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Multicultural NSW Advisory Board regional tour to Wollongong

In November 2016, the Multicultural NSW Advisory Board conducted a regional tour to Wollongong. The tours allow the Advisory Board to actively engage with regional communities and support the work of the Multicultural NSW facilitated Regional Advisory Councils. The day-tour included visits to Sri Venkateswara Temple, Nan Tien temple, the University of Wollongong, Wollongong City Council and Multicultural Communities Council of Illawarra (MCCI).

After a warm masala-chai welcome from Executive Management Committee member Nama Namashivayam and his wife Sashy, the Advisory Board members were received by Priest Siva with a Puja prayer ritual. Attendees held their hands over the sacred flame, were anointed with Vibuthi (holy ash) and were spiritually welcomed to the temple. The tour received knowledge of the altars, deities, the building (consecrated in 1985) and the local Hindu community. The Advisory Board were introduced to the Sri Venkateswara Temple canteen a volunteer-run initiative that supports the community at the temple.

The next stop was Nan Tien Temple or “Southern Paradise” that practices Fo Guang Buddhism. Their welcoming Venerables from the Buddhist Light International Association Sydney and Advisory Board members showed the Multicultural NSW visitors around the vast complex. Sites visited included the Main Shrine or “Great Hero Hall” that is watched over by five great Buddas. The five Buddhas represent Confidence, Longevity, Wisdom, Inner Beauty and Peace and are surrounded by 10,000 smaller Buddha statues. At the Shrine, each attendee was presented with a lit lotus candle to present to the altar as a light offering, in a reverent display of unification. The visit educated our board about the Nan Tien Institute specialising in post-graduate study and the temple’s community engagement practices for the wider Illawarra community.

After lunch, the tour travelled to The University of Wollongong to be welcomed by the Pro-Vice Chancellor Professor Paul Chandler. After touring the grounds (past the infamous campus ducks!) the group entered the “Migration to the Illawarra” exhibition. Franca Facci, Migrant Heritage Project Chairperson and University of Wollongong Archives Manager Kerry Ross introduced the project. The walls, lined with colourful displays of family photos of the early community, included stories of migrants from Macedonia, Malta, Austria and many more. The exhibition is a beautiful display of the Illawarra’s diverse cultural heritage.

A Civic Reception hosted by the Lord Mayor, Councillor Gordon Bradbery OAM, was held at Wollongong City Council to preview the U & Me project ahead of its March 2017 release. Multicultural NSW had awarded a grant to the Multicultural Communities Council of Illawarra to fund the project. Sandra Pires from WHY documentaries introduced and presented two beautiful short films that showcased friendships of people from culturally diverse backgrounds. Audience members commended the inspirational nature and uplifting messages the films displayed.

The final stop for the day was the Multicultural Communities Council of Illawarra. The tour had been lucky to have had the company of their Chairperson Mr Ken Habak OAM and General Manager Chris Lacey joining them for the day and sites prior. Now at the MCCI office-site, the tour was shown around the heritage-listed office building on Corrimal St while acknowledging the long-standing relationship between Multicultural NSW and MCCI. Some of the many local initiatives and community support programs, including a free meeting place for many emerging community groups, were recognised and appreciated by the board.

The Multicultural NSW Advisory Board would like to thank the communities and organisations of Wollongong that provided them with such an enriching experience.