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Multicultural Services Centre of Western Australia’ Tribute to Dr. Leela De Mel

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I wish to acknowledge the Whadjuk people of the Noongar nation who are the traditional owners of the land we are meeting on. I pay my respects to their leaders, past, present and emerging. Dr Leela de Mel worked in the indigenous sector before she worked in the multicultural sector and always made this acknowledgment at every function she officiated or hosted.

It is an absolute honour and privilege to have been asked to pay tribute to Leela and I thank the family for the same. However, I was hoping that wouldn’ eventuate for succinctly summing up the significant influence that she has had on our sector is no easy task.

We often refer to the late emeritus professor Laksiri Jayasuriya as being the father of multiculturalism, and though I don’ believe in royalty, it would be fitting to describe Dr Leela de Mel as the Queen of multiculturalism. What brings us together today is not our nationality, religion, ethnicity etc. but our love and admiration of a woman whose personality, belief in human rights, and perseverance in achieving it for vulnerable sections of our community, touched our hearts and our lives in so many ways.

Our sector has been blessed with many giants and warriors but none as endearing as Leela for she was able to utilize her immense intellectual and unique interpersonal skills to articulate what needed to be achieved, with great passion, dignity and without disrespecting anyone. Social activists including me, have much to learn from her.

Leela’ splendid legacy has not been adequately acknowledged let alone celebrated by our sector. Many including me have had the good fortune to have immensely benefitted from her valuable experience, wisdom, mentoring support and advice. Anne Aly Member for Cowan in paying tribute to Leela in the House of Representatives said, and I quote “mong the public sector in WA and within multicultural communities her bravery, her vision and her tenacity will be fondly remembered” End of quote. Anne’ tribute can be seen in full from the following link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pc4du5qAhZs

Cathy Hollander a former senior staff member of OMI and the Equal Opportunity Commission and I were at Leela’ bedside two days before her passing, reminiscing about our time with

Leela. One of the things Cathy shared was her response when she is praised on her written communication skills. She would say without hesitation those skills are what it is because of the guidance and support she received from Leela. She is not the only one who highly regards and appreciated the mentoring support and advice that Leela so generously gave to so many people.

Suresh Rajan, the President of the Ethnic Communities Council of WA (ECCWA) in his FaceBook post conveyed and I quote “eela taught me much about cultural diversity and related matters. She was undoubtedly one of the most knowledgeable people (about issues of multiculturalism) that I have ever met or dealt with. No one since or before her has brought the kind of change that she did to this state to give us, the CaLD communities, a voice at the table. She was a gem of a person and one who will be sorely missed by all of us.”End of quote. Suresh’ post can be accessed from the following link https://mscwa.com.au/wp-content/uploads/Suresh-Rajan-FaceBook-Tribute-to-Leela-De-Mel.pdf

We all justifiably praise the visionary Hon. former Premier and Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Interests, Dr Geoff Gallop for his admirable multiculturalism scaffolding (comprising the Multiculturalism Charter, the Anti-Racism Strategy, the Substantive Equality and the Language Service policies) and yes, many notable people contributed to it. However, it was left to Leela to implement it within a public sector that put bluntly had little time for it and sought to vehemently resist it being put into practice. The fact that these mechanisms still remain in place is testament to the success that Leela has had.

This was well summed up by Dr Gallop and I quote “All too often those analysing and commenting on public policy focus only on the decisions themselves, who makes them and in what interest. Not surprisingly then the spotlight goes to the ministers, their offices and outside influences be they good or bad. There is of course another domain of great importance and it relates to the implementation of the decision itself; the time when it is taken into the real world both within government itself and also within the wider community. It is here that the role of the public service becomes crucial; as advocate, negotiator, influencer and perhaps even enforcer. When the policy itself breaks new ground or is controversial any slip up in implementation can be catastrophic.

When it came to the range of policies related to multiculturalism and anti-racism I was fortunate to have Leela de Mel as Executive Director of the Office of Multicultural Interests. She fully understood what it was the government intended, was resolute in her support for the policies when the inevitable challenges emerged and through all of this acted in a dignified and respectful way.

Sometimes the stresses were great but Leela worked her way through them – and with a lovely sense of humour when appropriate! If I was to think of words to describe her approach I would say “truly professional”. The fact that so much of what we intended has “stuck” is because of her work within the sector.”End of quote

Leela recognized the need for strong advocacy to tackle structural inequality and discrimination and truly respected and admired ECCWA for the role it played in this regard. I understand from Said Padshah Senior Policy Advisor to the Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Interests who was working at OMI at that time, that Leela on more than one occasion at OMI staff meetings made it explicitly clear that she wouldn’ respond kindly to any criticism of ECCWA by OMI staff. A senior commonwealth public servant who worked for OMI when Leela was its Executive Director also endorsed the aforementioned stance of Leela in relation to ECCWA’ role. In hindsight, Suresh and I, when we were Presidents of ECCWA, could and should have utilized her support much better than we did.

ECCWA honoured her by presenting her the Multiculturalism Award, an honour that has been extended to just four other people since 1980. She was the first public servant on whom this honour was bestowed. A peak body honouring persons for what they did as public servants is rarer than the proverbial hen’ teeth. ECCWA waited a lot longer than was necessary to bestow this honour but, in doing so, it sent a clear signal to all concerned, that former and current leaders of ECCWA and the multicultural sector at that time valued and respected Leela highly.

At this dangerous time for social inclusion and fairness we need public spirited citizens like Leela to defend and extend the social and political gains that we have made over more than three decades. It has been a great pleasure and privilege for me to have been associated with Leela in promoting the development of Australia as a multicultural society.”End of quote

The board of the Multicultural Services Centre of Western Australia (MSC) has decided to name its recently acquired Cannington office Dr Leela De Mel Centre in her honour. Regrettably they were not able to do it before her passing. Feedback from board members include, “eela was obviously a very kind lady and had empathy for the community at large. “hey say that amongst all the human qualities there is none greater than kindness”and “eela was indeed a remarkable woman who had contributed immensely to the multicultural community. I had the pleasure of knowing her when I was working at EDAC. It’ sad we didn’ get the chance to acknowledge her good work and tell her personally how much she was appreciated” End of quotes

In 2011, MSC won the tender to provide the Accommodation and related component of the Humanitarian Support Service and it became its single largest program. Regrettably, a very senior official in the Department of Immigration, on the basis of unsubstantiated reasons, pressured the board to change me as the Contract Manager. Many a board in our sector would have succumbed to such pressure but MSC’ highly professional and experienced board of which Leela was a member, firmly resisted the pressure that was placed on it. Leela’ views played an important role in this along with two other board members who were former senior commonwealth public servants. I cannot thank her enough for what she did in this regard and in the effective implementation of that program.

The board, staff and volunteers of MSC were the beneficiaries of Leela’ famous culinary skills on many occasions. It was not just the taste but the presentation of Leela’ exquisite dishes that will remain in our memories forever.

It was Leela’ advocacy that led to the OMI Executive Director position being upgraded from level 9 to Executive Class 1, for she was acutely aware that otherwise the views of that position wouldn’ be taken seriously by the higher echelons of the public sector. Having achieved the desired outcome, not surprisingly, Leela chose not to accept the higher level. The four people who subsequently served as Executive Directors of OMI were all appointed at Executive Class 1. Due to the unwarranted and unconscionable action of the previous Director of the Department of Local Government, Sports and Cultural Industries, the Executive Director position was downgraded to Level 9.

Hopefully, Minister Buti and the new Director General of that department, Lanie Chopping, will accept the wisdom and reasoning of Leela and revert the position to Executive Class 1, as a matter of urgency.

In an email that I received from Dr. Gallop, he captured so much of Leela’ qualities and attributes, in so few words. He wrote, and I quote, “eela will be much missed. Her wisdom born of experience and plenty of reading – and expressed firmly but gently and often with a lovely sense of humour – made her a wonderful adviser on all matters multicultural and a great friend to many” End of quote

From what I have shared it is obvious that Leela was very much an unsung hero. She was by far the quietest achiever I have ever known. Leela richly deserves to be awarded the Order of Australia for her outstanding public sector service and I have written to the Minister for Multicultural Interests to nominate her for the same, albeit posthumously.

If the impact of her passing on people at OMI, ECC, MSC, and past and present Ministers and senior bureaucrats are anything to go by, I can only imagine what Michael, Janek and other family members must be experiencing. We thank Michael and Janek immensely for sharing Leela with us for our lives are so much richer because of it. So, let us pray for them; as well as members of their extended families, for theirs is an irretrievable loss.

the song, “ight a Candle” Daniel O’onnell, states “e could unite the world from one tiny spark; and it is better to light a candle than curse in the dark” Leela not just believed but practiced that message by lighting candles for many causes. Some of them still shine brightly.

This song epitomises Leela in so many ways, her substantial contribution to the multicultural sector, her love of family, her loyal and deep friendships, and her unconditional faith. She has left us a very rich legacy, which will live on in all of us. This song will inspire us to keep lighting candles just as she did, and I will end my tribute with some words from it.

 

“Life is for giving for those who are living in love’s ray of light

And life is for caring, so never stop sharing your beacon so bright

Light a candle, to start a new dawn, let it be like a prayer

And together we’ll shine, in a moment of time, we can share

Light a candle, to start a new dawn

We can unite the world from one tiny spark

It’ better to light a candle than curse in the dark”

Till we meet again, Vale Dr. Leela De Mel.

Ramdas Sankaran OAM on behalf of the board and staff of MSCWA



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Amusement ride brought to life on big screen Jungle Cruise

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By Tharishi Hewavithanagamage

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra from screenplay written by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, and Michael Green, ‘Jungle Cruise’ is loosely based on Walt Disney’s theme park attraction of the same name. After success of the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise, it comes as no surprise that Disney wanted to create another ride-based movie, this time featuring one of its first rides. The riverboat amusement ride was the only attraction to exist in the Adventureland themed section on Disneyland’s opening day in 1955. The live-action riverboat adventure stars Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, and Paul Giamatti.

The film is set in 1916, and follows Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) in a fervent search for a mystical tree whose petals known as Tears of the Moon, are said to have healing properties. Her strong belief that she could bring about medical breakthroughs and save numerous lives, prompts her to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, deep into the Amazon rainforest.

With a map in hand, Lily along with her brother McGregor (Jack Whitehall) enlist the help of skipper and swindler Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) to help navigate the vast waters of the rainforest. Coveting the mystical petals for their own goals are Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) and a team of 400-year old cursed conquistadors led by Aguirre (Edgar Ramírez). In a race against time, the bad guys and the jungle, Lily must place her trust in Frank if she is to ever reach the tree, but it’s easier said than done.

The latest Disney movie is definitely fun to watch. It’s a classic, and far too predictable, adventure, where a small group of protagonists venture into the unknown. The movie obviously borrows heavily from big screen hits like ‘Indiana Jones’, ‘The Mummy’ franchise, ‘Anacondas: Hunt for the Blood Orchid’ and even the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise. This film is a patch-work of tropes.

The two-hour movie also packs a lot, which is precisely why the plot gets murkier as the audiences and protagonists cruise through. The big picture is brimming with smaller side stories which include characters that aren’t essential to the plot and in the end remain forgettable, like Paul Giamatti’s crusty harbormaster Nilo, who unfortunately falls into the margins of the movie. And scenes such as Prince Joachim talking to bees, makes the film utterly nonsensical. However, the strongest points of the movie are seen in the strengthening relationships and character development, which receive just about enough screen time to hold the story together. And while there is no overarching theme for this tale, it handles themes like women empowerment and exoticism.

‘Jungle Cruise’ offers audiences an imaginative look at deeper areas of the Amazon. The titular jungle, Frank’s beloved boat and adorable pet Jaguar Proxima are CGI highlights, whereas most other effects, notably the ragtag supernatural conquistadors, who look like they hung out with Davy Jones for too long, fall flat.

The film also delivers meticulously choreographed action sequences that showcase each individual character’s physical prowess. Everyone gets a chance to throw a punch with good form, not just The Rock. The film also draws in ideas and references from the actual ride. The humor, a courtesy of Frank’s pun-laden jokes is an actual reference to the theme-park attraction. The ride is known for its corny jokes, all delivered by skippers who narrate the adventure to visitors. Everything comes together to make the film a fun-filled experience. It falls short of a strong plot but is driven forward by the performance of the two leads.

An unlikely pair, both Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt showcase their stellar acting skills. Blunt brings a strong charisma as an intrepid scholar and adventurer, breaking barriers in ‘a man’s world’ through her role as Dr. Lily Houghton. Blunt expertly navigates the character’s inner nerd and heroine in doing amazing stunts and even takes on Johnson’s muscular self. Johnson pours his heart and soul into his character Frank. At first glance Frank comes across as a rogue character with no depth and mainly supplies humor to the tale, but as the story unfolds Johnson taps into deeper aspects of the character. The Blunt-Johnson pairing oddly makes their banter fun, but the sense of awkwardness can be overwhelmingly uncomfortable in some scenes.

Jack Whitehall’s role as Lily’s not-so-adventurous brother McGregor, is Disney’s latest attempt to introduce a gay character, but fails to leave a deep impression. It also seems like it’s never a good adventure without the nefarious Germans trying to kill everyone, but Jesse Plemons brings more comedic relief than menace to his role as Prince Joachim. The conquistador villain Aguirre played by Edgar Ramírez, remains sidelined and underused.

At the end of the day, ‘Jungle Cruise’ is a fun summer adventure that everyone can enjoy. Although the film doesn’t meet the standards set by their cooler counterpart ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, ‘Jungle Cruise’ brings its own unique quirkiness that saves it from drowning completely.

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Astrologers suggested he be ordained

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Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera

Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera was an eminent scholar monk in the nineteenth century. He was the founder of the Vidyodaya Pirivena.

He was born in the village of Hettigoda in Hikkaduwa on 20-01-1827.

As was the Sinhala custom, his horoscope was cast by an eminent astrologer who predicted that the child was under the evil influence of the planets and that he will have a life of misfortune, with a suggestion that he be ordained. The parents then consulted several other eminent astrologers who too, made similar predictions.

(As later events proved, the predictions happened to be from those who had not properly mastered the science of astrology, or due to the inaccurate time of birth recorded).

As per the predictions, his parents then decided to ordain him. With that in view, he was given only a temple-oriented education, with no formal schooling.

When he was about 14 years old, preparations were made to ordain him at an auspicious time. But, as the auspicious time was fast approaching, he was found missing.

After he was found, he told his father not to ordain him and bring the Buddha Sasana into disrepute, as his astrological predictions were adverse.

However, he was ordained later as Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera, of his own volition.

Nobody ever thought, at the time, that he would one day be a scholar of great repute.

The following year, he sojourned at the Mapalagama Temple, in the Galle District during the Vas Season (rainy season) with his preceptor Mobotuwana Revatha Thera and several other monks.

This young Sumangala Samanera (novice) endeared himself to the devotees, with his disciplined demeanour and with his sermons, based on the Jathaka stories (stories of the former lives of the Buddha). One such devotee – John Cornelis Abeywardena, an English scholar (an ancestor of the present day Galle politician Vajira Abeywardena) volunteered to teach English to this young inspiring preacher.

It was a time when some bhikkhus were engaged in native medical treatment. And Sumangala Thera, then still a novice, was to answer this question as to whether the bhikkhus could engage in such a practice.

He construed that it was harmless to treat the hapless, destitute patients, friends or relations, provided it was not for any material gain and that it was not a serious violation of the Vinaya rules.

While travelling by train, one day, this Samanera met a group of pilgrims from Siam (now Thailand), coming down south, after a pilgrimage to Anuradhapura.

The pilgrims knew only their Siam language and the Pali language, resulting in they being cut off from the local populace.

One of them, half-heartedly spoke to this Samanera in the Pali lanugage. It was then that he realised that he was spaking to a Pali scholar. This resulted in exchange of views between the two of them.

Later he continued with his higher learning under several reputed venerable preceptors and also authored several valuable books.

During the Vas Season, in that year 1858, he sojourned at the Bogahawatta Temple, in Galle, and commenced publishing a newspaper for Buddhists named “Lanka Loka”.

He was a close friend of Col. Henry Steele Olcott, who arrived in Ceylon in the year 1880.

During those colonial days, the first class compartments in trains were more or less reserved for the white masters. Quite often, these compartments were seen going empty, except for one or two of them, while the second and third classes were crammed. Though some Sri Lankans had the means to travel first class, they didn’t have the courage to do so. There were others who did not care a damn for the white skins and unhestatingly travelled first class.

One day Sumangala Nayaka Thera was travelling to Kandy and entered a first class compartment, occupied by two high- spirited Englishmen.

With characteristic arrogance they subjected the Nayaka Thera to a barrage of vulger comments and rude insults.

“This old fellow has, by mistake, got into this compartment” one of them said.

“No, this is not a mistake. He is purposely, fraudulently, travelling first class with a third class ticket.”

“Shall we hand him over to the Railway Authorities?” asked the other.

The Thera gazed at them silently with a benign smile on his face.

At Polgahawela, the train was shunted into a siding, for the train carrying Sir Arthur Gordon, Governor of Ceylon, who was returning to Colombo, after a holiday, was due at any moment.

The train arrived and the Governor’s special compartment drew up right alongside the one occupied by the venerable monk. Glancing out of the window, the Governor saw Sumangala Thera and a smile of pure pleasure shone on the Governor’s face. For he and the learned monk were close friends. Scholars both, they visited each other quite often and spent many hours in erudite discussion.

“My dear High Priest! Fancy meeting you like this!” said Sir Gordon, opening the door of his compartment and walking into the one occupied by the Thera. They were engaged in a lively conversation, in English, and the train was 11 minutes late.

With the Governor’s departure, the two louts now crestfallen and repentant at their boorish behaviour, profusely apologised to the Thera.

With a smile on his face, the Thera, accepted their apologies with a brief exhortation. Thereafter they were engaged in a lovely conservation till the journey’s end.

Once there was a clash between some Buddhists who went in a procession and some Catholics at Maggona, resulting in the death of a Catholic.

As a sequel, a Buddhist named Seeman Fernando was sentenced to death. On representations made by the Nayaka Thera to the Governor, Seeman Fernando was released.

One day, a group of pilgrims that also included some members of the Cambodian Royal Family, went to Kandy with the Nayaka Thera for an exposition of the Tooth Relic.

It was a non-event as no prior intimation had been made to the Dalada Maligawa authorities in time.

The next morning, the Thera was walking leisurely along the Nuwara Wewa, when Governor Gordon, who was going in a horse drawn chariot saw the Nayaka Thera and after greeting him indulged in a lively conversation. When he told him about the non-event of the exposition of the tooth relic the previous day, the Governor took immediate steps for a special exposition, directing the Government Agent to make the necessary arrangements.

In the year 1873, he founded the Vidyodaya Pirivena – a seat of Buddhist higher learning. It was his greatest service to Buddhism.

When the permit to have a perahera was first introduced at the turn of this centry, the Nayaka Thera, as Head of Vidyodaya, sought permission to hold the annual perahera of the Pirivena. Permission was at first refused, but mysteriously granted a few days later.

Despite the refusal, the Nayaka Thera had gone ahead with the arrangements to hold the perahera, and when a senior police officer on horseback brought the permit personally to the High Priest, he contemptuously rejected it and sent the officer away.

This incident was reported to the I.G.P. who, in turn, reported it to the Governor of the colony of Ceylon.

The Governor, a close friend and admirer of Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera, sent his Maha Mudliyar, Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, as his personal emissary, to respectfully request the learned scholar monk to come to Queen’s House to discuss the matter, as His Excellency feared that the act of the Nayaka Thera would be an undersirable precedent.

“I refused to accept the police permit for this reason,” the Nayaka Thera, told the Governor. “When I first asked for permission to hold the perahera, permission was refused. A few days later, permission was granted. This indicates that permits are given, not according to any law, but at the whims and fancies of police personnel, which is all wrong. That is why I refused the permit that was given on second thoughts. The freedom to practise the Buddhist religion and its rites have been guaranteed in the Kandyan Convention, and I shall be grateful if you and your minions will kindly remember that.”

The chastened Governor was profuse in his apologies to the outspoken scholar monk.

The Nayaka Thera was taken ill on the 21st April 1911 and passed away on the 29th (about 110 years ago).

Perhaps he would never have envisaged, that his much cherished Vidyodaya Pirivena would be no more on a tidal wave, in the years to come.

 

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Talented and versatile

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Shareefa Thahir is not only popular, as a radio personality, but she also has a big following on social media. Each time she uploads a new photo, or an event where she is in the spotlight, the ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ keep soaring. Shareefa does the scene at the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (Radio Sri Lanka – 97.4 and 97.6) as an English announcer, and news reader, and she is also a freelance TV presenter, and news anchor, on Rupavahini.

Had a chat with this talented, and versatile, young lady, and this is how it all went…

1. How would you describe yourself?

In just a few words, I would say a simple, easy-going person. And, my friends would certainly endorse that.

2. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I love myself, and I accept whatever laws I may have. So, obviously, there’s nothing that I would want to change in myself.

3. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?

Absolutely nothing because they are amazing…just the way they are (and that hit by Bruno Mars ‘Just The way You Are’ came to mind when you asked me this question!)

4. School?

Melbourne International, and Gateway College. I was the captain of my house and participated in athletics – track events, etc.

5. Happiest moment?

Oh, I will never forget the day I won the Raigam Award for my work on television.

6. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Accept yourself and enjoy the tiny things in life.

7. Are you religious?

I believe in God, but I don’t think you should go about announcing it. I stay true to my heart.

8. Are you superstitious?

A little …..stitious! Hahaha! Just kidding – not at all!

9. Your ideal guy?

Someone who accepts me for who I am, and who is supportive in my journey…like I would be in his.

10. Which living person do you most admire?

I would say Jennifer Lopez, for the simple reason that she is still very energetic, and active, for her age (52), keeps herself in good shape, and still has a huge fan base.

11. Which is your most treasured possession?

Yes, I would say my talent.

12. If you were marooned on a desert island, who would you like as your companion?

My best friend as I would certainly need someone to chat with! Hahaha!

13. Your most embarrassing moment?

Saying ‘good morning’ to viewers on an evening live show!

14. Done anything daring?

Not yet. I wonder when I would get that opportunity to do something…real daring, like, let’s say, climbing Mount Everest!

15. Your ideal vacation?

A life without social media, in Greece, enjoying the beauty of nature.

16. What kind of music are you into?

Oh, I can go on and on about this; it depends on my mood. I love alternate rock, mostly, but I enjoy reggae, and pop, too.

17. Favourite radio station?

SLBC’s Radio Sri Lanka.

18. Favourite TV station?

Channel Eye (for obvious reasons).

19 What would you like to be born as in your next life?

Myself…again.

20. Any major plans for the future?

I’m hoping to start a new venture. However, I’m keeping my fingers crossed, as right now the scene is pretty dicey, with this virus being so unpredictable.

 

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