More than 60 people seeking asylum in Australia enjoyed a “great day out” at a well-attended community picnic in Castlemaine Botanical Gardens.
On a recent sunny Saturday people from the Lentara Asylum Seeker Welcome Centre and the Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project in Melbourne experienced the hospitality of the Harcourt Uniting Church and Rural Australians for Refugees plus the generosity of the wider community.
One local described the picnic as “a beautiful occasion of warmth and welcome that I wish our federal politicians could have witnessed. Full-hearted human hospitality as it should be.”
Those seeking asylum came from a diverse range of countries including Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon, Tibet, Chile, Somalia and Ethiopia.
Banners saying “welcome” in the native languages of the guests decorated the area.
They were made by children from St Mary’s, Winters Flat, Campbells Creek, and Maldon primary schools.
To open the event a welcome to country was extended and a smoke cleansing ceremony conducted by Auntie Paulette Nelson, who also gave some history of the tribes in the local area.
In her opening address, Mount Alexander Shire Mayor Bronwen Machin expressed concern and shame at Australia’s refugee policies.
While the adult guests chatted with locals, the 30 children, ranging from toddlers to teens, enjoyed a range of activities including a farm animal petting zoo, face painting, soap bubbles and a balloon artist.
Both adults and children grabbed the rope to take part in a tug-of-peace.
A magnificent lunch was prepared by volunteers, including Harcourt Uniting Church members and Chewton Phoenix CWA.
Rohan Souter and the Peace Choir sang, followed by international dances.
Families received Boomerang Bags containing surprise items, along with children’s books from the Friends of the Castlemaine Library.
In informal conversations people heard about the experiences that caused people to seek asylum in Australia and of their struggles with bureaucracy.
The guests expressed their hopes to contribute to the life of the Australian community and to build a new life for their families.