By Maria Smith
Tens of thousands lined up the usually vibrant Swanston Street in Melbourne as the Australia Day parade slowly filled the heart of the city with enthusiastic participants from about 80 multicultural communities. After the official flag-raising ceremony at the Melbourne Town Hall, the Australian Royal Navy led the parade with excited spectators clapping and cheering after a moving rendition of “I Am Australian” by the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Choir.
“What a tremendous privilege!” exclaimed Corina Dutlow, Older Persons Program Manager for the Australian Filipino Community Services (AFCS) as she shared the parade experience with Gabby Ocampo (Volunteer Coordinator for the AFCS-Villa Maria Respite), Sofia Varga and Janlee Purcell. This is a historic moment as the first Filipino footy team proudly wearing their footy jerseys has been represented under the United Nations of Footy initiative in partnership with the Australian Football International (AFI) and other nations’ football teams marching proudly on this 37-degree day.
Acting Lord Mayor Aaron Wood likewise proudly expressed his acknowledgement of the contributions migrants from diverse cultural backgrounds have made to Melbourne’s economy and its reputation as the most liveable city. Over a hundred new migrants were also granted their Australian citizenship on this momentous day.
Other Filipino community and church groups (including the 25-year old Filipino Choir of St Francis in Melbourne) participated in this national event although later on marred by a rather peaceful demonstration by those pushing for the Australia Day date to be changed. This has been a reflection once again how lucky we are to have been embraced by a nation that respects freedom of speech and democratic but peaceful expression of one’s views.
As the first Filipino footy team excitedly glided past, there was a great sense of harmony and jubilation while other participants and spectators alike proudly waved the little Australian flags with smiles that will be etched in our minds for many years to come.