Philippine Fiesta – remarks

25 November 2012

Philippine Fiesta - remarks

Those who speak with approval and gratitude, acclaim and rejoicing, of the Arab Spring, forget, I think, that in the Philippines, twenty-six years ago, with the nuns against the tanks and an Aquino against a remorseless dictator, the democratic impulse flowered early, and fought in the streets and the churches, showed what an impelled and passionate and principled people can do, to a world that looked on amazed.


The Philippines was the first battlefield of the greatest and widest war, the war in the Pacific, ever fought. It has been the laboratory of the multiculture, east and west, Christian and Muslim, tribal, secular, rural, urban and seafaring, that the world has watched with bated breath down an often perilous narrative. It contains seven thousand islands, an almost unimaginable variety of location and culture and local priority, and a hundred million people, ten million now resident overseas, a quarter of a million here.


Bob Hawke was one of the first foreign leaders to fly to Manila and congratulate Cory Aquino on her victory over oppression, and her restoration of freedom to a country too long messed around by a gangster, and a woman too greatly in need to shoes. And, since then, we in Australia and you in your country have been collaborators, comrades, colleagues, co-venturers in the training of teachers, the building of classrooms, the architecturing of region-specific curriculums for Islamic and Indigenous children, for the salvation of early school leavers, and the offering to youth of an alterative to conflict and criminality, in a partnership, a collaboration, a shared adventure that will continue.


We are keen to prove, both of us, that the dividend of peace is human progress, and economic growth, and cultural continuity.


Thirty years on, it is worth recalling that early on in our collaboration it was not thought by many white Anglo-Saxon smug and overfed commentators that the multiculture would work here in Australia.

It was a recipe for trouble, they said, just look at America.


But somewhere in the Australian fair-go, that long tradition of neighbourhood, team spirit, surf lifesaving and bushfire volunteering, it became clear that Australia was different.


And out of depression and war and the building of suburbs and seaside communities had come a decent way of looking at things, and relating to workmates and teammates and fellow volunteer lifesavers and brass bands and congregations, that made more welcome the stranger within our gates and our teams and our schools, than previous waves of refugee migration from smashed and stricken war zones had elsewhere done in other, more surly societies.


It will never be perfectly smooth, and there will always be the odd mad xenophobic fool to shout at a meeting or pick a fight outside a pub.


But, as the Filipino Australian intermingling of mateships, cuisines and sporting victories have shown, the unlikely experiment is working, and after 140 odd years is looking good.


As early as 1872, Filipinos worked as divers in the pearling industry in Broome and Thursday Island.


By the 1947 Census, there were only 141 Philippines-born in Australia.


After that colonialist relic the White Australia policy was dismantled – by not just the Labor Party but by Harold Holt - the Filipino population doubled between every Census (every 5 years) to 1991, making it one of the fastest growing overseas-born populations in Australia.


And the story has been a good one.


Full of sharing and contribution and fellow-feeling and days of generous festivity like this one.


And in that spirit I’d like to now share with you a message from the Prime Minister....


Message from the Prime Minister Julia Gillard:


I am delighted to provide this message of support for the Philippine Fiesta of Victoria in its 30th anniversary year.

As the Fiesta has grown since its inception in 1982, so too has Australia’s relationship with the Philippines through trade, investment, cultural exchange, tourism and migration. Each year, the Fiesta provides an opportunity to celebrate the strong friendship between our countries, as well as the contribution of Australia’s ever-growing Filipino community.

The theme for the 2012 Fiesta, ‘Bukas-Bisig’ or ‘Welcome’, is particularly appropriate.


Filipinos are famously hospitable and this year’s event provides another opportunity for Victorian Filipinos to share their joyous culture, food, music and dance with Australians from all backgrounds.

More broadly, Australians welcome the significant influence of multiculturalism on our national life. Australia is home to many different cultures united by tolerance, mutual respect and democracy. Our Filipino community is an important part of this diversity.

May all those attending enjoy the celebrations of this year’s Fiesta.


These are sentiments I share and echo on this, a great day, and a great birthday, and I thank you and bless you for having me along here.