Close to 1,000 Sydneysiders braved the rain to show their support for a more compassionate, inclusive and welcoming Australia at Walk Together 2016, in Sydney on Saturday.
SSI and Welcome to Australia hosted the Sydney arm of the national diversity celebrations, which took place in capital cities and regional centres all over Australia.
Despite cloudy skies, hundreds of Sydneysiders turned out to promote unity, respect and inclusion, and to hear from speakers including Welcome to Australia ambassador Mariam Veiszadeh, NSW Labor Party MP Jihad Dib, Greens NSW MP Mehreen Faruqi, and Racial Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane.
Speaking at the event, lawyer and former refugee Deng Thiak Adut encouraged the crowds to respond with love when faced with xenophobic and racist actions.
"If they hate you, love them back because love is more powerful," he said. "For this country and for us to move forward, we’ve got to love one another. We’ve got to love the kids and look to their future.
"I want you to ask yourself, what would my children think one day? What will we tell them when we’re old? Will we say, ‘I wish I could have done that’? That’s the most cynical thing to say – you can’t 'wish' you could have done it; do something right now. Let’s welcome each other."
Also in attendance was Deputy Leader of the Opposition Tanya Plibersek, who spoke about the experiences of her parents when they came to Australia in the early 1950s as migrants from Slovenia.
"The settlement services in the 1950s were not nearly as great as the work Settlement Services International and the other organisations do today," Ms Plibersek said. "Everything my parents got they were very grateful for, but there wasn’t a lot of support in those days. What really made a difference was the hand of friendship and the welcome they got from their neighbours; from the people that lived on our street, from the other parents at the school.
"And that’s something that every single one of us can do; every single one of us can extend the hand of friendship and show welcome."
Also speaking at the event, SSI Chairman Kamalle Dabboussy said one of the reasons it was so important to welcome new arrivals was because they represent Australia’s future.
"Our parents came to Australia to work hard to provide for themselves, to provide for their children, and to provide for their future, which we share in today," he said.
Events such as Walk Together are an opportunity to remind the wider Australian community of the importance of having a culture of welcome – something that is an extension of the country’s traditional values of mateship and fair go, Mr Dabboussy said.
"For SSI’s part, we are in the business of doing 'welcome to Australia'," Mr Dabboussy said. We work with people who have been fortunate enough to be creating a new life in Australia, helping them build their dreams for the future," he said.
"Today’s event is wonderful because it’s reaffirming that culture of welcome to Australia. It’s a very powerful message for new arrivals to hear."
Following the speeches, the crowd travelled from Belmore Park in Sydney’s CBD to Victoria Park for a family-friendly festival that included multicultural food, music, dance, stalls, and an appearance from special guests the Sydney Thunder and GWS Giants.
The day was a resounding success, as demonstrated by the diverse crowd that turned out to show Australian can be a nation known for its compassion, generosity and welcome.