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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 3829

Ms BURKE (ChisholmDeputy Speaker) (19:26): Today is Harmony Day and I am proud to be celebrating it with many people. I am sorry I am not back in my electorate, where I know many events are happening today. The continuing message for Harmony Day in 2012 is that everyone belongs, which means all Australians are welcome to be part of our country, regardless of their background. It is time to reflect on where Australia has come from and to recognise traditional owners of its land, and it is about community participation, inclusiveness and respect. That is one of the wonderful things about the country we live in and my electorate of Chisholm.

I have two municipalities within my electorate: Monash and Whitehorse. In Monash about 40 per cent of its residents were born overseas and in Whitehorse 30 per cent. This is a very high proportion of people born overseas. It is made up of many different community groups and many different nationalities. It makes Chisholm a vibrant place to live. The place is made up of many phenomenal individuals, like Halina Wagowska.

Halina has just put out a book. She demonstrates the story of what it was like to come to Australia, to make it a home, and also to contribute back to the country that has nurtured her. Halina says:

These short stories are autobiographical but I am not their main subject. Some pay homage to the people I have known and loved. Some describe unusual places and events and are a kind of testimony.

It has been said:

But contrary to what Halina says—

and knowing her well I would testify to this—

none are 'commonplace', whether her stories tell of the gentile nanny who followed Halina's family into the ghetto, the Russian soldier who saved her at the end of the war and nursed her back to health or the char ladies of Collins Street who first called the new immigrant a 'refo' before taking her into their hearts.


Adopted mother, Frieda, keeps telling the young Halina that if they survive the camps they shall have to testify until they die, but The Testimony is also a record of what comes next for the young Halina: love, a career in pathology, and 'her life's work' in human rights—pouring her energy into everything from bursaries for Aboriginal education and books for the victims of the Black Saturday bushfires to bioethics and gay marriage.

Described by the author as her last testimony before she drops off the twig—

and I say to Halina: 'Don't do that anytime soon'—

this carefully crafted work is no straightforward autobiography but one in which the people and places Halina has known take centre stage. The thematic pieces provide jewels of wisdom from a woman who has lived a truly full—richly rewarding but also horrifically harrowing—life.

Eighty-one-year-old human rights activist Halina Wagowska survived the Auschwitz and Stutthof concentration camps in her early teens before immigrating to Australia. Over the years she has frequently testified to the consequences of prejudice she witnessed. Halina is the fabric of my community and she is an amazing human being. Her story is like many of those who have come and made Australia home. In fact, it is probably not like many—it is far more remarkable.

Then there is Ayen's story. Ayen attends the Blackburn English Language School, which is in my electorate. It is a phenomenal institution that provides children, predominantly migrants and refugees, with 20 weeks of language experience. This ensures that when they go to school they will be able to get right into the curriculum, with their English way up to speed. I had the honour of recently visiting the English language school, with Minister Kate Lundy and my colleague the member for Deakin. It was a great day. Ayen's story says:

I came to Australia in October 2006 with with my mum, dad, baby sister and little cousin. My cousin's name is Adur and we brought her to Australia to be with her mum, dad, brother. She was too young to travel with them when they arrived.

When we arrived my aunt and uncle had a party for everyone because they were so happy to have Adur reunited with them.

…   …   …

My house in Sudan was made of mud. We had sticks at the windows but no curtains. Our beds were made from trees but they were comfortable. One bad thing was that the water would come in the house every day and it was smelly.

…   …   …

Sometimes I was scared when the animals came into our village. Many donkeys would come into the house to look for food. One day a rhinoceros tried to attack my mother but our dog stopped the rhinoceros. Mum got everyone into the house quickly. We had to keep the village gates closed to stop the elephants from coming in. But one day a big elephant broke the big gate to drink water from the tap.

…   …   …

One day I was very scared because some people broke the village gate and killed some people. Everyone was yelling and screaming and crying. My family was running with other people—we ran for two nights and one day.

They finally arrived in Australia. She says:

In Australia I really like my school. At home I watch television and my favourite show is The Simpsons.

…   …   …

In the future I want to be a teacher because I want to 'know everything'—just like my mum.

Ayen's mother is a teacher, and she has great respect for her. This is what our community is made up of: people from all walks of life who have amazing stories and then come and make Australia home. We should remember that these people have embraced us. It is not just us embracing them, they have embraced us. Harmony Day is a great day to recall all those fantastic stories and to recall what a great place Australia is to live in.