Didgeridoos at the Australia Day in Spring

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Apr 14, 2014.

Islamabad – Every spring season, there is a festival in the heart of the capital to showcase the indigenous folk arts and crafts of Pakistan.

On Saturday evening, however, the spirit of multiculturalism in Islamabad went beyond Pakistan’s local cultural diversity to take on intercontinental hues, courtesy of the Australian High Commission.

The high commission’s annual spring celebration, or Australia Day in Spring, was marked by a thrilling performance by the Australian Aboriginal musical trio Western Creation.

Decked in Their bodies painted in traditional Aboriginal markings, the trio’s leader Alan Harris aka Big Al and his sons, Tristan and Azlan, mesmerized the guests with music from the didgeridoos — a wind instrument originally developed by native inhabitants of Australia thousands of years ago.

Tristan and Azlan also danced to the booming sound of the didgeridoo, performing imitations of four Australian spirit animals including the kangaroo and the emu, to complete the breathtaking display of indigenous culture from the Down Under.

The award-winning group, which has toured worldwide, had flown earlier this week from Melbourne and had performed at similar high commission events in Lahore and Karachi before visiting Islamabad.

Australian High Commissioner Peter Heyward said the festival was a celebration of the bilateral relations between Australia and Pakistan. But he said it was also an opportunity for Australia to foster cultural understanding with South Asian counterpart nation.

“By celebrating indigenous Australian culture, we get to honour the original inhabitants of our land and it also gives us a chance to introduce their unique culture to Pakistanis,” the High Commissioner said.

He said there is more potential for bilateral trade and commercial activities between Pakistan and Australia. But Heyward said the spring festival was more about people-to-people linkages.

Education is a vital aspect of such linkages, the Australian envoy said. Perhaps as a testament of education’s importance, the event also included an awards ceremony to acknowledge Pakistani alumni who have been working in Pakistan after graduating from Australian universities.

Australia is a popular study destination for Pakistani students. In 2012, there were 11,000 Pakistanis enrolled at Australian universities, according to the high commission.

The High Commission awarded Alumni Excellence awards to four Pakistanis for their business leadership, innovation and research accomplishments in the fields of education, livestock and agricultural research at Pakistani public and private organisations.

Deputy Australian High Commissioner Paul Molloy also introduced the Australian Trade Commission’s launch of an online business community, the “Australia-Pakistan Online Business Forum”, on the professional networking website LinkedIn.

The forum will connect Pak alumni with each other and also help them keep in touch with developments in various fields in Australia, Molloy said.

But the focus of the celebration remained on Australian indigenous culture.

Some guests at the gathering, which was organised at the high commissioner’s residence, especially European diplomats said they were familiar with the didgeridoo but most of them said it was the first time they had heard it live.

“It is like the sound of the Universe,” one foreign diplomat said, commenting on the resonating sound of the instrument. “Like all the ancestors and the spirit animals were chanting together.”

Western Creation’s performance, which was a new musical experience for many Pakistani guests, was not the only display of indigenous art at the spring celebration.

An exhibition of 10 paintings by eight different artists of contemporary Aboriginal art in the Western Desert tradition was displayed at the high commissioner’s residence.

Titled “Bush Medicine,” the paintings, seven of which were already sold at the start of the exhibition, depicted the life, customs and mythology of the desert communities. The exhibition will move to the Nomad Art Gallery from Sunday, where it will continue until Tuesday.

Chief Guest Senator Pervez Rasheed, the Federal Minister for Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage, said he was grateful to the high commissioner for introducing the indigenous artists to Pakistan. He welcomed the performers and said he hoped they will return for more shows in the future.

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