After months of planning by the Nhill Karen Community, our town really came to life on Saturday with the celebration of the Karen New Year. There were over 1,000 in attendance travelling from around Victoria and some even from interstate.
Many would remember Mura and her beautiful smile, who worked in General Services at the WWHS. She actually travelled from Perth with her mum and little boy, Abel. Mura was one of many who returned to Nhill after relocating for various reasons, but they still call Nhill their Aussie home. The ‘Welcome to Country’ was performed by local Aboriginal Leader, Uncle Ron Marx before Dr Anne Webster, the Federal Member for Mallee, officially opened the celebrations. Anne became emotional when she spoke with pride of what had been achieved by the Nhill Community and, her gratitude and acknowledgement of those who have supported the Karen since 2010. She also remarked that census data revealed 18 per cent of the Nhill workforce is Karen and they now make up more than 10 per cent of the population.
John Millington reminded the audience that Saturday was almost 14 years to the day that the first of the Karen came to visit our town to consider working here. That visit, including the fellowship meeting with a cross-section of the community, marked the beginning of what is now a successful refugee settlement known throughout many parts of the world. There are now over 250 Karen living in Nhill; 58 have bought their own homes, and they are employed in over 30 businesses in and around our town. Nhill should be proud of what has been achieved through the acceptance of not only the Karen, but so many different Nationalities in our Shire.
There were many more speeches by prominent guests interwoven throughout the program including Taw Doh, the Victorian representative of the Australian Karen Organisation, Saw Lwin Oo, the National Karen President; an encouragement speech by Baw Poe, Chue, the campaign manager of the Myanmar Network who are trying to implement change in Myanmar. Of note, however, was the speech by Viv Nguyen, Chairperson of the Victorian Multicultural Commission, who applauded not only the Karen achievements but also the town for its acceptance of diversity and proving we can all work together in harmony to achieve happiness.
A variety of musical, singing and dance performances added so much class, culture and enjoyment to the whole event. The Horsham and Nhill Youth Music Group and the Bendigo Karen Dance Group performed the Doe Dance, and the impressive Stick Dance was performed by the Nhill Youth Group. The Karen worked until midnight on Friday night preparing the food, which was enjoyed and appreciated at the conclusion of the entertainment. The donation of product from Luv-A-Duck and MC Herd Meatworks (Geelong) was greatly appreciated and assisted in offsetting some of the costs involved in feeding so many as it was offered as a free meal.
The visual presentation of the current situation in Myanmar made all present stop and reflect on how fortunate all Australians are as it bears many similarities to the inhumane situation in Gaza. However, on a positive note, many different images displaying the hopes and dreams of the Karen helped all present to understand where the Karen have come from, their achievements and their plans for the future. When asked what the Karen have gained by coming to Nhill, the reply by so many is always the same: Hope, Happiness, Freedom and Peace! Isn’t that what we all wish for?
This article appeared in the Nhill Free Press & Kaniva Times, 24 January 2024.