Hon. Ms Gabrielle Upton On Metropolitanate day in Parliament of NSW

On the evening of Sunday 4 September I had the great honour of representing the Government at the Metropolitanate Day celebrations of the Serbian Orthodox Church at the La Montage function centre in Leichhardt. This event was hosted by His Grace, the Right Reverend Irinej, Bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church of Australia and New Zealand. I was joined by my State parliamentary colleagues the Hon. Linda Burney, MP, and Mr Charles Casuscelli, MP, by my Federal parliamentary colleagues the Hon. Philip Ruddock, MP, and the Hon. Bronwyn Bishop, MP, and by various local councillors. Also in attendance were many distinguished guests, including bishops from other Orthodox denominations, members of the clergy, the Ambassador of the Republic of Serbia and the Consuls General of Serbia and Greece.

Metropolitanate Day is an annual celebration of Saint Irenaeus of Lyon, the patron saint of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Australia and New Zealand. Saint Irenaeus was a priest in Roman-occupied Gaul in the second century AD and is remembered for his many works of scholarship, which were formative in establishing the theological doctrines of the early Christian church. This year's event was particularly significant because it celebrated the formal administrative unification of two different branches of the Serbian Orthodox Church into a single Metropolitanate in Australia and New Zealand. This unification has finally ended many years of schism represented by two church hierarchies operating in this country. I congratulate His Grace, Bishop Irinej, the clergy and all members of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Australia on the adoption of a new constitution, which has resulted in the formal unification of their church.

Through my husband's family, who immigrated to Australia from Serbia in the 1950s, I have had the pleasure of getting to know Bishop Irinej and members of the Serbian Orthodox clergy in Sydney over many years. I have seen at first hand the important work they do in our community, including pastoral care, education, establishing and running aged care facilities, and raising desperately needed aid for the Serbian homeland. I thank His Grace and the Serbian Orthodox clergy for their tireless efforts on behalf of the people of New South Wales. Based on census data, there is estimated to be over 100,000 people of Serbian ancestry in Australia. Serbians in Australia represent a very diverse and vibrant group in our community. They can be found amongst our public servants, police officers, bricklayers, architects, steelworkers and computer programmers, and our elite tennis and soccer players.

This diversity was embodied in the musical entertainment program on Sunday evening. We heard an unforgettable performance from opera singer Milijana Nikolic, a Serbian-born mezzo soprano who made her operatic debut at the Belgrade National Theatre and since then has travelled the world from La Scala in Milan to the Sydney Opera House, where she sang the title role in Carmen for Opera Australia in February and March this year. We also heard a mesmerising performance from Ursula Jovich, the noted Australia actor and singer who grew up in Darwin, the daughter of a Serbian immigrant father and an Aboriginal mother. Ursula sang poignantly of a search for meaning and identity in her characteristic smoky blues style. Ursula followed this up with a traditional Serbian folk song, which left very few dry eyes in the audience.

The first major wave of immigration from Serbia to Australia came in the 1940s and 1950s. That generation was fleeing persecution from the totalitarian regime established in the country of Yugoslavia after World War II. Sadly, many of that first generation of migrants left their beloved Serbia and were never able to return. They came to Australia, not by choice or for economic opportunity, but through political exile from a totalitarian regime. The Australia they came to in that era was, of course, very different to the one we know today—life was hard and our society was not tolerant of ethnic diversity.

In spite of the challenges, those first migrants set about building a new life for themselves in Australia. They lost their country in a very real sense but they set about recreating the best aspects of what they had lost in the diaspora. The Serbian Orthodox church has played a major role in bringing people together and providing the spiritual, social and cultural nourishment necessary to sustain such a rich community in Australia. I thank and congratulate His Grace, Bishop Irinej, and the Serbian Orthodox clergy on this important occasion and offer them my best wishes as they continue their holy mission in Australia under their unified structure.

Private members' statements concluded.

The House adjourned, pursuant to standing and sessional orders, at 7.36 p.m. until
Friday 9 September 2011 at 10.00 a.m.

Source: Metropolitanate of Australia and New Zealand