The Double Ninth Festival is a Chinese traditional festival dedicated to paying respects to one's ancestors. We are only 3 days past the festival and it should have been warm in Sydney's springtime, but I could feel a sense of chill around the Rookwood cemetery as the temperature dropped in late spring.
We began with the smoking ceremony as our indigenous friends blew the Didgeridoo and smoke billowed in the morning breeze. We stood upright in front of the monument dedicated to the memory of Chinese gold miners who died during the Gold Rush in Australia to pay our respects to our past compatriots who suffered and died.
We stood in silence for three minutes and tears fell off the corners of my eyes as the dirge started playing.
Since erecting the monument last year, this is the second time Chinese Australians gather here to commemorate our ancestors. This time we did not make a speech. We have only listened to dirge, burned incense and prayed.
The Rookwood monument serves as a constant reminder of past struggles as well as ongoing efforts to build deeper relationships and mutual understanding and cherish the hard fought multicultural society we have today. The lessons of the past must never be forgotten and serve as reminders to future generations.
Chinese Australians have always been part of the Australian society, they made sacrifices to this land with their sweat, blood and even their lives. We should not and can not neglect the fact that they and other ethnicities built the foundation of a prosperous Australia.
Safeguard against discrimination and defend equality are hallmarks of a civilized society.
When you start to erode these types of fundamental protections, which are typically hard-fought gains, the walls around us can start to crumble.
Australia's Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) is a bedrock that symbolizes progress, it is something worthy of celebration.
Tonight we held special gala performance to commemorate the 42nd anniversary of the implementation of the Racial Discrimination Act in the Sydney Town Hall with other ethnicities of Australia. The gloomy mood we felt in the morning were wiped off by the evening celebration.
Almost a hundred performers of more than thirty ethnicities such as Chinese, Indian, Korean, Arabic and European performed wonderful shows one after another to express their love towards Australia and their support for the Racial Discrimination Act.
The Racial Discrimination Act came into force on 31st October 1975. These provisions, in concert with the range of other laws protecting against discrimination in its various forms, complements Australia’s Constitution which is deficient in these areas.
It can be argued that the RDA forms part of an effective 'Bill of Rights' which reflects Australian efforts at becoming a tolerant and harmonious society, a society which strives to confine the likes of the shameful White Australia Policy to history's rubbish bin.
On any sensible reading, the Act provides both safeguards against racially offensive discourse and behaviour, at the same time passage of related laws like Section 18D ensured reasonable protection of free speech.
Federal MP Julian Lesser captured this well when he said: "the sweep of human history has shown the evils of racist violence and what ends with racist violence always starts with racist speech. Hate speech can ultimately develop into physical attacks and into patterns of segregation which threaten free and open societies."
However Australia must remain vigilant to anything with the potential to undermine social cohesion and to those attempting to open doorways to discrimination.
Australia is the most multi-cultural nation on earth and the overall harmony in which many nationalities and ethnic backgrounds cooperate and live together is something to behold. It demonstrates enormous capacity for tolerance.
For its part the Chinese community in Australia has made substantial contributions – economically, socially and culturally. In Australia today, these contributions are largely well recognised and appreciated.
In turn, Chinese living in Australia are thankful and appreciative of the lifestyle and opportunities this beautiful country offers and strive to make more contribution to Australia as a result.
Australia is a multicultural nation made up of immigrants. Many immigrants love Australia and at the same time cherish their bonds with the motherland they came from. This is true for virtually all ethnicities and is not incompatible with a harmonious society. Actually, this has been the basis of multiculturalism which allows different ethnicities to call Australia home.
The White Australia policy was a sad chapter from another less enlightened era. Australia has come a long way since then but our work must continue.
Tonight, the topic of our special gala is "Embracing diversity. Creating equality". This is the Australian dream we are working towards and requires the effort of every member of our great Australian family.