Harmony Day transforming our communities

Last year, Moree Plains Shire Council and the community were recognised by the Local Government and Shires Association and received the Multicultural Award for projects and programs.

Each year, Council hosts its Harmony on the Plains Multicultural Festival to coincide with Harmony Day.

Harmony Day occurs on
21 March each year and celebrates Australia’s success as a diverse society united by a common set of values.

Moree’s Festival highlights the national dress, song, dance, and food of the various nations that are represented locally. It promotes understanding and respect for all people and celebrates their cultural differences. It also acknowledges cultural diversity as a valuable and positive influence and an important resource within a community.

The successful embrace of multiculturalism has been achieved with the ideology of mutual objectives – the major objective being an honest willingness to forge a full partnership.

“The benefits to our community have been greater than our expectations,” said Moree Plains Mayor, John Tramby. “There has been an increase in tourism, economic benefits and the building of significant social capital that has transcended cultural boundaries.”

Moree once held the reputation as a racist town, highlighted by the 1965 Freedom Rides to allow Aboriginals to use the town’s artesian baths and ban colour bars.

The Australian Government’s Harmony Day initiative in 1999 inspired a change in Council’s thinking towards a multicultural theory and practice.

The realisation that Moree Plains Shire has a diverse and exciting blend of cultures was the crucial mind shift.

Today, over 50 per cent of the Shire’s residents were born overseas, many of whom originate from Europe. The Shire also has the largest Aboriginal population in rural New South Wales, comprising 17.9 per cent of the local population.

Council has identified 42 nationalities within the Shire, speaking a variety of languages including Serbian, Chinese, German, Italian, Hindi, Japanese, and Sinhalese.

Council’s General Manager, David Aber, said regional Australia has such a diverse make up, it is not well known, and this is often counter to stereotypes that are portrayed.

“We must forge relationships between Council and the community,” he said. “Council wants to lead the way in building a better community – that’s our mission. We must engage our community and support their efforts. To do this, we have to promote the ideology of multiculturalism and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) from within. It’s like a smile, it’s infectious and it is spread throughout the community.”

Council seriously promotes its EEO program on a daily basis. Staff receive daily emails of observance days of religious significance and national importance.

It proudly boosts a representative on the Community Relations Committee for a Multicultural New South Wales, New England Regional Advisory Council, which advocates for culturally and linguistically diverse residents.

Staff are also encouraged to participate in Indigenous events such as Reconciliation and NAIDOC Week, the Croc Festival and the Multicultural Festival.

Council’s Community Development Officer, Tony Baxter-Tomkins, said to assume Council knew all answers was the road to destruction and failure.

“Community members are working alongside each other in a common cause – ensuring Moree Plains is an attractive and valued place to live,” he said. “It was this need to connect to each other that lead to the organisation of the first Harmony on the Plains Multicultural Festival.”