One of the pleasures in coming to a new country is experiencing for the first time events that long-time citizens of that country take for granted. It is refreshing and stimulating to encounter such events, especially when they have at their heart strong and positive elements which lift the spirits.
Such was the case last week, when I experienced my first â€˜Harmony Dayâ€™. As the Government website devoted to Harmony Day puts it, Harmony Day â€œis a day of cultural respect for everyone who calls Australia home â€“ from the traditional owners of this land to those who have come from many countries around the world. By participating in Harmony Day activities, we can learn and understand how all Australians from diverse backgrounds equally belong to this nation and enrich it.â€
Although the leading Labor party chose about that same day to implode in in-fighting, knocking most of the national Harmony Day activities off the news (politicians, it would seem, are the same all over the world), it is clear that Harmony Day was taken seriously across this vast country. Festivals were held, awards were given, and orange â€“ the colour chosen to represent Harmony Day – was worn all over the country. Schools had a particular role to play in highlighting the importance of the day, and at Ascham I attended two great assemblies, at each of which we sang the beautiful song (written by The Seekers) â€“ new to me, but clearly a powerful and well-known hymn to the power of diversity – â€˜I am Australianâ€™.
The Year 2 class who were leading one of the assemblies I attended had made up a third verse about themselves:
We came from New Zealand, from Greece and Italy,
From India & China, from England, Germany,
We came to find a new life in the Great Southern Land,
As immigrants together, we became Australian.
As I heard it, it struck me powerfully how special this country is, in its amalgamation of peoples from around the world â€“ people still coming to seek a new life, from every country on earth. This blending of cultures makes for an uplifting mix, and while immigration is never without its challenges, I have marvelled at the essential connectedness of the Australians. Almost every single Australian you meet will tell tales of connections with countries far and wide, often several of them. In a world where travel is easy and yet where fundamental misunderstandings between races and national groups can lead to terrible wars and atrocities against fellow human beings, we need the robust openness that these connections and sense of belonging to multiple cultures bring.
At its best, Australia provides a model for unity and harmony, and Harmony Day reminded us all of this, very explicitly. We should all become Australian.