A monument to commemorate the victims of genocide and genocidal acts will be erected in a Preston park after a motion to install it passed unopposed at a Darebin council meeting on Monday.
A large delegation from the munipality’s diverse ethnic communities was in the gallery of the Preston Town Hall to witness the vote on the initiative, which has been developed by the Darebin Ethnic Communities Council (DECC) over several years.
Darebin council is not funding the monument and some councillors had earlier expressed concerns it could be divisive, but DECC chairman Nalliah Suriyakumaran said those involved with the proposal were ‘very conscious of not pointing the finger’.
‘There was a concern we were going to start accusing people. We are very conscious of not doing that, because we want to have a socially inclusive community,’ Mr Suriyakumaran, a Sri Lankan Tamil, told the Melbourne Tribune.
DECC executive officer Katarina Brozovic said the concept of a monument had evolved since it was first discussed by members of the Greek, Assyrian and Armenian communities into one that included all victims of genocidal acts and reflected the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
‘It has over time and through conversation evolved into what we’ve got now, which is a lot of communities who all see they have some connection or want to show their respect together,’ she said.
The monument, a large stone bowl shaped like a peace symbol, will be installed on the southern side of the Ray Bramham Gardens on St Georges Road in time for a memorial service on 6 December marking the 1948 adoption of the genocide convention by the United Nations.
Its design is intended to accommodate the spiritual practices of different cultures, with the bowl sectioned into three chambers to be used for smoking ceremonies, the planting of candles in sand and the floating of flowers in water.
DECC deupty chair Sofia Kotaridis, who was an instigator of the initiative, said the now deceased Aboriginal elder Reg Blow, a Gureng Gureng man from south-eastern Queensland who had been a Darebin resident, was involved in early discussions about it and that Wurundjeri Elder Ian Hunter has a continuing involvement in the genocide memorial services held by the organisation.
Ms Kotanidis, Mr Suriyakumaran and Ms Brozovic all stressed the significance for affected community members of having a ‘focal point’ for ‘reflection’ and ‘meditation’ and the fora of memorial services and meetings to share their stories.
‘There are people in the Darebin community who have seen their relatives macheted,’ Ms Brozovic told the Tribune.
Ethnic groups affected by genocide which are represented in Darebin, the DECC officers said, include small Congolese, Sierra Leonean, Bosnian, Tamil and Nepalese communities, as well as older Greek, Assyrian and Armenian ones.
A community monument to all victims of genocide is likely an Australian first.
Darebin residents approached by the Melbourne Tribune the day before council voted on the proposal
were unaware of the monument initiative.
Darebin Mayor, Cr Steven Tsitas told the Tribune the monument had the potential to bring the community closer together ‘by encouraging community participation amongst diverse groups’.
“The diversity of our Darebin community is valued, celebrated, embraced and respected,’ Cr Tsitas said.
Darebin council has also erected monuments to the Aboriginal traditional owners of the land, the Wurundjeri, and the victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs.
The estimated $10,000 needed for the genocide sculpture is being raised by the Darebin Ethnic Communities Council and its 116 member organisations.
The wording of the monument’s inscription is still to be finalised.
Ray Bramham Gardens, where the genocide monument will be installed on the south side of the rotunda.