Harmony Day Roundtable, Shepparton, 2016

Voices for Harmony and the Ethnic Council of Shepparton and District conducted a community roundtable discussion on Harmony Day, Monday 21 March 2016. The focus taken was the annual observance of International Day of Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Voices for Harmony and the Ethnic Council of Shepparton and District conducted a community roundtable discussion on Harmony Day, Monday 21 March 2016. The focus taken was the annual observance of International Day of Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The roundtable took place at Lutfiye’s Shish Kebab in Wyndham St, Shepparton. Speakers to the meeting were Azem Elmaz (MC), Camuran Albanoi, Gordon Porter and Dr Mary Jo Fortuna of Latrobe University, Shepparton.

Racial Discrimination

Racial and ethnic discrimination occur on a daily basis, hindering progress for millions of people around the world. Racism and intolerance can take various forms — from denying individuals the basic principles of equality to fuelling ethnic hatred that may lead to genocide — all of which can destroy lives and fracture communities. The struggle against racism is a matter of priority for the international community and is at the heart of the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The United Nations has been concerned with this issue since its foundation and the prohibition of racial discrimination is enshrined in all core international human rights instruments. It places obligations on States and tasks them with eradicating discrimination in the public and private spheres. The principle of equality also requires States to adopt special measures to eliminate conditions that cause or help to perpetuate racial discrimination.

Roundtable Discussion

Azem Elmas (Voices for Harmony) with Sam Atukorala (Ethnic Council) and Mary Jo Fortuna (Latrobe University)
Azem Elmaz (Voices for Harmony) with Sam Atukorala (Ethnic Council) and Mary Jo Fortuna (Latrobe University)

Led by Dr Mary-Jo Fortuna (of Latrobe University), the round-table discussion considered the question of cultural diversity from two points of view: the successes and the challenges of cultural diversity.

Markers of the success of cultural diversity Shepparton were canvassed. The round-table responded with the following:

* excellence in networking
* excellence in communications
* successes in primary industry (orchards) and manufacturing
* conducting festivals which enhance community understanding
* migration integrates into the wider community
* acceptance of new arrivals by the host community
* shared values building resilience and cultural diversity
* media coverage of cultural diversity is very positive
* role of faith communities – churches, mosques, gurudwaras
* prospect of reconciliation
* availability of funding
* compact community well located

Successful Migration and Diversity

A key issue discussed was “right from the beginning, a successful migration program”. This was dated back to post WWII migration of Macedonians, Albanians, Europeans, etc. First generation migrants from different backgrounds and the role of story-telling, how we came to Australia and settled.

* In Christian communities, the % of overseas born families has increased
* Mosques have very high % of overseas born adherents and these strengthen the community
* Sikh gurduwara has all members overseas born and quick to get into local business
* Utilisation of African House by community groups a strong indicator of integration and success of cultural diversity
* Multicultural Police have strong presence and very high participation in cultural events, particularly for young. Police foster engagement in the community and thus reduce isolation, withdrawal, depression, etc. Over time, extraordinary effective role of police in cultural diversity.


The prospect of reconciliation was linked to the Cummergunga walk-off and the establishment of Rumbalara. Perceptions of Rumbalara are clearer, Rumba is the biggest, most successful indigenous co-operative in Australia and it has got to this position with help from the community. It was report to the round-table that this has been a whole-of-community-effort. It is looking even better with the external audit, the Algabonyah Economic Roundtable and has excellence in prospects for the future.

Listening to the indigenous community (Yorta Yorta and Bangerang) is a key element of reconciliation.

Learning Points:

We asked what have we learned, and what can other communities learn from the experience in the Goulburn Valley?

Initially, discussion focussed around leadership by faith communities (Churches, Mosques, Gurduara), leadership and engagement activities offered by City of Greater Shepparton, Ethnic Council, Victoria Police, AFL and Cricket Victoria.

Local leadership programs were important, Fairley Leadership has high recognition and seen as injecting strength and innovation into the local community. People are people of good will, example, people do their best to be welcoming, and be good neighbours. Shepparton Regional Reconciliation Movement was singled out as an excellent example of this.


The matter of resilience was discussed; while people will be of good will and provide help, significant resilience is needed for cultural diversity to thrive. Networking is regarded as a central part of this. Sporting communities also build resilience, noted that very tall Africans sighted playing football, basketball, netball, etc. Another source of resilience is the school classroom, very high integration in schools. It was confirmed by many in the round-table that attitudes towards new arrivals and cultural diversity have matured over time.

The high level of volunteering by new arrivals and those members of CALD communities was noted to be a very strong indicator of resilience, engagement and personal fulfilment leading on to other personal achievements and successes.

Break during the proceedings, Harmony Roundtable
Break during the proceedings, Harmony Roundtable

Challenges facing Cultural Diversity in the Future:

Whilst were were discussing the successes we had experienced in the community, on the horizons of tomorrow and every other day in our future, more new arrivals are expected, and more has to be done. The round-table examined which needs ought be addressed; what are are emerging challenges? We are not a static community, so are we able to predict emerging challenges?


It was observed by many present that there is a significant gap between the expectations of children and those finishing their education, and the availability of local employment, apprenticeships, and that this puts quite some pressure on people and affects mental well-being.

CALD – Cultural and Linguistically Diverse employment seekers need some basic education, language and a whole lot of induction type of processes (into Australian and local culture and customs) in order to compete and participate and fulfil their employment expectations. There are significant gaps to be filled.

Challenge lies in creating and funding a suitable induction program for those seeking or in employment; program can cover

* laws
* language
* cultural norms (shopping, driving, dress, clothing)
* assist with acclimatisation into the community

Maintaining high levels of community acceptance was discussed. Those who are not actively engaged in the community can be xenophobic and hold negative perceptions about the CALD community and new arrivals.


A large number of new arrivals and CALD community members have had very stressful, life-threatening and disturbing journeys from their homeland to temporary location to Australia. Some are victims of torture and many do not enjoy mental well-being.

It was noted that we receive new members into the community who simply have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They have experienced – sometimes repeatedly – trauma on their journey to the Goulburn Valley.

Another source of stress – and perhaps trauma – are all those people who have been misled by overseas migration agents who promise housing, education, and employment …

A signally important stressor was raised; all to prevalent for new arrivals and CALD members of the community is obtaining accommodation. Getting your own place to rent is a significant challenge, many people are in shared housing until they can get their own. Reports of racism by rural real estate agencies surfaced.

There is no pre-existing resource that people can tap into


The challenges to integration are many.

* Readiness to dialogue by both parties in a conversation.
* Settling refugees without papers. How do they obtain an identity?
* Fixed attitudes – cultural diversity is a two-way street. We are learning from each other.

A key issue for integration is that children do not know their story, of how and why they came to Australia. This is an intra-cultural issue and may be related to the stress (PTSD) and other stressors given above. If there is a traumatic past, then the story of that traumatic past is not being passed down. When people are unable to tell their story, they lack a personal identity, and have issues and struggles with integration.

Stories need to be told, and gaps need to be filled:

** Why did you (or your family) have to leave?
** Do you understand why you had to come to Australia?
** Do you understand the situation back home?
** Do your parents talk about this?
** Is there a way for you to get them to talk and tell you this story?

It was raised that the same applies to the indigenous peoples

** and there is an additional question:
** Do you understand the Apology given by Prime Minister Rudd?

A critical local issue which benefited the local community was the “Know My Culture” series sponsored by Catholic Care. Sessions were held in the African House. Comprised of

* listening to the stories
* feeling the stories
* learning of cultural differences (family, education, marriage, etc)
* release and integration come with the process of telling the story.
* when a story is not told, it is lost

Emergent Issues with Aged Care

There are very few resources to meet the needs of CALD Aged Care. It was noted that FECCA has recently completed research and submitted reports to the government.

There are cultural issues with Aged Care:

* differences in expectation
* differences in gender issues (care of female CALD aged, care of male CALD aged, needs differ)
* collapse of the extended family in white-anglo-celtic-culture
* unspoken expectations that the extended family will care for their aged
* stressor – injection of cultural pressure with family obligations – difficulty in negotiating challenges
* stressor – factor in issue of Elder Abuse (which takes many forms, control of money, control of car, inadequate diet, inadequate clothing, etc)
* facilities originally created for CALD aged care locally are no longer fulfilling this need


A number of cross-cultural issues with youth were discussed

* what are their values?
* how do they want to live?
* what forums exist for them to raise their issues, their values?

Importance of education was discussed (extensively). Issue of students and youth not wanting to listen when they were in environments that forced them to listen. Examples were given of

* Formal education
* Informal education (somewhat successful)
* Non-formal education (can be very successful)

Gender specific issues came up (women are getting all the jobs; young males experience frustration with traditional employment pathways)… this resolved to challenges of “How do you engage youth with employment issues?

This devolved to an even greater issue, where do young people engage with the community?
The extraordinary increase of volunteering by youth was discussed, examples were given.


A quick summary of the discussions was taken, the importance of knowing your culture, knowing how people feel, and how we learn.

Practical issues emerged in the fields of Aged Care, Indigenous Issues, Housing, Youth engagement.

The roundtable agreed to meet again in the near future.



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