Bundoora Welcome Dinner: A Host’s Perspective

by Feb 2, 2016

As a presenter for Inner FM community radio station, I get to interview some great people representing organisations that do wonderful work, often quietly without much fanfare. In August I was mortified that I hadn’t heard of joiningthedots and their awesome Welcome Dinner project; their Victorian coordinator Meagan Williams soon put all our listeners in the picture.

How often do we see people from other cultures, newly arrived? We don’t get to meet them socially and often they can be quite isolated from ordinary Australians. The Welcome Dinners are such a great way to meet people who otherwise wouldn’t get to have a meal as a welcome guest in a relaxed social situation in an Aussie home.

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After hearing about it my husband Rick and I were keen to sign up and be part of this. Then Judit and Shelton came to see us to work out how a welcome dinner might suit us and our home in Bundoora. As it turned out, we ended up with around sixteen people, from very varied backgrounds: Bangladesh, China, Vietnam, even Norway and the Maldives. Everyone brought food, and Rick and I decided that a classic passionfruit and strawberry pavlova was the way to go: it’s rare to find someone who doesn’t like a good homemade pav. We also made hommous, because it suits most people’s dietary requirements and pride ourselves on our skill with a blender, some chickpeas and some tahini.

Our guests brought lots of wonderful food: our dining table was full of dishes that smelled and tasted wonderful. Shelton’s glorious sorbet was especially memorable. And there was a hilarious moment when a little boy, who was there with his parents, was so excited at his mother’s delicious rice dish that he grabbed a mouthful straight away, as soon as she put it on the table. We all laughed delightedly: it was a good reminder that kids are the same all over the world.

Despite some people having different dietary customs there was no tension about food and culture: people simply ate what they chose to eat and everyone was friendly. After eating, there was a well structured conversation, where everyone could share their thoughts and feelings about the dinner. There was a great atmosphere of openness and acceptance and with Judit and Sheldon’s excellent management of the time, it seemed all too short in the end.

We had our eyes opened to the kindness and willingness of the new arrivals to be accepted into Australian social life. It’s all too easy to forget that there might be someone who would love to get to know ordinary Aussies living ordinary lives. It was a terrific experience and we’d be very happy to do it again.

Written by host Juliette Hughes-Norwood

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