Spirit of multiculturalism: Going beyond local culture to take on intercontinental hues

‘Australia Day in Spring’ marked by thrilling performance by Aboriginal musical trio.


Just before the band began performing. PHOTO: WAQAS NAEEM/EXPRESS

ISLAMABAD: Every spring, there is a festival in the heart of the capital to showcase the indigenous folk arts and crafts of Pakistan.

On Saturday evening, however, the spirit of multiculturalism in Islamabad went beyond Pakistan’s local cultural diversity to take on intercontinental hues, courtesy of the Australian High Commission.

The high commission’s annual spring celebration, Australia Day in Spring was marked by a thrilling performance by the award-winning Australian Aboriginal musical trio Western Creation, which flew in from Melbourne earlier in the week to participate in the festivities in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad.

Their bodies painted in traditional Aboriginal markings, the trio’s leader Alan Harris aka Big Al and his sons, Tristan and Azlan, mesmerised guests with music from the didgeridoos — a wind instrument originally developed by the native inhabitants of Australia over 1,500 years ago.

Tristan and Azlan, who are members of the Bibbulmann clan of Western Australia, also danced to the booming sound of the didgeridoo. They performed imitations of four Australian spirit animals including the kangaroo and the emu, to complete the breathtaking display of indigenous culture from Down Under.

Australian High Commissioner Peter Heyward said the festival was a celebration of the bilateral relations between Australia and Pakistan, while adding that it was also an opportunity for Australia to foster cultural understanding with South Asian counterparts.

“By celebrating indigenous Australian culture, we get to honour the original inhabitants of our land and it also gives us a chance to introduce their unique culture to Pakistanis,” the high commissioner said. Heyward also took pride in mentioning that the Aboriginal flag was flown side-by-side with the Australian national flag at the event.

He said there was more potential for bilateral trade and commercial activities between Pakistan and Australia, but Heyward added the spring festival was more about people-to-people linkages.

“Education is a vital aspect of such linkages,” the Australian envoy said. Perhaps as a testament of education’s importance, the event also included an awards ceremony to acknowledge Pakistani alumni who have been working in Pakistan after graduating from Australian universities.

Australia is a popular study destination for Pakistani students. In 2012, there were 11,000 Pakistanis enrolled at Australian universities, according to the high commission.

Heyward awarded Alumni Excellence awards to four Pakistanis for their business leadership, innovation and research accomplishments in the fields of education, livestock and agricultural research at Pakistani public and private organisations.

Deputy Australian High Commissioner Paul Molloy also introduced the guests to a new online business community, the “Australia-Pakistan Online Business Forum”, set up on the professional networking website LinkedIn.

Launched by the Australian Trade Commission, the forum will connect Pakistani alumni with each other and also help them keep in touch with developments in various fields in Australia, Molloy said.

A handful of guests, mostly European diplomats, said they were familiar with the didgeridoo, but for the vast majority, it was the first time they had heard it live.

“It is like the sound of the universe,” one foreign diplomat said, commenting on the resonating hum of the pipe-like instrument. “Like all the ancestors and the spirit animals are chanting together.”

Western Creation’s performance, which many Pakistani guests said was a new experience for them, was not the only display of indigenous art at the spring celebration.

An exhibition of contemporary Aboriginal art in the Western Desert tradition, titled “Bush Medicine,” was also displayed.

The exhibition, which consisted of 10 paintings by eight different artists, depicted the life, customs, activities and mythology of the native desert communities of Australia. The paintings, seven of which were already sold at the start of the exhibition, will move to the Nomad Art Gallery for public viewing from Sunday, where the exhibition will continue until Tuesday.

Information Minister Pervez Rasheed, who was the chief guest, said he was grateful to the high commissioner for introducing indigenous artists to Pakistan. He welcomed the performers and said he hoped they will return for more shows in the future.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 14th, 2014.

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