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A feast of food, fun and frenzied entertainment


(From left) Major Jennifer Cloke, Major Bram Cassidy, Major Karen Elkington, Captain Phuong Reynolds, Captain Helen Zhou and Captain Paul Chen at the multicultural launch in Melbourne.



By BARRY GITTINS

They came from all around the world – Africa, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Mongolia, South Korea, Vietnam, and more. The venue was Box Hill Town Hall on Saturday 6 May, and the occasion was The Salvation Army Multicultural Red Shield Appeal launch in Melbourne.

There were hundreds of singers, dancers, entertainers and storytellers. There were musicians and percussionists, sellers of goods, conveyors of good tidings, and goodness knows how many national dishes. And there were priests, politicians, and people of all cultures, beliefs and hopes. And front and centre were the Salvos, with the Box Hill Corps band playing ‘God’s Children’, ‘Amazing Grace’, and other joyful music, adding to the rich cacophony of tunes emanating from voices and cultures of other heritages. The surreal, sweet celebration of life was summed up by a concert band of Asian Australians sporting bow ties and straw hats, wistfully playing ‘Auld Lang Syne’. If the aural soundscape was ‘colourful’, with laughter joining the many languages into one tongue, so, too, were the brilliant fashion statements. There was a rainbow of colours, bearing witness to Indigenous Australia, amidst a panoply of hats, scarves, headgears, sarees, flags, fans and parasols aplenty. ‘Shieldy’, the anthropomorphised icon, was on hand to pose for selfies, and the ever-present AFL was helping kids handpass their way to inclusion, with encouragement, smiles and mini-Sherrins. The Salvation Army called out for help, and ‘they’ – ‘we’ – came. “It is absolutely critical that The Salvation Army cannot think of itself as monocultural,” Victoria Divisional Commander Colonel Kelvin Merrett said. “We have to embrace, support and pursue this; it is fantastic to see so many nationalities and ethnicities coming together to support us. It is humbling.”

It is also who we are, explained Lieut-Colonel Xuyen ‘Samuel’ Pho, the Army’s multicultural community officer for Victoria. “Australia has changed,” he said, “and 51 per cent of the population has at least one parent who was born overseas. “The Salvation Army has witnessed the increased contribution of multicultural communities, and our mission to reach people and help them without discrimination is the basis for people to come and work with us and alongside us.”


Both men agree; this Red Shield-waving celebration of life has to become the Army’s ‘new norm’. “This is who we are,” said Kelvin. “And who we must become,” added Xuyen. Amidst the food, the fun and frenzied entertainment – hat-tip to the lion dancers and their entourage – there were acknowledgments of country, welcomes and expressions of sincere gratitude from MC Major Warren Elliott, and some short and sweet ‘speechifying’ from dignitaries keen to stand alongside the Red Shield.


“The Salvation Army can’t do what it does without the support of the public,” said Warren. “Every day, 37,000 Australians are asking The Salvation Army for support.”


The Hon. Paul Hamer, State MP for Box Hill, noted, “We see the impact that the rising cost of living is having on families”. Acknowledging the role of government to address that, he also valued the work of groups such as the Salvos and wished them “the best for a really successful appeal”.


Whitehorse Mayor, Councillor Mark Lane, spoke fondly of first “rattling the tins for the Salvos” nearly 40 years ago.


“The Salvos’ Red Shield theme this year is to ensure that ‘no one goes alone’ – many people are seeking help when they may not have needed to do so previously. Please donate and help the Salvos help our community.”


Dr Carina Garland, Federal Member for Chisholm, also ’fessed up to collecting for the Salvos, who she described as a “great encapsulation of diversity, generosity and compassion for others”.


“It’s distressing to see so many people struggling,” she added. “Organisations such as The Salvation Army play such an important role in helping people who need help receive that help.”


The deputy chairperson of the Victorian Multicultural Commission, Bwe Thay, said that as a “local resident of Whitehorse, it makes me proud to see all of us coming together for a common cause.


“Having the three levels of government represented here is an acknowledgement of the important work the Salvos do. I thank them for creating opportunities to give back meaningfully to this wonderful society – Australia is our home.”


Australia is our home: it was a popular and heartfelt sentiment that the hundreds of men, women and children gathered could all attest to from their own markedly different experiences.


As the speeches vied with music, food, entertainment and conversation, the words of an elderly, passionate lady rang out across the cavernous venue: “Those who are the happiest are those who do the most for others … service to others is the price we pay for our time here on earth.”

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