Over 400,000 people of Indian descent live in Australia and Australia’s Indian community has made a profound contribution to Australia and to our local community. Last Saturday, in Melbourne, the organisers of the Indian Film Festival were delighted to celebrate Indian Independence Day. The 2015 festival opened with a vibrant day of festivities featuring dance, film and fashion. According to my local Indian community and the ArtsHub Melbourne website, the Indian Independence Day celebrations kicked off at 11 am when Indian superstar actor Anil Kapoor, known to audiences as the quizmaster in Slumdog Millionaire, and Rajkumar Hirani, director of PK, the highest grossing Indian film of all time, participated in a traditional flag hoisting ceremony at Federation Square.
Festivities continued from 12 noon as Federation Square became the scene for the ever-popular Bollywood Dance Competition. This year 31 dance teams, which were selected from over 70 entrants across Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, took to the stage. The star-studded panel of judges for 2015 included multi-award-winning actress Kangana Ranaut, Hollywood heartthrob Imran Khan, and director, screenwriter and producer Nikhil Advani. The highlight of the event was undoubtedly the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne’s awards taking place for the second time. Fashion and film collided for a spectacular live celebration honouring the best of Indian cinema at the 2015 IFFM awards. The gala event moved from the red carpet to the catwalk, featuring two very special shows from India’s leading fashion designers, Anamika Khanna and Gaurav Gupta, in the Great Hall of the National Gallery of Victoria. There was also a third showcasing of exceptional Melbourne designers.
The 2015 festival theme was equality. Melbournians from all walks of life modelled alongside professional actors and screen icons such as Sonam Kapoor, screen legend Simi Garewal, Puneet Galati, Sarah Roberts and Menik Gooneratne in the fashion charity show, with all the designers donating some of their garments. All proceeds for the event went to the Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation.
At a local level, the Australian Indian community has been incredibly active in advocating for extra funding for the Little India precinct in Foster Street, Dandenong, and setting up a new Twenty20 cricket tournament called the Kerala Premier League in Cranbourne. Nema Singh has been petitioning my office with concerns about local Indian radio being cut back. We will be pursuing that shortly. The local Indian community has made an enormous contribution to life in our country. This is just a small snapshot of the contribution that they continue to make to our country.
Over several years now, Menindee Central School, a kindergarten-to-year-12 school which is 70 per cent Indigenous, has been developing a partnership with schools in Bradfield. As part of the visit I joined a forum which discussed this relationship, dubbed the City/Country Alliance and the lessons which have emerged. Jane Dennett, principal of Killara High School observed that many of her students have much more familiarity with the Qantas lounge when travelling to Europe than with travelling to far-western New South Wales. Brian Debus, the former principal of Menindee and the human dynamo behind this program, spoke of the progress he had seen with some of his Indigenous students over the years. The current principal of Menindee Central School, Daryl Irvine, updated the forum on how the program is continuing.
An important element of this partnership is the remarkable artwork many of the students produce. Mark Cepak, a Lindfield East parent, has been a champion of this, and every second year, when the Menindee children come to Sydney, there is an art show held at the Deli in the Park cafe in East Lindfield.
The City/Country Alliance clearly involves a lot of hard work, and there have been some frustrations along the way. Nevertheless, it has achieved something very significant. This program has helped to open the eyes of Indigenous children from a small country school to understand something of the opportunities that the wider world offers. And it has also allowed students from schools on Sydney’s North Shore in my electorate to come to know children from a remote part of Australia, many from a very different cultural background to their own whom they would otherwise not get the chance to meet.
There was a strong representation from Sydney’s North Shore at the forum which was held: Lindfield East Public School principal, Andrew Stevenson; Beaumont Road Public School principal, Malcolm McDonald; Killara High School principal, Jane Dennett; and Masada College HSIE teacher, Ryan Gill. My state colleague the member for Davidson, Jonathan O’Dea also joined to the group. It was particularly pleasing to see this extensive representation from North Shore schools. I was also pleased to see representatives from a number of other Sydney schools, as well as representatives from a number of other remote schools. The purpose for bringing all of these schools together was to explore opportunities for the establishment of similar alliances between remote western New South Wales schools and schools in metropolitan Sydney.
In my view, this is a model which offers significant benefits. I congratulate all who have been involved in what has been achieved to date and I hope to see the program expand beyond its current participants over coming years.