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Byron Shire
August 3, 2021

Interview with Judy Shelley the Harmony Festival Co-ordinator

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Byron Harmony Day

Mullumbimby Civic Hall   |  Saturday  |  11am till 9pm

This weekend celebrate our Shire’s multi-cultural stories with Harmony Day in Mullumbimby! Judy Shelley the Festival Co-ordinator spoke with the Echo.

What is the philosophy behind Harmony Day? 

The Australian government first created Harmony Day on 21 March 1999 on the annual International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to celebrate multiculturalism, inclusiveness, respect and belonging for all Australians regardless of cultural background. To me Harmony Day is a day to stand up for Equality For All and to say No to Racism!

Why is it important do you think to celebrate our diverse cultures? 

One of the most important reasons is to give a face and a place for people of all cultures who live with us here in community – often unnoticed, and to celebrate and acknowledge their presence and deep intrinsic value in representing the beautiful glory of our human cultural diversity through music and arts.

Another very important reason is that racism grows from fear of the unknown. Statistics prove that racism is far more likely to exist in areas of Australia that have low numbers of migrantsin places with high migrant populations, everyone has friends, neighbours, workmates and relatives of all cultural backgrounds and become familiar with diversitycreating harmony! So by putting our ethnic communities front and centre at Harmony Dayour whole community gets a chance to experience the joy and happiness of our multicultural humanity. 

What are some of the challenges faced by people from different cultures in our region?

Regardless of our community being one of the most progressive in Australia, people from different cultures face some similar challenges here in our region as people elsewhere. On one hand our community is very diverse, welcoming and inclusive of people of all kinds. However, racial discrimination comes in many forms; one of the most hurtful forms of racism such as unconscious bias operates in subtle ways to marginalise and deprioritise the involvement of people of ethnic backgrounds in management, community leadership, or government. 

What is unconscious bias?

Well one real example is that most people wouldn’t notice is there are very limited support services for migrants in Byron Shire compared with other regions. For example there is no ‘Multicultural Officer’ at Byron Council. There is no ‘Multicultural Centre’ anywhere in the Northern Rivers region. There are no migrant support workers based in Byron Shire, there are no migrant community workers employed at any government or community service in Byron Shire. This is unconscious bias at work. The specific needs of migrants are not catered for here in any way – except through outreach services from Lismore.

Why don’t people in power notice this unconscious bias? 

Unconscious bias is when a community board or committee is made up entirely of Anglo-Australians and they neglect to notice the need to take ‘affirmative action’ to prioritise diversity, the need to hear diverse voices represented – this is Australia – We Are Multicultural – so if your committee is all male Anglo-Australians or if your committee has no Indigenous or ethnic representation – you are participating in white privilege and you need to seek out people to represent diversity.  

The people who suffer most are our children. If multiculturalism is not celebrated and racism is allowed to grow, our innocent sensitive children in schools will face increased discrimination and bullying – a fear that is always there in the hearts of parents with diverse children, such as me.

Another challenge faced by people of different cultures is loneliness and isolation. When a person arrives from overseas to live in Byron Shire they may find it hard to find people who speak their language or to make friends. This is one reason we started the new group called Byron Multicultural and we hold monthly Multicultural Lunch gatherings in Brunswick Heads to create new friendships and support for our new migrants.

What are some of the highlights for the day? 

Some exciting new talent will be onstage at Byron Harmony Festival along with some of our awesome regulars. Lucy Gallant has just packed out Bluesfest stages and this year will celebrate five years at our festival! Newcomers include sensational Yoyo Tuki from Easter Island, who is part of Small Island Big Song  2019 winners of Songlines World Music Album of the Year. Solomon Islands custodian and elder Natty Dolaiasi will share sacred chants of seven traditional Island cultures and young Indigenous rising star JUZ will share his beautiful voice and message with his unique fusion of reggae, hip-hop and soul. A major highlight is always the awesome Japanese community with a fantastic array of taiko drumming, Japanese classical dance, music, food and costumes – plus the exciting new Japanese culture parade.

Another highlight will be the inclusion of the classical Indian concert Soul Sangeet as our separate evening event with international guest of eight musical generations Sangeet Mishra.

What should people expect?

Byron Harmony Festival will be bigger and better than ever, presenting the biggest and most exciting multicultural program in the North Coast region in the iconic Mullum Civic Hall venue. It’s a non-stop, colourful, fast-paced show of every cultural experience we can fit on stage over an 11-hour day. An extravaganza of sounds, sights, culture, music, traditional dances, plus plenty of great kids’ activities including two jumping castles!  The daytime concert will commence at 11am on the main stage inside Mullum Civic Hall and continue on throughout the day till 7pm with outdoor stages offering more fun in the lovely garden area plus the CWA Hall.

The fundraising evening concert will commence at 8.30pm with the wonderful sounds of classical Indian music with Soul Sangeet – one of our original Harmony Day musicians Shivam Rath is the founder of the Soul Sangeet series inviting highly regarded classical Indian musicians to perform with local artists here in Byron Shire. This time will feature eighth-generation musician Sangeet Mishra direct from India on sarangi with Shivam Rath on crystal slide and awesome local legend Shrai Shriki on oud. www.harmony.gov.au/event/1552527785-2/

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