Tonight I rise to speak on an event called Hopak in the Park, which I attended at Melbourne’s Sidney Myer Music Bowl in April. The event was organised by the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations, or AFUO. I had the privilege of speaking on behalf of the government at this event, and I was also attending in my new role as chair of the Australia-Ukraine Federal Parliamentary Group. The inaugural Hopak in the Park, a dance spectacular, was an opportunity to celebrate Ukrainian culture and the relationship between Ukraine and Australia. Over 300 participants from bands and dance groups from across Australia were enthusiastic to showcase their dance, music and costumes in the traditional Ukrainian way. Participants included second-, third- and even fourth-generation Ukrainians who are dedicated to Australia but still remain true to their Ukrainian origins. The Australian participants were joined by HRIM, a Ukrainian band from New York, and it was wonderful to have an international act as part of the event. I have a close association with Ukraine, as my husband, Robert, who attended the event with me, is of Ukrainian descent. This has led me to take a strong interest in Ukraine and its culture, although I have not yet had the pleasure of visiting the country. Hopak in the Park is a cultural event of national significance. It is a chance for Ukrainians in Australia to share their culture with each other and the broader community.
Australia’s multicultural policy supports the rights and liberties of Australians of all backgrounds to celebrate, practise and maintain their cultural heritage, traditions and language within the law and free from discrimination. However, Australians do not believe just in protecting and maintaining our cultural diversity; we believe in celebrating and embracing it. The celebration of our cultural diversity and our acceptance of migrants as a valued and integral part of our community make me very proud to be an Australian.
I take this opportunity to give a bit of brief information about Australia’s relationship with the Ukraine. The first permanent Ukrainian settler in Australia was H Donchak, who settled in Brisbane in the 1920s. The 1940s, of course, was an important decade for Ukrainian settlement in Australia, with the arrival of many Ukrainians following World War II, and that included my own father-in-law. April 1949 saw the formation of the first Ukrainian association in South Australia, with other states following later in the year and in 1950, and in June 1950 a representative body for all Ukrainian organisations in Australia was founded. This body was called the Association of Ukrainians in Australia and was renamed the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations in December 1953. According to the latest census, in 2006 there were 13,666 people living in Australia who were born in Ukraine. It is estimated that the Ukrainian community in Australia is somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 strong. Of course, my home state of Tasmania has a small but very important population of Ukrainians and their descendants. All the communities make a very valuable contribution to Australian society.
But, to get back to Hopak in the Park, it began with the national anthems of Australia and Ukraine. The occasion was also used to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, with the Australian and Ukrainian flags lowered and one minute’s silence observed. In my speech on the day, I spoke of the impact Chernobyl had at the time of the disaster and the continuing effects felt by many people today. The high-level summit in Kiev dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident was attended by Australia’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations at Vienna, Michael Potts, who is also the ambassador with responsibility for Ukraine. The Australian government was pleased to sign on to the declaration of the Kiev Summit on Safe and Innovative Use of Nuclear Energy. The anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster and the recent Fukushima disaster in Japan both serve as timely reminders of the importance of nuclear safety. Today Ukraine’s nuclear power plant operators follow the internationally agreed nuclear safety standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Australia believes that IAEA standards must be adhered to in the development of any new nuclear power plant, and the Australian government is keen to ensure that the impacts of the Chernobyl disaster are well researched and documented and that all steps possible are taken to prevent future such disasters. On behalf of the Australian government, I extended our sympathy to the families of those that died and our prayers to those that continue to suffer.
I would like to take the time tonight to thank the organisers of Hopak in the Park for their efforts in keeping Ukrainian culture alive and vibrant in Australia. As we all know, an event as big as this requires a lot of people with a common goal to work together to make it a success, and it certainly does not happen overnight. Everyone deserves to be congratulated for their hard work and dedication to the event. There are too many people to mention them all, but there are a few I really would like to mention: the two masters of ceremonies, Yuliya Rai and Steven Sikoria; the manager of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, the Arts Centre, Glen Hirst; and, of course, the performers and backstage people essential to the event going ahead. I would like to acknowledge the efforts of the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations and other organisations concerned with taking a leadership role and encouraging members of Australia’s Ukrainian community to be active in community life. I would like to thank them for enriching the experience of Australians by sharing their culture with us. I would also like to thank the sponsors of the event: Myroslaw and Christine Merunovich, the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations, Karpaty Foundation, the national Lubomyr Sklepkowycz Foundation, the Victorian Multicultural Commission, Adel Bassili from Travelwiz, Dnister Credit Union, Event Management Services, the Foundation of Ukrainian Studies in Australia; the supporters, Muirs Good Guys; and those who donated raffle prizes, including Inter Airlines Consolidated Group, Thai Airways, Travelwiz, the Good Guys Discount Warehouses in Essendon, Portobello Restaurant in Essendon, and North Essendon Lotto in Essendon. Their generosity was much appreciated.
I would also like to say thank you to the more than 2,000 people who attended the event. I particularly mention Stefan Romaniw OAM for the invitation to attend this fantastic event and the opportunity to speak. I thoroughly enjoyed Hopak in the Park and the hospitality and generosity of Ukrainian people. They are such generous people. As I said, encouraging people to make the most of Australia’s multiculturalism by attending events such as this is really important. I look forward to attending future events. I am sure Hopak in the Park can only get bigger and better over the next few years.
We are fortunate to live in a nation that provides us with so many opportunities to experience other cultures and we should all make the most of these opportunities. Anyone interested in finding out more about the AFUO or viewing footage of Hopak in the Park can do so by visiting the website, http://www.ozeukes.com.