Australia Day 2023

LETTER FROM AUSTRALIA - HK Yu, PSM - The Philippine Star

Dear friends,

Today we celebrate Australia Day. First and foremost, it is a time to remember the stories that have shaped modern Australia. We think about what has come before, and the challenges and opportunities that may lie ahead. For many of us, it is also a good excuse to spend time with family and friends in the summer sun (usually over a barbeque, and perhaps a cold beer).

The story of our country began a long time ago. For at least 65,000 years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have lived in the great southern con-tinent that we now call Australia. For millennia, Indigenous Australians have been the land’s traditional owners and custodians of a vibrant culture – the oldest living culture in the world – that continues to enrich us.

In the twenty-first century, Australia is a nation of migrants. We are proud to be the most successful multicultural society on earth: one in four Australians are migrants like me, and almost half of all Aussies have a parent born overseas. For our newest arrivals, Australia Day is a particularly memorable occasion, as it is when local communities across the country hold Citizenship Ceremonies to formally welcome them.

And it would not be possible to tell the story of Australia without also mentioning the Philippines. The earliest recorded link between our two island countries was in the mid-nineteenth century, when pioneering ‘Manila Men’ arrived in northern Australia to work in the pearling industry. Many of these first Filipinos, who became well-known for their bravery in a very dangerous line of work, settled in remote coastal towns like Broome, Cooktown and Thursday Island. Here, they built new lives, bringing with them their traditions, language, food and religion. 

From these humble roots, the Filipino community in Australia has grown to become one of our largest and most important: today, more than 400,000 Austral-ians were either born in the Philippines or are of Filipino ancestry, our fifth largest ethnic group. Indeed, you only need to glance at our television screens or the cover of a glossy magazine to see the name or photo of a famous ‘Fil-Aussie’ celebrity. From health care to creative industries, business, academia or hospitality, Filipinos have become an integral part of modern Australia.

Quite apart from permanent migrants, the people-to-people links between Australia and the Philippines are remarkably close. In 2019, Australia was the top international destination for Filipino university students. On my recent visits to Cebu and Davao, I have greatly enjoyed meeting some of our alumni and hearing of how their studies in Australia have enriched them both personally and professionally.  

Similarly, as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of Australians have taken the opportunity to travel to the Philippines for tourism and busi-ness, attracted by this country’s dynamism, natural beauty and the hospitality of its people. With the health situation expected to stabilize and improve over the coming year, I am quietly hopeful that travel between Australia and the Philippines will return to – and perhaps even exceed – its pre-pandemic normal.

Having now been in the Philippines for six months, I can see that the depth of ties between our two peoples is due to our similar national characters. While there are obvious points of difference (I have yet to meet a Filipino who liked the taste of Vegemite or was interested in cricket!), I see that both Filipinos and Australians value humor, adaptability, openness and are ‘down-to-earth’ people. Perhaps most significantly, we value true friends and share a willingness to band together, including in times of adversity.

So, I invite all of you to pause for a moment and raise a glass to toast Australia Day, and the role that Filipinos have played in making Australia the success-ful country it is today.
Yours truly,

*      *      *

 HK Yu is the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines. You can follow Ambassador Yu on Twitter @AusAmbPH.

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