Harmony Day – Do you feel like you belong in Australia?

| March 21, 2014

Today is Harmony Day, and the motto is ‘Everyone Belongs’. Sue Ellson from the Newcomers Network invites us to get off our chair, say hello and smile to someone we don’t know in order to celebrate Harmony Day every day.

Harmony Day has been celebrated on the 21st of March of every year in Australia since 1999 and coincides with the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The motto is ‘Everyone Belongs.’ Whilst traditionally we have been focused on residents who have moved here from other countries, this year I would like to discuss the phenomenon of belonging – a basic human need.

Do you have a sense of where you belong? Are you part of a couple, a family, a tribe, a group, an extended family, a community, a faith, a religion, a sport, a hobby or a culture? Do you have a role to play or are you a participant? Do you give or receive? Do you contribute your time or value a service? Are you working or not working?

In the place where you live, do you live alone or with other people? Do you feel as if you belong or is it a hostile environment? Do you work out ways to communicate or do you avoid communicating? Do you have someone you can call in an emergency? Can you trace your heritage further than your grandparents? Are any of your connections indigenous Australians?

George Bernard Shaw wrote, “Life is not meant to be easy, my child; but take courage: it can be delightful.” Malcolm Fraser paraphrased it in 1971 and said, “Life wasn’t meant to be easy.” In Australia, our life certainly has become easier.

It started in simple ways, like when we started purchasing petrol at a self-service pump. Sure, we saved time and perhaps labour costs, but we no longer chatted to the attendant, had our oil checked or our windscreen cleaned. We have gone from price stickers on groceries to bar codes and now we have self-service checkouts. We had bank tellers and now we have ATMs that accept deposits and allow withdrawals. The opportunity to have customer service is disappearing from everyday life, as is the opportunity for casual face to face conversations or random acts of kindness.

Friends no longer pop in for a cuppa unannounced, they post on Facebook. Sports clubs struggle for numbers whilst apps and computer games increase. Business networking events are usually filled with people over the age of 40. Kids no longer play cricket in the street until dark and are rarely seen walking with friends because they are driven with their parents. People put headphones on in public transport and don’t chat to one another. A home cooked casserole or a gift of flowers cannot be produced by a machine and delivered automatically when a loved one dies.

How can we be a harmonious society if we do not talk to each other? I have a sense that we are becoming more and more isolated in a rapidly changing world and our opportunity to have human touch-points in our daily lives is decreasing. There is talk that robots will replace most of our jobs in a few short years – what will we do with our time then? Will we spend more time in front of a screen like programmed zombies?

Harmony Day is here to help us celebrate our cultural, linguistic and religious diversity. It is wonderful to realise that in 2014, there are over 6,500 celebratory events around Australia, an increase of 40% on 2013. There are obviously some passionate people willing to create a ‘belonging’ opportunity for people in their neighbourhood.

Australia is well known as a socially cohesive society. 45% of our population is either born overseas or has a parent born overseas and we speak over 300 languages.  It is easy to deduce that we are very multicultural. Several recognised and unrecognised champions have stood up against racism, sexism, ageism, extremism and more – in fact any form of discrimination. There have been major policy and practice breakthroughs for victims of abuse, people with disabilities and minorities. Let’s see that continue.

However, on a practical note as we reflect on Harmony Day, I have a much simpler request.

Say G’day.

Or say Hello.

Wave your hand.


Talk to someone you have never met before, especially if they live next door, are in the shop down the street or are working in the neighbourhood.

Don’t be shy.

Get off of your chair, stop reading this screen and find three people and smile at each one of them. Walk a dog, yours or someone else’s and say hello to each person you meet on the way.

Say hello to your bus driver when you get on the bus and say thank you when you get off. Talk to the person with a dog, a baby or a child. Talk to a senior citizen – they usually welcome a chat, especially with a younger person.

You can be guaranteed that if you start interacting with people more frequently, you will feel as if you belong. Likewise, the people who receive your greeting will also feel like they belong.

And then we can have Harmony Day every day, and everyone will belong, including you.


Previous Articles on Harmony Day by Sue Ellson

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Sue Ellson

Sue Ellson is the Founder and Director of Newcomers Network, a socially responsible enterprise providing information, events and advocacy for newcomers and networkers in Camberwell, Melbourne, Victoria. She has published three books and can be found via LinkedIn or at SueEllson.com.