As one of the Commonwealth Youth Forum Delegates flying out after 4pm on Friday 28th October I was lucky enough to receive an invitation to the official Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting Opening.
It was quite a long process to get there and get in with all the security and then quite a bit of boring standing around waiting to go in so I won’t bore you too much with a detailed account of the lead up other than to say the waiting area was a flood of people from every background you can imagine and I had a VERY interesting conversation with a woman who’d been attending the People’s Forum. I won’t get her in trouble by revealing her role or name but will share with you the essence of what she said – The People’s Forum was a complete waste of time. People at the top had orchestrated and determined the outcome long before anyone arrived and there was no genuine two way dialogue at all. This was a particularly interesting conversation to have in light of my concerns regarding the structures underpinning the Commonwealth Youth Forum (which I’ll talk about in detail in another blog to be linked here).
Once we finally made it into the venue (Perth Convention & Exhibition Centre) we were pleasantly surprised to discover that we were only 4 rows back from the action. You could almost see the pores of people on stage! The stage had obviously been purpose built for the event with the colours and themes of the Commonwealth Logo evident including a sliding door in the centre of the stage branded with the CHOGM logo (in the foyer we’d also been given bottles of water with the CHOGM logo so they’d gone all out).
The opening started by welcoming the Heads of Government onto the Stage where they were seated by very well dressed ushers on either side of the stage. Our PM The Honourable Julie Gillard, Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma, The Honourable Kamla Persad-Bissessar MP (Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago where the 2009 CHOGM was held) and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II Head of the Commonwealth were seated last on the same side of the stage as we were sitting.
Speeches by these last four dignitaries were interspersed with Australian Cultural Performances led by, what to me, was a very moving welcome to country. The cultural performances included a dance piece from an Indigenous Dance Company, a dance from Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts Dancers and lastly a song performed by Guy Sebastian with Next Step dance company.
I was actually incredibly moved by the whole ceremony. I didn’t expect to be. I’m a bit cynical about the money being spent and the lack of action on the ground from Governments everywhere and I expected to be less than impressed. Instead I felt a deep sense of connection to myself as an Australian, and perhaps more importantly a sense of reaching out to and connection with myself as a citizen of the world.
In particular I was touched by the Indigenous Dance and the Welcome to country as a mentioned earlier which again made me question where our sense of Pride in our Indigenous community is here in the Riverland. Sadly I feel our Riverland region often (accidentally or on purpose I’m still not sure) has a deep separation between a mainstream culture that is predominantly white and westernised and between our Indigenous people and our migrant communities. The Riverland is inhabited by a diverse range of people’s from many cultures and backgrounds and I feel that we don’t reach out to each other enough (or in the rights ways) and that there is a lot of fear about asking questions about each other.
I want to reach out. I want to know who we are as a community and what that means and what it could mean in the future. I want all of our people to feel able and proud to identify as a Riverlander.
There are seeds growing in me this year. So many seeds.
The CHOGM opening concluded with a quick dash to the waiting bus and heading back to the hotel for some final goodbyes before catching my flight home – just in time I might add to miss the grounding of all Qantas flights! There were many CYF delegates who ended up being stranded for a number of days but I was lucky enough to get out in time and arrive as scheduled.
I arrived home approximately 9.40pm, stopped at a friend’s house in Plympton for a quick coffee and to pick up my car before embarking on the 3 hour drive home! I arrived in the wee hours of the morning and rather than heading straight to bed percolated on the week that had been by sharing it with my wonderful (and recently engaged!) fiancée.
Then it was back to the real world. Time to reflect.To Think. To Plan. This experienced isn’t over for me yet as this is still so much to pick apart and the most important of questions – what happens next? As a contingent, a group of 130 delegates from 54 nations we proposed 15 recommendations to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, but what happens to them now. What happens if we all just go back to our lives?
Probably nothing, which is why a dedicated and passionate group of us have committed to continue agitating for action. That group has today sent a formal letter to our PM The Honourable Julie Gillard and Minister for Youth The Honourable Peter Garrett asking for a meeting to discuss the outcomes of the forum – I’ll let you know what happens next!
It’s been an absolutely amazing ride and I’m still in the process of collecting all my thoughts and adding to blogs from during the week so please do check back and please do ask questions if there is something I’ve missed and not given enough detail about.