Page 250 - Week 01 - Thursday, 16 February 2006

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on Saturday, 11 February, exceeded all expectations, with crowds estimated by the Canberra Times at 60,000. Not included are an estimated 20,000 people who attended the Canberra Contact event, the Chinese New Year celebrations, and the Greek Glendi on the following day.

Through their ambassadors or high commissions, other countries have taken a keen interest in the festival. The Bangladesh Minister for Cultural Affairs, accompanied by her troupe to Canberra, hosted an event jointly organised by the Bangladesh High Commission and the community to acknowledge the troupe and to open the new stage recently built at the high commission. The cultural affairs minister met with Minister Hargreaves and attended the international showcase concert. The Belgian Ambassador will perform the ceremony for the Breughel wedding on Sunday, 19 February 2006, at the Carillon.

The wide variety of festival exhibitions which are staged across Canberra have attracted approximately 1,200 people so far. Project Samoa, a local production by university students, has sold-out performances. The fringe festival has to date attracted 2,500 partygoers who have witnessed a great range of talents, both local and international, such as the Bangladesh Dance Co, Drifting, Silk and Bamboo, the Salut baroque concert, the Indian Dance Troupe, the Macedonian choir, the Mirramu Dance Co, Mozart magic, and Zulya and the Children of the Underground, all playing to packed houses. The festival not only attracts a huge number of visitors but is also a magnet for members of the multicultural community, the broader community, volunteers, performers, cooks, organisers, artists, musicians and dancers.

The festival is not the only symbol of our diversity. Australia’s population has always been diverse, with Aboriginal people comprising over 500 different cultural groupings. From the beginning of European settlement, migrants came from a range of nations, cultures and religious backgrounds. As we have grown as a nation, we have enjoyed successive waves of migration from all around the world. In fact, I came with my family as a beneficiary of this migration when I came to Australia from the UK as a £10 tourist in 1954.

In spite of discriminatory policies until the late 1970s, the Immigration Act of 1949 enabled thousands of migrants to come to Australia, many arriving to work on the landmark Snowy Mountains hydro scheme, the most significant engineering project undertaken in Australia. Not only did the Snowy scheme transform the engineering landscape of Australia but the overseas workers who laboured on it included people from nations that had, at the time, been opponents during World War II and who worked side by side to achieve a shared vision of creating new electricity to power our towns and factories and water to irrigate our crops. The growing recognition of the success of cultural diversity led to the dismantling of the white Australia policy by the Whitlam government in 1973.

Many of these Snowy workers and their children subsequently settled in the ACT, bringing a wealth of experience and skill to a number of professions, including the building industry, the legal profession, information technology and engineering. These migrants, who were in a sense Canberra’s cultural pioneers, built many of Canberra’s original and iconic cafes, bars, restaurants, clubs and churches, thus establishing important social and physical infrastructure for all Canberrans.

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