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Multiculturalism still rings strong

By Salam Zreika - posted Wednesday, 25 January 2006

There is no doubt many of us are wondering about this Thursday - Australia Day 2006. Will there be racial tension leading to more riots? Will it raise more questions about disrespect towards the Indigenous Australians who first landed on Australian soil and claim they are not given the time of day? Should we raise our Aussie flag up high proudly or lower it in shame?

Many issues have been flying high and wide as we approach Australia’s national day: whether we all stand united this Thursday, January 26, however is another story.

If you had asked me ten years ago what word I would use to describe Australia, it would have been “multiculturalism”. If you asked me the same question today, I would still answer with “multiculturalism”. Despite the recent, unjustified events, I certainly will not be one to back down on celebrating this national day, nor should anyone else.


We were disgraced in the eyes of the world last year when people openly made racial speeches and irresponsible youths randomly committed acts of violence which all still scar us today. However while police work long and hard to tackle the criminal events that occurred during and after the Sydney Cronulla riots, Australia Day is our chance to regain the respect of the world, as well as the trust we owe our neighbours and friends.

My memories of Australia Day go back to 1999 when I was chosen by the mayor of Auburn Council to MC the event in Auburn’s Mona Park. Thousands turned up. My hands damp with sweaty nervousness, however did not obstruct the vision I saw that day: people of all races, religions and personal beliefs sharing the limited space with their picnic rugs and smiling faces. Multicultural performances and exotic food stalls highlighted the day. Aboriginal didgeridoo performances still burn in my mind with that soulful echo.

My hope is to recapture that day on Thursday, wherever it may be in this world-renowned laid-back country. I may hope for peace and tolerance this Thursday but when there is suddenly controversy surrounding our very own Australian flag, it makes me wonder how successful we will be.

One Sydney council has doubts over raising the Australian flag in case it “offends” people. While another believes it causes disrespect among Indigenous Australians - despite us celebrating and recognising Aboriginal identity and heritage.

This nonsense surrounding the Australian flag is almost as bad, if not worse, than young people wrapped in our national symbol singing “we grew here, you flew here”. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what our Australian flag does represent these days but it is easy to identify what it does NOT represent. It does not represent racial hatred fuelled by alcohol or otherwise. It does not represent random acts of vandalism or physical aggression. Nor does it represent an “exclusion” of Aboriginal identity and heritage.

It’s time we put paranoia aside and very simply got on with it. If we make it compulsory in schools to sing our national anthem, than indeed it should be just as important to raise our national symbol up high without any dispute or quarrel on any grounds.


Is Australia Day just an excuse to have a day off work and get drunk, or does it hold a little more value? We should take pride in this day and make the most of it. While many nations are still fighting to establish sovereignty, with futile lives being taken everyday, we can at least be glad we can recognise and accept who we are, where we came from and how and where we would like to be - standing strong and high in the eyes of the world with a good economy, improved foreign policy and last but not least, a backbone of national unity.

Although there are a great number of issues that our government has yet to properly and fairly address, from industrial relations to improved public health systems, we can at the very least appreciate that Australia has survived as a unified multicultural democracy for many years. If people fleeing war-driven countries and other nations where they have few basic rights to come here, isn’t enough to tell you we are a lucky country, I don’t know what is.

It’s time we stopped taking things for granted and took a deep hard look at who we really are.

I know what I will be doing this Thursday, and it does not include hiding behind my four walls in fear of being called a “wog”. I will be joining my neighbours, colleagues and friends in a celebration that only comes around once a year. That is Australia Day.

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About the Author

Salam Zreika is a freelance journalist. She has written for a community paper called FAIR (Forum on Australian Islamic Relations). Salam graduated from the University of Western Sydney in May 2003, with a Bachelor of Communication - majoring in Journalism. She completed her cadetship with the Northern District Times.

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