World Day of Cultural Diversity is celebrated on 21st May each year and highlights “not only the richness of the world’s cultures, but also the essential role of intercultural dialogue for achieving peace and sustainable development” (United Nations). The Program Participants at our May Orientation Course embarked on a field trip to Lakemba in Sydney’s south west and Auburn in Sydney’s west. They were encouraged to reflect on the cultural diversity they experienced. Their reflections are shared below.
The chosen location of our Orientation Course Field Trip was Auburn, a western Sydney suburb located 16km from the central business district. Our group found that after locating the shopping precinct, the most common ancestries in Auburn were Chinese, Turkish, Lebanese, Nepalese and Indian. We discovered that Islam was the largest religious group with two mosques, the Auburn Gallipoli Mosque and the Omar Mosque situated in the suburb. Languages spoken included Arabic, Turkish, Mandarin, Cantonese and Urdu although we had no problem communicating in English – most shop/restaurant owners were helpful and responded to our questions graciously.
We were given $5 each to spend and we found that the most cost effective way of purchasing lunch was to pool our resources. After much deliberation we settled on a cheese/oregano and a meat manoush. I had never tried a manoush before and quite enjoyed the experience. We had enough money left over to buy Turkish Tulumba Tatlısı made by deep frying unleavened dough balls and then soaking them in syrup while they’re still hot to bring back to the group to share.
Our guide at the Gallipoli Mosque was Ergun who told us about the origins of the Mosque. He said that the construction of the present mosque began in 1986 and was completed and officially opened on 28th of November 1999, twenty years after the initial opening. The project was largely funded by the Turkish community. The total cost of the project was about six million dollars. The mosque was designed based on the Classical Ottoman style (Blue Mosque in Istanbul) characterised by a central dome and minarets. Ergun also informed us that the name of the mosque – Auburn Gallipoli Mosque – reflected the shared legacy of the Australian society and the main community behind the construction of the mosque, the Australian Turkish Muslim Community.
During our conversation with Ergun we learnt many new words and their English translation:
- ornamental niche (mihrab) set into the wall that indicates the direction of Mecca (qiblah)
- The pulpit (minbar), from which the Friday (jumu’ah) sermon (khutba) is delivered,
Our field trip as part of the Palms 104th Orientation Course seems quite fitting when we consider UNESCO’s adoption of the 2001 Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity which recognises the need to “enhance the potential of culture as a means of achieving prosperity, sustainable development and global peaceful coexistence.”
Walking along a street in Lakemba enabled me to visit the Lebanese Muslim Association. The receptionist greeted me and immediately engaged in conversation about where I was from. We were both able to rejoice in having two countries to call home. We both proudly call Australia home. For her there is also Lebanon from where she originated and for me there is Thailand to where I am soon going.
Her sons had attended Islamic preschool but then went on to the local public school to be with their other friends. I had attended a catholic school and mixed with my neighbourhood friends after school.
Her Turkish assistant both stressed the importance of girls marrying Muslims boys but for boys they were free to choose. Similarly some catholic parents I know would hope their children would marry Catholics. As with many public spaces and churches the nearby Mosque was closed except for specific prayer times.
Further along the road I was forced to seek shelter from the pelting rain in an open carport. When the resident returned she assured me I was most welcome to remain until the rain stopped. I was able to continue my discussion with her sharing our common sense of giving and receiving hospitality. Coffee beckoned me and the owner happily shared the recipe for the tasty homemade cookies – semolina and either almonds, dates or pistachios. All of which I tasted.
Previously I had studied the three religions who see Abraham as their father but this was a real experience of what as human persons we have in common.
In Auburn, Sydney, The Gallipoli Mosque stands tall – nearly as tall as its counterpart in Istanbul. “The same blueprints were used,” our guide tells us as we all sit on the carpet, “And the marble was shipped from Turkey.” Although he was a bit bewildered at first, Ergin answers our questions patiently and proudly. I was a bit bewildered too. When I walked into the conference room on my fifth day of the Palms’ Orientation course, I had no idea where I was going. The one thing I knew to expect was to experience some of Australia’s multiculturalism. What I didn’t expect was to find that the word doesn’t quite fit. Australia is not, as the definition suggests, different cultures operating separately, but is made up of different cultures operating as one – each bringing their own blueprints and their own marble.
Auburn -Well it was nice to get out of the office so to speak and although wet at times it was great to see the level of multiculturalism everywhere that one wouldn’t normally see in my home town of Toowoomba. After some walking and rejection from one organisation we entered the Gallipoli Turkish Mosque where with some uncertainty we were initially met with a little confusion but we were then graciously welcomed and given a tour of the beautiful Mosque and talked to for about 45 minutes about the Mosque and the Muslim faith. For me it was extremely enlightening and I now have better view of the Muslim faith.
An encounter with a taxi driver on my travels home: the driver was Ethiopian, and what an admirable man he was. He lives in the ethnically diverse suburb next to mine.
He was born in Ethiopia and had to flee with his wife and children to Kenya to escape ongoing violence and religious discrimination. Amharic and Oromo are the official languages of Ethiopia.
He had no spoken English when he arrived in Kenya, and English, along with Swahili, is one of the country’s two official languages. In order to provide a better future for his family, he studied English and Swahili. He and his wife and five children lived in Kenya until they were accepted as refugees and sent to Tasmania, where he continued to study English. He moved to Western Australia from Tasmania three years ago. He proudly announced that they had a sixth child who is an “Aussie”. He is very excited because the rest of his family is preparing to become Australian Citizens.
I felt honoured to be riding in his cab because he had overcome adversity and spoke five languages. Regrettably, the vast majority of Australians only speak English.