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21 Mar 2022

News

From the CEO: Foster inclusiveness and a sense of belonging this Harmony Week

This year’s theme – “Everyone Belongs” – celebrates Australia’s cultural diversity. It’s about fostering inclusiveness, respect and a sense of belonging for everyone. 

Amid the inevitable saturation of news around the war in Ukraine, and not to forget the continued global unrest in places like Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen, it’s challenging to pause and celebrate this year.

I was fortunate to be invited to unveil the National Monument to Migration of Australia in a special ceremony on Sunday, March 20, at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

The Monument is a major Museum initiative that promotes Australia’s multicultural identity Australia-wide. It features more than 30,000 migrant names engraved on a series of bronze panels that thread along our waterfront site at Darling Harbour, Sydney.

In recognition of Harmony Week, 1,281 new names (including 91 from Greece, my father’s place of birth) representing 73 countries were unveiled, thanks to 627 donations towards the Migration Heritage Fund, which supports the Museum’s efforts to share the national migration story.

Unveiling the monument was quite emotionally triggering, as it brought memories of my late father to the fore.

My parents made the journey to Australia after World War Two and the civil war in Greece, seeking a better life.

As a child, I saw firsthand my parents’ resilience and optimism, the support they had from the surrounding Greek community and the support they in turn gave others as passionate and active leaders in the community — because, of course, organisations like SSI were not around in those days.

My parents were hardworking and humble and, at one stage, even mortgaged our house to buy land to build a Greek Orthodox Church in Bankstown, which stands today.

I saw all the things they did to integrate into the Australian community while also continuing to embrace and celebrate their own cultural heritage. As their daughter, I am today very proud of my dual Greek-Australian heritage.

I first heard about the National Monument to Migration many years ago when it was called the Welcome Wall. My Dad had passed away, and the family wanted a way to honour him and his contribution, his memory, and his life. The story of the Katsaros family is now part of this exhibition of personal stories and family histories.

In recent discussions with the Museum, I became aware that not all countries were well represented on the monument, so SSI initiated a program with the museum called Honour a New Migrant.

It does cost to incorporate these stories on the monument, and we were aware that new migrants and refugees might not be in a position to fund this themselves.

So, as part of the initiative, SSI — along with Multicultural Australia in Queensland — helps identify individuals and families who might like to have their stories historically recorded in this way. The Museum provides the funds through its generous donation program.

Together with the Museum, we hope to develop a fully rounded collection of stories because a broad representation is vital to accurately reflect the richness of the migrant experience.

At SSI, we have the privilege of welcoming new migrants and refugees on their arrival to Australia and connecting them to services and programs that help them find their feet in their new home.

I am proud to say that 14 people we have come to know through our delivery of the Australian government’s Humanitarian Settlement Program were honoured on the monument this year. They come from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Samoa, Lebanon, Turkey and South Africa.

Migrants bring so much richness to our country and a warm welcome from the local community makes a big difference in newcomers’ sense of belonging. Appearing on the National Monument to Migration is an extension of that welcome to our diverse migrant communities. It says, “This is your home, and your story matters.”

Building awareness of the migration experience to Australia also helps promote understanding and greater community harmony. This Harmony Week, let’s welcome our newcomers and migrants as part of multicultural Australia’s wonderful success story.

 

Violet Roumeliotis

SSI CEO

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