Before Christmas I found myself in the heart of Sydney with thousands of others united together in our fight against racism. It was a beautiful sunny day which should have been spent at one of Sydney’s beaches, but not taking any risks just yet, we gathered at Sydney’s Town Hall. We marched as one multicultural group of Aussies in the streets of Sydney towards our destination at Belmore Park.
There were no slurs of racism and no acts of violence. In fact if I had a little more courage I would have started singing the national anthem, as it seemed a lot more appropriate to sing it on this occasion than it did the previous week. We gathered together with no political or religious persuasion but with one goal on our mind - to combat the horrors of racism.
It was a day of peace and leadership and my heart was once again filled with national pride.
I expected to see a lot more “Middle Easterners” or Muslims present, but was nonetheless thrilled that the many Anglo-Australians and other Australians who turned up proved that we were not alone in our fight against racism and it was certainly not going to be so easy dividing this nation.
Bob Marley and Crowded House blared through the speakers at Belmore Park as people carried their slogans of “Love not War” and “Racism Sucks”. A picture of Alan Jones stood out with “Un-Australian” written beneath his face. Groups of people sung out, “We welcome Muslims not racism” as I was greeted with smiles by many Australians who clearly identified me as an Australian-Muslim. They made sure I got the message clearly, and indeed I did.
Goosebumps prickled my flesh as I listened to Christine Anu’s My Island Home echoing out loud, and it was then that I truly felt once again so proud of this country that I was born and raised in and spoke so fondly of.
I listened with intent as celebrities and other people gave their speeches on multiculturalism, racist radio hosts being “un-Australian”, and how the previous events shook many of us and taught us about the greater responsibility we had for the fragile social fabric in Australia. They spoke clearly against the demonisation of communities and that there was no room for this division in Australia.
We were urged to meet and greet as many people as possible, who looked or sounded different, and to go away with more friends than when we came. One speaker mentioned that once upon a time we loved thy neighbour, now we fear thy neighbour. Well it’s time to break the barriers of insecurity and love thy neighbour again.
I sat in the glaring sun and looked around at the people who collectively condemned the incidents that occurred during and after the Cronulla riots, and wished to participate in ceasing the pain that was hurting the country we all love.
A young boy aged 10 caught my attention as he carried a sign that said: “I am Australian. I am Muslim. And my country is Australia.” Another youngster carried a sign saying: “I am a brown haired, brown eyed Aussie.” These children who had become caught in this racial mess reminded us that the prejudice that had recently been displayed targeted anyone who appeared dark-skinned or dark-eyed. Those people indicated there was only room for blond-haired, blue-eyed, surfer type Aussies. I asked myself, does every pure bred Anglo-Australian fit that physical description?
We were reminded that we have become too caught up thinking about ourselves and not enough about the future of this country. Do we really want to fall behind the rest of the world caught up in worrying who belongs here and who doesn’t? Who looks the part and who doesn’t?
Who sounds Aussie and who doesn’t? Whatever happened to: “For those who’ve come across the seas we’ve boundless plains to share - with courage let us all combine to advance Australian Fair”. Our very own national anthem is filled with multicultural pride and yet we refuse to endorse its meaning and apply it to our lives.
The crowd sat mixed together and repeated with passion out loud, “We are one, but we are many, and from all the lands we come - we share a dream, and speak and sing with one voice. I am, you are, we are Australian”. I heard my own voice ring out in chorus with the others. This song without doubt was the true meaning of Australia.
The only real disturbance I noted was a young Australian man who although appearing to be a little drunk was adamant to get his message across to the crowd in front of him: “Merry Christmas” he would say again and again, while speakers would attempt to deliver their speeches. Finally at the end we gave in to his persistence and despite cultural, religious or personal beliefs it never seemed more appropriate than that moment to grant this young man his wish. Together with one massive echo we shouted “Merry Christmas” to him. It would have put a smile on anyone’s face.
There was one other message that needed to be delivered to the people present at Belmore Park and the rest of Australia. In the midst of all this feeble arguing surrounding the idea of “This is our beach” and “This is our shire” - let us remind ourselves that this land does not belong to you, nor does it belong to me, but to the Indigenous people who came here first, and by God they have surely suffered the most.