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Mon National Day

In February it was my honour to join Canberra’s Mon Community in celebrating the 70th anniversary of Mon National Day, held at Dickson College. This annual observance has been conducted by the Mon people since 1947 in commemoration of the founding of their ancient capital of Hongsawadi in AD 825.

An Italian trader who visited this bustling city in 1583 described it as so filled with temples that he could not number them. The main part of the city was a perfect square, surrounded by gated walls and moats filled with crocodiles. The king, he claimed, kept 800 domestic elephants.

An English visitor to Hongsawadi 200 years later noted that ‘this once powerful kingdom [had been] reduced to nothing more than a province of the kingdom’ of Burma. The Burmese conquest of the Mon capital occurred in 1757, and from that time until now, the Mon people have with great strength and determination done everything in their power to preserve and reassert their unique cultural identity, language, history and heritage.

Their success in this endeavour over the past 260 years was on full display Saturday evening, as approximately 200 participants, most of them in national dress, gathered to hear speeches in both English and Mon, share a rich banquet of food, and enjoy both traditional dances and a live rock band – all of which I and my youngest daughter enjoyed immensely.

We were graciously hosted at the table of Mon community elder, Mr Nai Pe Thein Zar, and I wish to pay my respects to him and to the other elders present at the celebration, Elder Nai Bein and Elder Nai Layehtaw Suvannabhum. Mr Siri Mon Chan, current president of the Australia Mon Association, warmly welcomed us to the event, and I wish to thank both him and Mr Din Pla Hongsa, past president of the association and a good friend, who invited me to offer a few words as part of the program.

The Mon people have a long and proud history. Their script became the basis for many other written languages in the region, and it was through the faithful dedication of Mon monks and scholars that Theravada Buddhism spread throughout Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.

After having faced much persecution in Burma – including the banning of their language and publications, slave labour and forced resettlement – Mon refugees first arrived in Canberra 22 years ago, and today our beautiful city is home to the largest Mon population in Australia. They have embraced their adopted home, and with their characteristic strength and determination, they teach Mon language classes and provide much-needed cultural and social support for fellow refugees.

Appreciating the history and resilience of this community is an important part of what it really means to embrace all Canberrans. I am proud to be a friend of the Mon community and people.

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