The Cultural Stomp:

Newcastle Celebrates it's Cultural Diversity

Steve Georgopoulos

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Around Easter, 1997, there was a feeling in the City of Newcastle's air that was brittle, if not fragile. BHP had just announced the closure of its steelworks and 2500 workers were to be on the scrap heap by 2000. Many of these workers had literacy and numeracy learning needs. The "downsizing" of BHP also would have a painful effect on ethnic communities of the Hunter, with about 600 non English speaking background workers needing extra English language skills. The Hunter region was in a state of shock, because those 2500 workers retrenched would by the multiplier effect mean another 12 to 20,000 jobs would also disappear in the region.

Newcastle was hurting, and hurting bad. So when, only a couple of weeks later, the announcement that the One Nation Party was to be launched for the first time in NSW on 30 May, 1997 at the Civic Theatre in Newcastle it was important that an alternate forum for people with opposing views should be organised.

Drawn by a common need and a common objective, a diverse group of citizens met at Wollatuka, Newcastle University to see what would be done. A young Aboriginal student stood up and said to the circle of people who had gathered, "Hi, my name is Belinda and I'm glad that so many people have shown up today. I want to do something about Pauline coming to visit us, but I don't want to yell at her... I want to do something positive... I want to celebrate what we already have in our city. Who also wants to?" Instantly people called out "Yes" in their diverse ways. We divided up into work groups and we all knew that whatever we come up with we only had three weeks to organise it. We decided that on the same night that Pauline Hanson was speaking we would hold a celebration of our cultural diversity in Civic Park which is only about 200 metres from Civic Theatre. Some us met later at the Pod, and we called the event, The Cultural Stomp and our group, Cultures In Action (CIA).

On the night, over five thousand people turned up at Civic Park to let One Nation know that we have something to celebrate in our local community ; we were celebrating our diversity and the unity of that diversity as Australians. With dancing, singing, music, poetry, fire twirling and a Ceremony scheduled at the same time Pauline Hanson was due to speak, The Cultural Stomp made its debut. Outside the Theatre, where 1000 people paid $10 to listen to Hanson, there was a large crowd of people letting her know that her views weren't necessarily felt by a large percentage of people living in Newcastle. In many ways, the Cultural Stomp was a reconciling force to the active and the resistant forces of One Nation and confronting each other outside the theatre. The Lord Mayor was quoted in the Newcastle Herald as saying, "If it wasn't for The Cultural Stomp last night, there may well have been violence."

This year, Cultures In Action met once again to see if we would organise another Cultural Stomp. In a fundamenatl way the purpose was the same as last year; to hold a peaceful celebration of Newcastle's cultural diversity and unity in Civic Park. The only difference this year was that we didn't have the visual presence of the One Nation Party to contend with, which meant that we probably wouldn't get the media exposure and build up of hype. The process of organising the event, the networking and the seeking of support and sponsorship revealed that Newcastle loved the concept of The Cultural Stomp. Its sponsors and supporters included Newcastle City Council; The Pod; Newcastle City Centre; Newcastle Trades Hall Council; Ethnic Affairs Commission; Awabakal Co-Op; New South Wales Ministry of the Arts; Hunter Area Health; Newcastle University Student Association; Purrimaibahn Unit; Migrant Resource Centre; Multicultural Neighbourhood Centre; Ethnic Communities Council; Hunter Institute of Technology Association; Newcastle University Union; Newcastle Workers Club;Wollatuka; Fast Events; Ron Hartree Art School; Alan Morris M.P; Bryce Gaudry M.P., Brian Birkefeld and many more.

Three nights before the event, at the end of the Sorry Service for the Stolen Generation at the Anglican Cathedral, the bishop said, "Don't forget to come to The Cultural Stomp at Civic Park on Saturday." The night before the event I had returned home late after working with fellow CIA members making lanterns and the bamboo and paper Globe of Reconciliation for the Cultural Stomp Ceremony. As I walked through the door my kids called out, "Dad, come quickly, The Cultural Stomp is on TV!" I rushed over and saw our logo of the nine petalled flower and heard our event announced in the middle of a football game between the Newcastle Knights and Western Suburbs Roosters. From an utterance in the Cathedral to the middle of a televised footy game, The Cultural Stomp was announced.

On the day we had crowds coming and going in the thousands. This year's Stomp included Hunter Institute of Technology's Purrimaibahn Unit displaying art and writings from TAFE students and kids at infant, primary and high schools of our region. It was a wonderful gesture of reconciliation where Aboriginal people shared their work, their hopes and dreams of living in harmony with other members of our culturally diverse community. Throughout the day, performances and speeches from the local multicultural community kept people entertained and informed. We had started the day at 2 o'clock in the afternoon with an Aboriginal Smoking Ceremony; at dusk we were united in the Globe of Reconciliation Fire Ceremony; and the night 'finished' at 10 o'clock with dancing in the park.

Two weeks later, after the news of the One Nation win in Queensland, I was talking to a few students and teachers in the sun outside the classrooms. Someone raised the spectre of Hansonism and an Aboriginal student said, "Newcastle is OK, we had the Stomp and people here are OK." Someone else said, "You know, I walked through Civic Park the other day, and it was different. I could still remember all the people and the kids painting the didgeridoos, the South Pacific Islanders dancing and just the whole thing. The Cultural Stomp has changed the way I see Civic Park."

Cultures in Action is planning another Cultural Stomp for next year and it promises to be bigger and better; regardless of the political landscape.

For more information and pictures of the event visit The Cultural Stomp Web Site - http://www.ozemail.com.au/~stevegeo/stomp.htm

Steve Georgopoulos, Multicultural Education Unit, Hunter Institute of Technology.

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