By Aaron Goodwin
Bundaberg Regional Council (BRC) has entered into a historic Sister City arrangement with Luganville Municpal Council, the first Sister City agreement between cities in Australia and Vanuatu.
The MOU aims to promote and celebrate historical and traditional links between the two communities, through exchanges that promote tourism, cultural understanding, farming, seasonal labour and education.
Where expertise and assistance can be shared between the two councils, the MOU aims to do just that, in a move that has both cities very excited.
Vanuatu High Commissioner to Australia Samson Vilvil Fare is so proud that this Sister City arrangement has been achieved.
”This is a historic moment for all of us, especially for Vanuatu,” Mr Fare said.
”We share a lot with Bundaberg.
”Bundaberg being a coastal city just like ours, we share common traits together meaning some of the challenges you could face in Bundaberg being a coastal city, we could also face them in Luganville and Santo.
”If we can learn from each other, looking at our strengths and also where we can compliment each other, when it comes to our weaknesses, that would be great.”
Luganville will be Bundaberg’s third sister city alongside Nanning in China and Settsu in Japan.
Luganville is the second largest city in Vanuatu after the capital Port Vila, with a population of over 16,000.
Building on Bundaberg’s historical cultural links with the Pacific Islands, the inter-city relationship with Luganville will focus on economic opportunities and other exchanges in education, tourism, agricultural, waste management and infrastructure.
The first official activity between Bundaberg and Luganville was the celebration of Vanuatu’s Independence Day on 30 July at Buss Park.
Vanuatu’s Independence Day celebrates 41 years since the country broke away from colonial rule by Britain and France.
A large crowd attended where Mayor Dempsey gave an apology of the behalf of the Bundaberg region, for the abuse which occurred in ‘blackbirding’ people from Vanuatu and other Pacific Islands to work in the Queensland sugarcane industry a long time ago.
It is believed to be one of the first apologies for this from an Australian political leader.
”Although slavery was abolished in the British Empire at the time, the practice of forcing indentured labour into Queensland canefields was equivalent to slavery and abhorrent,” Mayor Dempsey said.
”I sincerely regret the pain caused to families and communities in Vanuatu and other Island nations.
”Saying sorry is necessary for healing and to move forward in friendship.”
A potential outcome of this Sister City arrangement is a cultural induction program based in Bundaberg, for workers from Luganville to take part in before they enter the Australian workforce.
The High Commissioner has already expressed strong interest in such a program, with Mayor Dempsey stating that he would like Bundaberg to be the gateway to Australia for people from Luganville and other islands in the northern part of Vanuatu.
”I was mentioning to the Mayor last time I visited, Bundaberg Regional Council could provide us some cultural training for our workers to understand cultural protocol in the Bundaberg region,” Mr Fare said.
”When our workers are coming across, helping our workers understand that First Nations People and Torres Strait Islanders are the First Nations People of Australia, but also their ways, do’s and don’ts.
”We’ve noticed we’ve had some issues where our people might break some of these cultural protocols, so they understand this country and the First Nations People.”
Mayor Dempsey said the MOU sets a platform forward of positivity, respect, hope and trust going forward
”Working together we can achieve positive change for both our communities,” Mayor Dempsey said.
”Luganville and Bundaberg have much in common to share.
”We also have differences in culture and heritage to share and learn from each other.
”People have waited a long time for this happen and for Bundaberg to be taking the lead, sends a great message to our community.”
The opportunity is there for the two councils to support each other and promote best practice between them to benefit their respective communities.
”Luganville might need some support in terms of wastewater management or in terms of sewerage treatment,” Mr Fare said.
”This is something we’re definitely exploring further into this MOU because it’s part of sharing experiences and also technical capacity with Luganville.
”We could have experts from Bundaberg Regional Council going to Luganville to help their peers, in providing them this crucial technical capacity.
”I understand Bundaberg has some very good technical institutions there, especially in tourism and training people in tourism.
”This could be another opportunity for our Sister Cities and from Luganville’s side, it could be somewhere we can send our students to be trained in Bundaberg.”
Mr Fare thanked the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Mayor Jack Dempsey and BRC, the community of Bundaberg and the Australian South Sea Islander community in Bundaberg, including elders Jane and Geoffrey Smith.