CAMBODIAN COMMUNITY | Blanche in town for Bob Hawke tribute

The late former prime minister BobHawke was honoured at a memorial on Saturday, August 24, at WatKhemarangsaram temple at Bonnyrigg.

Mr Hawke's widow, BlancheD'Alpuget, was a special guest.

Many members of the local Cambodian community came to Australia as refugees in the early 1980s when Mr Hawke was Prime Minister.

They wanted to show their gratitude to his government for giving them refuge here in Australia.

Members of the community were also among the mourners on the Opera House steps at the state memorial for Mr Hawke in June but they wanted to do more.

When ChanVen, who came to Australia as a refugee, suggested the community hold its own ceremony of remembrance, the idea was immediately taken up. The Khmer community and the CambodianBuddhistSociety worked together to organise a traditional 100-day ceremony.

"One of the most important initiatives when I was prime minister was our diplomatic effort to help bring about a lasting peace in the tragic, conflict-ridden country of Cambodia."

BOB HAWKE, The Hawke Memoirs (1994)

The monks at Wat Khemarangsaram helped with the decorations and made individual rosettes in Mr Hawke's honour for guests at the service.

The community was honoured and delighted that Ms D'Alpuget was able to join them for the service. She was accompanied by CraigEmerson, former advisor to Mr Hawke, and federal McMahon MP ChrisBowen.

They were greeted as they arrived by SreyKang and the women's committee, who gave the guests rosettes.

ThinEm, the president of the Cambodian Buddhist Society, welcomed Ms D'Alpuget and explained the tradition of holding a ceremony 100 days after the loss of someone is a Cambodian custom.

He told her: "It's part of our custom to pray for people at several points after their death, recognising that the grief after we have lost someone dear to us is a journey and the process of healing takes time.

"According to tradition, we hold a ceremony at 100 days to mark another stage in our mourning."

He said he hoped the service would bring comfort to Ms D'Alpuget and to Mr Hawke's friends.

SornYin, president of the Khmer Community of NSW, came to Australia in 1984 and found it hard to maintain his composure as he spoke at the service.

We came here with nothing. There was so much sorrow and pain in our hearts and Australia reached out to us with such compassion. It gave us the opportunity to forge a new life for our families in peace and safety and we will always be grateful to Mr Hawke. Most of us have now lived in Australia longer than we did in Cambodia. We're so proud to call Australia home.

SORN YIN, President, Khmer Community of NSW

He said: "I lived in Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge took over. All of us suffered unimaginable cruelty in those years.

"From Cambodia, we escaped to refugee camps in Thailand where we waited anxiously for the chance for a new life. We came to Australia with nothing. There was still so much sorrow and pain in our hearts and Australia reached out to us with such compassion.

"It gave us the opportunity to forge a new life for our families in peace and safety and we will always be grateful to Mr Hawke for that.

"The Hawke government did everything it could to help us become independent. We're grateful for these services, which made our transition to a new life so much quicker and easier.

"We stayed in migrant hostels when we first arrived. Settlement services and non-government organisations helped us to find work. We had access to doctors through Medicare.

"There were English classes for adults and when our children started school they attended special classes to help them to learn English. Our children have grown up here and they've had the chance for an education and a life that's free of fear.

"We've tried to repay Mr Hawke's trust in us and to contribute to this society. Most of us have now lived in Australia longer than we did in Cambodia. We're so proud to call Australia home.

The community also wanted to honour Mr Hawke's commitment to finding a peaceful solution to the civil war in Cambodia. Mr Hawke wrote in his memoirs that one of the most important initiatives when he was prime minister had been "our diplomatic effort to help bring about a lasting peace in the tragic, conflict-ridden country of Cambodia".

SreyKang, vice-president of the Khmer Community, said: "We're so grateful to Mr Hawke for the years of patient negotiation that led up to the Paris Peace Accords for Cambodia in 1991."

Chris Bowen, whose electorate is home to a large Cambodian population, also spoke of Mr Hawke's leadership in the peace process.

Three decades on, with democracy again under threat in Cambodia, he said: "There's one more thing we can do to honour him and that is to keep working for peace and democracy in Cambodia."

After the speeches, Buddhist monks from temples at CanleyVale, Cabramatta and Rossmore joined the monks at Wat Khemarangsaram in chanting prayers for the spirit of Mr Hawke.

VichetChea, who also came to Australia as a refugee, recited a traditional Khmer poem composed for the occasion.

Ms D'Alpuget was clearly moved by the ceremony. After the monks chanted, the community invited her to light candles in memory of her late husband and to place the first flower on the memorial.

The community then came forward to each lay their own flowers in memory of a prime minister whose commitment to the refugee program had changed so many of their lives.

  • Pictures: Andy Ang, Genevieve Kang, Chhayri Marm and Virak Um

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