Faith and community leaders in Bendigo stepped up last month to show their support for their Muslim neighbours.
In a move organised by the Uniting Church’s Commission for Mission (CFM), hundreds of colourful balloons filled the streets bearing tags that read ‘Racism has no place in Bendigo’.
The action was in response to the anti-Islamic black balloons which were tied to several councillors’ homes last week following the decision to approve a mosque being built in the city.
Members of the Bendigo community were joined by MP Maree Edwards, MP Jacinta Allan, Senator-elect Janet Rice, and local ministers Rev Cynthia Page of Eaglehawk Uniting Church and Rev Bryn Jones of Kangaroo Flat Anglican Church in handing out 300 brightly coloured balloons to passers-by.
Alys Gagnon, one of the organisers from CFM’s Justice and International Mission unit, was ‘blown away’ by the response.
“I thought we might have a handful of people show up. Instead, we had hundreds of people filling the street, balloons everywhere, two local newspapers, the local WIN TV news crew and a journalist and cameraman from Channel 9 Melbourne,” Ms Gagnon said.
Support for the initiative was so strong the group finished their helium tank in under an hour. When balloons and string ran low, Bendigo residents replenished stock themselves and kept it going.
There were also several impromptu speeches, including one from Heri Febriyanto of the Bendigo Islamic Association, who was overwhelmed by Saturday’s turnout.
“I’m so grateful and really happy people are supportive,” he said.
“It’s a win … for all of Bendigo. We want to live in harmony.”