitory, multicultural feasts, bonfire night, painting workshop in the bush, and plenty more fun was had by all the families. Enjoy the photos.

This is Sujatha Umakanthan, amazing volunteer Coordinator of Oasis Wimmera. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Oasis Wimmera Riverside Picnic 2014

The Riverside Oasis Wimmera Picnic 2014 was a huge success! Lots of WOW artists and their families turned up for an afternoon riverside picnic at my place, situated on the edge of the Little Desert and Dimboola. Perfect weather, fine multicultural food on offer, two boats, one floating mattress, one floating yoga ball, a jetty = plenty of laughing, squealing, jumping, diving, swimming, boating, eating, chatting, photographing and mingling...

For the final stage of the picnic, I presented "Certificates of Appreciation" to the WOW artists, awards issued by Horsham Regional City Council. I took the opportunity to talk about the dream of ending mandatory detention in Australia, about the Light the Dark vigil going on all over Australia tonight for Reza Berati, who was killed last week in our detention centre on Manus Island, and for the 63 unprotected asylum seekers who suffered injuries there as well. I spoke about the continual need for diversity, tolerance and cultural education in Australia...and a massive appeal from Australian citizens to stop the current government from continuing their atrocious treatment of asylum seekers who are fleeing from terrible home situations to find safety. I thanked everyone for attending and making the picnic a great celebration, and expressed my desire for more culturally diverse collaborative projects in the future. 
More photos of our picnic in the online Dimboola Courier.