Yes, believe it or not, I have been blogging for the whole decade! This is the ninth of a series.
A multicultural Surry Hills morning
December 26, 2006
It’s Boxing Day here in Surry Hills. "Boxing Day is a holiday of peculiarly British origin, but in most years it falls on the same day as the Feast of St. Stephen (St. Stephen’s Day – 26th December)." Well, it always is the day after Christmas, even if the actual public holiday might move a little. For example, if the 26th falls on a Saturday or Sunday, then a long weekend would happen. What Boxing Day means to most Australians is the fourth Test Match in Melbourne and the start of the epic Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race. So I slept in this morning, in this flat where I would not be if it were not for my Shanghainese friend M. I go down to the Indian newsagent and buy the Sydney Morning Herald, then go to the coffee shop on the corner of Belvoir Street and Elizabeth where the Vietnamese owner and the very gay Tamil sidekick ask me if I want the usual. The Lebanese man is already at his table reading his paper. Two other customers of indeterminate Eastern European origin join us. An American says in response to the Vietnamese owner’s "How are you this morning?" "I’m well, by the grace of God." He and his Anglo-Aussie friend avoid the smokers. I buy cigarettes from the Shanghainese on the corner of Goodlet and Elizabeth.
I open the Herald and take in one of those good news stories one should focus on at this time of year: Gift of faith: a day off at Christmas.
IN THE kitchen a row of six women wearing hijabs dice vegetables and slice fruit. Nearby another group of young Muslim women are tearing open packets of pasta by the dozen and throwing them into a huge pot of boiling water. Across the room, two young men wearing skullcaps are stirring a sizeable pan of beef curry. Aiming to give their Christian counterparts from the charity Just Enough Faith the day off, the dedicated Muslim volunteers spent most of Christmas Day preparing and distributing homecooked meals to more than 500 homeless men and women at Cook and Phillip Park. The volunteers come from Al-Ghazzali Centre for Islamic Sciences and Human Development, in Roselands, and see their role as building bridges between the faiths. Christmas has no significance in the Islamic religious calendar. The founder of the centre, Imam Afroz Ali, said the initiative, called the Crescent Program, was unusual because it involved an Islamic organisation doing charity work for non-Muslims. "This service is directly for our Australian brothers and sisters," Mr Ali said. "What has made this successful is that the younger generation, particularly Muslims who were born here, have been dying to do something like this. "Their parents, the older generation, still have connections back to their places of birth overseas, so a lot of charity goes back there, and there is no hiding from that. But Islam requires us to provide charitable services in our own neighbourhood first. So we have to do this as Muslims, right here in Australia, regardless of gender, race or religion."
I think of Jelaluddin Rumi:
The garden of Love is green without limit and yields many fruits other than sorrow and joy. Love is beyond either condition: without spring, without autumn, it is always fresh.
On Christmas morning Sydney’s Hyde Park Barracks will host a unique event: a Mass and an entertainment spectacular beamed live to Ireland celebrating the history of the Irish in Australia. In the early 1800s more than 25,000 Irish convicts were detained in the Barracks. In the 1840s 4000 young female orphans escaping the "Great Potato Famine" were housed there. An Aussie Irish Christmas is a one-hour special that will screen on ABC TV Christmas evening, December 25 at 7.30pm. The event will be hosted by Mike Bailey – ABC TV NSW weather presenter and Irish descendant. RTE – the national broadcaster of Ireland – will broadcast the event live to Ireland from Sydney. Poignant stories of the hardships and triumphs experienced by these early Irish arrivals will be woven into selected highlights of the event to evoke a living, entertaining history of the Irish in Australia. A moving memorial to the orphan girls at the Barracks will also feature in the program and high profile participants include Irish President Mary McAleese, the Lord Mayor of Sydney, Ms Clover Moore MP and Cardinal George Pell…
And Lebanese-Australian NSW Governor Marie Bashir.
She was born in Narrandera in the Riverina district of New South Wales, and attended Narrandera Public School and Sydney Girls High School. She completed the degrees of Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery in 1956 at the University of Sydney. Bashir later taught at the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales, and increased her work with children’s services, psychiatry and mental health services, and indigenous health programs. When she became Governor of New South Wales, she was Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Sydney (which she became in 1993); Area Director of Mental Health Services Central Sydney (from 1994); and Senior Consultant to the Aboriginal Medical Service, Redfern (from 1996) and to the Aboriginal Medical Service, Kempsey… Bashir is the first female Governor of New South Wales and the first governor of any Australian state of Lebanese descent. In 2006 the Queen appointed Professor Bashir a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order.
My own Great-great-great-grandfather Jacob came from Ireland involuntarily in 1822 and for a time resided in those same Hyde Park Barracks. This is my Boxing Day Australia. I am rather proud of it. Let’s not let politics, undue concern for or against so-called "political correctness", fear of terrorism, or any other distraction, spoil this Australia. Rejoice in it and embrace it. Looking at the faces in the choir at that Aussie Irish Christmas was instructive in itself. Back to Rumi:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.