Nine Mayors Support Human Rights Torch Relay

By Philippa Rayment
Epoch Times Melbourne Staff
Dec 19, 2007

Braving the rain, the students from St Joseph's Primary School 
walked to the beach reserve with the torch as part of the Human Rights Torch Relay. (The Epoch Times)
Braving the rain, the students from St Joseph's Primary School walked to the beach reserve with the torch as part of the Human Rights Torch Relay. (The Epoch Times)

The smell of gum leaves, the chattering of magpies, the rivers lazy in the hot sunshine, the persistent bush flies, the glaring heat and the open-heartedness of the people – these were some of the sights and sounds, and feelings of the bush that the Human Rights Torch Relay (HRTR) team experienced as they travelled the 3000 km visiting 57 destinations around Victoria.

Among the many showing their support for the HRTR were mayors from nine councils. The HRTR will visit 37 countries across six continents and seeks to bring an end to all human rights abuses against the people of China, while highlighting the persecution of Falun Gong - the most severely persecuted group in China today.

Bainsdale: Meredith Urie, the Mayor of East Gippsland Shire welcomed the torch as it came through Bainsdale on Sunday November 18.

This shire covers an area of approx 20,931 sq km with a population of 41,046 working in tourism, agriculture, horticulture, forestry and fishing. About 75 per cent is national parks and state forests, and it has a major lakes and river system, rugged high country, and wonderful coastline.

In her welcome speech the mayor said: "On behalf of the East Gippsland Shire Council and the people of East Gippsland, I welcome the Global Human Rights Torch Relay here today.

"East Gippsland is a very beautiful and very bountiful part of Victoria Australia and the world. It is very easy to think that human rights are not an issue here, but this is not the case," she said.

"We are not only citizens of our own local community we are not just East Gippslanders, Victorians or indeed Australians, we are also citizens of the world and as such we have a very strong responsibility to educate ourselves about what is happening in the world and help those who have no voice or who are unable to speak."

Sale: On the same day, the HRTR travelled to the town of Sale which is an important centre for the Bass Strait oil fields, where the Mayor of Wellington Shire, Beth Ripper welcomed the Torch.

The mayor represents 40,000 people in an area of more than 10,900 sq km which extends from the Great Dividing Range and Victoria's High Country, through rich irrigated plains and some of the most productive grazing land in Australia to the internationally significant Gippsland Lakes and Wetlands.

"I am pleased to welcome the Human Rights Torch Relay on this leg of its very important journey round the world," she said.

"The importance of how we can support human rights in this particular way cannot be underestimated," said Mayor Ripper.

Berwick: When the Torch came to Berwick the Mayor of City of Casey, Colin Butler paid tribute to the traditional owners of the land and in welcoming the torch said: "I am pleased to be involved in this leg of the Global Human Rights Torch Relay.

"This torch event, like the Olympic torch relay event which inspired it, has travelled many miles to be here," he said.

"So far over the past two months it has travelled across Europe and most recently in the UK and arriving in Sydney on October 27 and it is now in Berwick today. The Torch represents an international campaign to put human rights on the Beijing Olympic agenda."

The City of Casey is one of the fastest growing Australian cities and has a population of 230,000 with rural areas. There is market gardening, flower growing and grazing, and urban and bay areas.

For many centuries before European settlement, the Casey district formed part of the Aboriginal territory of the Bunurong people and included the boundary with the Wurundjeri people to the north.

Mordialloc: On November 21, the HRTR arrived at the beach village of Mordialloc in the City of Kingston, on the outskirts of Melbourne. About 70 students from St Joseph's Primary School came with their teacher by train to the main street in Mordialloc. It was teaming with rain but it did not dampen their excitement for the opportunity to be a part of the HRTR that was traversing so many countries and to actually hold the Torch that stayed alight even in the wind and rain.

The Mayor of Portland Gilbert Wilson (The Epoch Times)
The Mayor of Portland Gilbert Wilson (The Epoch Times)

In welcoming the Torch Councillor Topsy Petchey, the Mayor of Kingston said: "We are a city who believes that health, happiness and security are central to the wellbeing of our community. Fundamental to this, I believe, is the basic human right of every person living on this planet to be healthy, happy and secure.

"I also believe it is important that we as a local – and global – society have the freedom to uphold these basic principles," said Mayor Petchey.

"Sadly however, throughout the world today, as well we all know, there are many communities that are not as fortunate as we are here in Kingston," she said.

"Today is an opportunity to acknowledge and support the global human rights movement. It's a day for us to be thankful for the basic human rights we enjoy in Australia. And it is a day for us to lend a voice to the struggles of people everywhere who are suffering."

Warrnambool: On Monday November 26 at 9 am the Torch entered the lovely town of Warrnambool, which is a derivation of an Aboriginal word meaning "plenty of water".

Some local citizens from the Sudanese community came to take part. This town was originally a whaling and sealing station and sits on Lady Bay between the Hopkins and Merri Rivers. It is in part of the coastline called Shipwreck coast as more than 30 ships were wrecked here years ago.

The Mayor of Warrnambool, Councillor David Atkinson came out to greet the Human Rights Torch Relay at Civic Green. The mayor said in his speech: "This Torch Relay is an international campaign seeking to end all human rights abuses particularly those in China – a country that is to host the 2008 Olympic Games.

"It is believed that China executes more prisoners than all other countries in the world combined," he said.

"There is no freedom of belief. There is no freedom of speech as we know it. In Australia we value our freedom. Just this weekend we saw a change of Federal Government without one shot being fired and without one person being placed in prison. As a freedom loving people, please spare a thought for your fellow human being in those countries that do not allow those freedoms that we cherish. Write a letter, make a protest, and let your voice be heard!"

Portland: Carrying the Torch at Portland, the Mayor of Glenelg Shire Gilbert Wilson took the relay team on the vintage tram into this beautiful town. Portland is in the Shire of Glenelg which is an area nestled in Victoria's South West corner known as the Discovery Coast with a rich maritime history, and inspiring natural attractions. Rolling hills and rich agricultural land to the north give way to a scenic and secluded river region to the west, pine plantations line the roads through the hinterland, while a huge expanse of coastal beaches and cliffs form the southern perimeter.

Dressed in the official mayoral robes Mr Wilson spoke on the steps of the Shire Council Chambers: "Welcome to Portland and the shire of Glenelg. We are certainly proud and pleased that the Torch has come to our community. We totally support the human rights message that this Torch is trying to give China. It is inspirational in highlighting the human rights violations... It is disturbing that people over in China are going through hell... I hope that every community takes on board the message of hope to our friends in China."

Benalla: Benalla is a town situated on the banks of the Broken River in north-west Victoria. Benalla is a local Aboriginal word for "crossing place" and it is the location where the explorer Thomas Mitchell discovered and crossed the river in 1836. On December 1 at 9 am torchbearers for the HRTR assembled at the botanical garden. Led by Councillor John Brownstein and Jim Holden from the Tibetan Association, the torch relay crossed the river and walked along the main street to the grounds of the Civic centre on the other side of the river .

Here the Torch was accepted and welcomed by Mayor Councillor Pat Claridge on behalf of Benalla Rural City Council. "Benalla is very proud to be one of the 100 cities over six continents being visited by this torch relay," said Mayor Claridge.

The Mayor of Beechworth Vic Issell. (The Epoch Times)
The Mayor of Beechworth Vic Issell. (The Epoch Times)

"Benalla's vision for its community is a cohesive rural community, caring, inclusive and participative - a vibrant place where lifestyle, culture, safety and choice are important," she says.

"So the citizens of Benalla indorse tolerance, social justice and civil liberty. So it is an anathema to us that any group should be singled out and persecuted because they are different.

"On behalf of the people of Benalla I support the call to put an end to the human rights abuses all around the world and especially in China, an end to the senseless torture and the taking of human life," she said. "People should be recognised as free and equal in dignity and rights no matter what their race, culture or religion. I congratulate you all in your endeavour in shining a spotlight on China in the 2008 Olympics and I hope by doing so you can bring about an end to the dreadful persecution occurring there and thank you for visiting Benalla."

Also at the ceremony was Christie Phillipson who wished from her heart freedom for the Chinese people, so she composed and performed a dance especially for the occasion called "Freedom for China."

Beechworth: The town of Beechworth on the northern slopes of the Australian Alps with a population of over 2000 is a favourite tourist destination. In the mid 1800s it once was the main centre for the rich Ovens Valley Goldfields in the gold rush period, and the graves of the Chinese gold miners are to be found in the cemetery. Ned Kelly was imprisoned in the jail here.

At 9 am on Sunday the Torch walked around the streets with torch bearers from Amnesty International Joy and Alan Phillips and at 9:30 am the Mayor of the Indigo Shire Councillor Vic Issell stood dressed in his Sunday best in the hot sunshine to receive the Torch and make it welcome to Beechworth.

In his welcome speech he said "Whenever a light is shone on human rights abuse, wherever people are abused and persecuted for having different political, religious opinions, or for being a different race, I believe that is a legitimate and noble task and one necessary for the survival of our planet."

He later joined the team for morning tea at the famous Beechworth Bakery.

Albury: On a hot Sunday afternoon the Torch made its way just a short distance across the border to the NSW town of Albury which is situated on the Murray River and was the crossing place of the explorers Hume and Hovell.

The Mayor Councillor Stuart Baker said that the Murray River is really important to the two cities: Albury and its neighbouring city Wodonga. Albury has a population of 50,000 and Mayor Baker said it is a very good place to live and that he has been living there for 50 years, but only recently become the Mayor. Carrying the Torch he walked the streets of Albury for an hour and stopped to chat with many residents.

The welcome ceremony was very appropriately positioned beneath a magnificent Chinese elm tree in the beautiful botanical gardens. In his address Mayor Baker said: "A very warm welcome from Albury and I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land the Wirradjuri and where we are standing today. It is fantastic to see you here on this very important Global Human Rights Torch Relay.

"The people of the world need to stand up to oppression and it takes a lot of courage for you [the Global Human Rights Relay Team] to be doing what you are doing and taking this torch around Australia, so well done and good luck on the journey," he said.

Apart from those nine mayors who took part in the relay there were also many other participants in the other 48 venues across the state of Victoria including Catholic bishops, Federal and State MPs, councillors, former mayors, church ministers, Tibetan nuns, Tibetans, Sudanese, Sudanese Lost Boys Association, former Olympians, Burmese Association, artists, lawyers, school children, writers, shopkeepers, builders, pensioners, nurses, doctors, dentists, actors, performing artists as well as many other caring individuals from all walks of life.

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