Harmony Day is a day for celebrating the many different cultures and backgrounds that make Australia so wonderfully colourful and diverse. Despite its touchy-feely name, (which has provided a source of amusement for some of my friends), it’s a great concept.

This year’s theme – “Everyone belongs” – is about every Australian being welcome and included in our community, regardless of where they come from. It’s about celebrating the things that make us unique as well as things we have in common.

Penny Wong

Australia is one of the most multicultural nations in the world. And, for the most part, we love to celebrate our diversity.

Imagine Australia without St Patrick’s Day, Chinese New Year or Glendi. Imagine no spaghetti, fried rice, souvlaki, croissants or sushi. Imagine no Magda Szubanski, no Guy Sebastian, no Lee Lin Chin, no George Calombaris, no Dorinda Hafner or no Waleed Aly.

And, of course, it’s impossible to imagine Australia without our rich Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage and the many outstanding Indigenous people who have played leadership roles in public service, health, education, sport and the arts.

But, let’s be honest, we need Harmony Day because we don’t always enjoy harmony in our communities. We need a theme like “everyone belongs” because so many Australians don’t feel like they belong. We need to tackle racism and divisiveness because it is alive and well in modern Australia.

Racism continues to be experienced by the traditional owners of this land, as well as migrants, international students, asylum seekers and refugees, who have often endured the most to forge a new life in our lucky country.

It’s disappointing that, while enthusiastically promoting Harmony Day, some of our political leaders continue to employ divisive language and pursue policies that discriminate against particular groups of people and directly jeopardise harmony within our communities.

The only group of people who truly had the right to decide who came to this country and the circumstances in which they came were the traditional owners of this land. Yet, they were given no choice. Indeed, many of them continue to feel marginalised by a society that has been established around them.

The other more than 97 per cent of us fall into the category of “those who’ve come across the seas”.

Getting back to Harmony Day, Wikipedia makes the interesting point that musical harmony is most pleasing to the ear “when there is a balance between the ‘tense’ and ‘relaxed’ moments.”

Perhaps that is how we need to think about cultural harmony too. Accommodating new cultures into our community is not always easy. Building trust and understanding takes time and, in the meantime, tension and suspicion are more commonplace.

Almost all cultural communities that now play an integral role in Australian life have endured isolation and unflattering or downright offensive name-calling in the early years following their arrival in this nation.

There’s no point glossing over this. It is human nature to resist change and multiculturalism is hard work. But this does not mean that every new group of people to come to this country should endure the unacceptable racism experienced by previous immigrants.

We need to learn the lessons of history. Despite some challenges along the way, it is clear that wave after wave of new migrants have ultimately contributed to making Australia a richer, better place to live.

In other words, we’ve worked through the “tense moments” and pressed on towards the resolution – just like a heart-stirring piece of music. Perhaps the harmony is all the more rich because of the tense moments and dissonant chords?

Embracing diversity requires us to overcome our own fears and prejudice. It therefore requires courage. So, “with courage let us all combine” to make this great nation of ours, not only fair, but vibrant, respectful and inclusive.

Happy Harmony Day, Australia.  In joyful strains, then let us sing…

Jo Pride is the Victorian Convenor of Welcome to Australia.

How will you be celebrating Harmony Day? What’s your favourite example of multiculturalism in Australia?



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