CAMBODIAN COMMUNITY | The angels, and a massive crowd, hail the New Year at Bonnyrigg temple

The Cambodian community of the south-west celebrated the Theravada Buddhist New Year on the weekend of April 13 and 14. The New Year marks the end of the harvest season in Cambodia and is a time when it's believed the angel of the New Year visits, replacing the angel of the previous year.

Festivities at Wat Khemarangsaram temple at Bonnyrigg were organised by the committees of the Khmer Community of NSW and the Cambodian Buddhist Society of NSW. Preparations had started well beforehand.

A team of volunteers set up stalls around the perimeter of the grounds and erected a temporary stage for cultural performances. The monks built a symbolic sand mountain in the temple grounds where people could pray and light sticks of incense. Flags and bunting adorned the temple and the grounds around it.

By mid-morning on Saturday, the temple was crowded with worshippers who had gathered to make offerings to the monks and receive blessings.

New Year is also a social occasion and old friends caught up with each other and shared food and reminiscences. The president of the Cambodian Buddhist Society, ThinEm, said the crowds were the largest for years.

The formal part of the program took place in the afternoon. Local, state and federal politicians were invited to share in the celebrations. As guests arrived they were presented with a traditional Cambodian scarf. The Khemara Angkor band entertained guests with traditional music over lunch.

Celebrations began with the arrival of seven angels, or devedas, among them the angel of the outgoing year, who was to hand over her duties to the angel of the coming year.

SreyKang told guests that the new angel had come to look after them and wanted the community to care for each other.

Monks from Wat Khemarangsaram chanted a blessing not just for the community at Bonnyrigg but for all Australians. This was followed by a traditional blessing dance, with dancers scattering petals to wish the guests happiness in the year ahead.

SornYin, president of the Khmer Community of NSW, outlined the progress made by the new committee. The association now has over 1000 members, subcommittees for dance and music, a new logo and a Facebook page. The management committee included many young people and he hoped they would carry on the legacy of their culture for future generations.

Fairfield Council was represented by mayor Frank Carbone, deputy mayor Sera Yilmaz and councilor Dai Le. Mr Carbone said the Cambodian community was a respected part of Fairfield, which is richer because of its migrant communities and its diversity.

Nick Lalich, recently re-elected as state Cabramatta MP, recollected that he had first come to a New Year celebration at the temple more than 30 years ago. He's been a regular visitor ever since and wished the new management committees every success.

In the lead-up to the federal election, the community was grateful that three local Members of Parliament could find time in their busy schedules to be present.

Federal Werriwa MP AnneStanley said she'd been overwhelmed by the warmth and sincerity of their welcome and federal Fowler MP ChrisHayes delighted the audience by starting with a greeting in Khmer. They applauded when he spoke of his unfailing support for human rights and democracy in Cambodia.

Virak Um drew laughter when he introduced federal McMahon MP and Shadow Treasurer ChrisBowen as the next treasurer of Australia. Mr Bowen told the audience he'd got to know the Cambodian community as the mayor of Fairfield 21 years ago, saying it had been wonderful to watch the community grow and prosper over that time.

The speeches were interspersed with dance performances by students of the Cambodian Living Arts and Culture of NSW, under the tutelage of their teacher LisaNagatsuka. Students from Bonnyrigg Khmer School recited a poem specially written for New Year.

The function finished with a folk dance and guests were invited to join in. Outside, people had set up an area for traditional games. In the evening, people returned for a concert of popular music and food stalls did a roaring trade. Festivities continued the next day.