Born and raised in Liverpool, I’ve lived near Cabramatta for my whole life, but I’ve only ever ventured into the area to buy fabrics or clothes for an upcoming occasion. Despite having visited Cabramatta, I’d never really seen it. So when I heard about the Sydney Cultural Series in Cabramatta, I jumped at the opportunity. I quickly applied, and it wasn’t long before Friday the 30th of May rolled around, and I set out for Canley Vale station, bag packed, pen and paper at the ready.
Our day began at Canley Vale Buddhist temple where we met Jong Wan who told us the stories of the Buddhist deities that were depicted in the temple, particularly Kwan-Tai, the God of War, who was a defender against an army of bandits, and is revered for his loyalty and integrity.
I was particularly moved by the story of the female deity of the southern seas. She wasn’t much older than me when she set out saving fisherman from harsh weather conditions. I couldn’t imagine doing the same, and I was awestruck by her bravery and fearlessness. She was thought to have been taken up to heaven in a hurricane, and those who install her image in their homes do so to pay their respects to her, and to thank her for the prosperity they believe she has blessed them with.
Soon after, we had the opportunity to have our fortune told. After a skilled combination of tossing shaking sticks and rocks, we asked the deities questions about what our future holds. I asked the deities whether I would pass my final exams, and my answer was – “work hard!” It was definitely a new and interesting experience for me, and gave me a valuable and unexpected insight into a religion completely different than my own.
We bid Jong farewell, and moved on to the Whitlam Library (opened by Gough Whitlam himself, who lived in Cabramatta from 1952). We listened to a talk by Marilyn, a researcher of Fairfield city history (who we later got to have lunch with), who told us all about her first-hand experiences of living in Cabramatta and the city’s history. We learnt about the statistics of Cabramatta’s population, and just how incredibly multicultural it is. Later in the day we had the opportunity to reflect on these statistics and we discussed whether, despite the fact that Fairfield City is multicultural, with just over half of its residence having been born overseas, this means that the community is necessarily more tolerant.
Jenny, a Cambodian refugee, entrepreneur and migration agent, told us all about the Pol Pot communist regime in Cambodia, which saw her separated from her family for three years, and working, dressed in an all-black outfit (of which she only had two a year). I sincerely loved listening to her talk of her life experiences. She was resourceful, brainy, and bold. She started up her own dress-making business in Cambodia when she saw an opportunity in the wake of the communist regime – a country full of people who had been living in only 2 pairs of all-black pajamas.
Her journey eventually led her to Australia in 1980. After some talking, questions, tea and biscuits, Jenny agreed to come along on a tour of the suburb with us. Binh, a Project Officer from Fairfield City Council took us on a brief but highly informative tour of Cabramatta where we walked through Freedom Plaza, and saw amazing lion sculptures and the Friendship Arch – and she also pointed out a lot of different important details that we would need later on in the day for The Amazing Race!
Then came the most important part of the day. Lunch. We had a three-course meal at a cosy Vietnamese restaurant where we made our own rice paper rolls. I piled a little too much chilli onto mine, but it was still delicious. We had tofu (fried with a hint of cinnamon and lime – glorious!), then grilled beef with broccoli and rice. Looking around at my new-found friends, I realised we weren’t just having a meal together; we were also learning about, and celebrating, our different cultures.
It was then time for the Amazing Race. A heart-pumping sprint around the streets of Cabramatta answering trivia questions, it was a chance to apply what we had learnt. And although our team came in well and truly last, we had a great time.
Tired and still buzzed from our race, we huddled in small groups on the grass to reflect on our experiences. Although it had only been a day, we all felt that we had learnt so much, not only about a different culture, and leadership, but also about ourselves.
I will definitely be going back to Cabramatta soon, and this time not just for fabrics.