Public diplomacy

Singing for social inclusion: A meeting of cultures in central and eastern Europe

May 2012

DFAT posts in Hungary, Serbia and Croatia cooperated on a public diplomacy project in May 2012, bringing Aboriginal Australian soprano Deborah Cheetham and accompanist Toni Lalich on a visit to Roma communities, where they gave concerts and met leaders and support groups.

Ms Cheetham, a Yorta Yorta woman and member of the Stolen Generation, met with students at the Central European University and also made contact with young Roma from other parts of central and eastern Europe.

The visit was an opportunity to showcase contemporary Australian values such as multiculturalism and social inclusion, and offered the Australian experience as a role model for groups such as the Roma, who face challenges similar to those of some migrant and other groups in Australia.

During her visit, Ms Cheetham sang, gave public addresses and musical workshops, and spoke movingly about the Australian Aboriginal experience to a wide range of audiences. Her themes were empowerment, cultural self-determination and raising communities' expectations of themselves.

Ms Cheetham and Ms Lalich proved to be excellent public diplomacy advocates. The response to the visit was overwhelmingly positive and at times emotional, generating productive linkages and plans for follow-up initiatives.

An element of the visit titled "Second Chance" was particularly moving. A talented local women's choir performed their own repertoire of traditional music for the visitors. This was followed by a performance by Ms Cheetham to a rapt audience. Ms Cheetham then brought the women's choir back up on stage and encouraged them to sing with her in the Yorta Yorta language – the language of Ms Cheetham's family. The uplifting performance by the choir, Ms Lalich and Ms Cheetham earned a standing ovation from the delighted crowd.

The visit generated positive local media coverage, and enhanced Australia's reputation as a principled and constructive international citizen.

Deborah Cheetham and Toni Lalich visiting the Dr Ámbédkar Secondary Grammar School – a second chance project - in Sajókaja, about 200 kilometres from Budapest, on 9 May 2012.
Deborah Cheetham (fifth from left) and Toni Lalich (second from left) visiting the Dr Ámbédkar Secondary Grammar School – a "second chance" project - in Sajókaja, about 200 kilometres from Budapest, on 9 May 2012.