Australia Sri Lanka Association 50th Anniversary

16 May, 2024

The Hon. J.S. LEE (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (16:38): I move:

That this Council—

  1. Congratulates the Australia Sri Lanka Association (ASLA) for reaching a special milestone, their 50thanniversary, in 2024;
  2. Recognises that ASLA is a pioneering community organisation that has been serving the Sri Lankan-Australian community by providing valuable networks and platforms for community members to develop friendships, to exchange ideas and to share the rich traditions of Sri Lankan culture in Adelaide;
  3. Acknowledges the important work of founding members, current and past presidents, committee members and volunteers of ASLA for their hard work, dedication and contributions in delivering 50 years of outstanding community service in South Australia;
  4. Commends ASLA for working collaboratively with small businesses and food vendors to deliver the popular Sri Lankan Food and Cultural Day as a flagship event for over 10 years in Adelaide; and
  5. Reflects on the many achievements of ASLA over five decades and recognises the impact of ASLA and its contributions to enrich multicultural South Australia.

It is a great honour to have this opportunity in Parliament today to congratulate the Australia Sri Lanka Association (ASLA) for reaching the special milestone of their 50th anniversary.

Australia and Sri Lanka have strong and enduring people-to-people links that extend across all sectors of society: education, media, culture, literature, science, sports, medicine, politics, commerce and law.

The Sri Lankan diaspora in Australia now exceeds 130,000 individuals. The large Sri Lankan community contributes significantly to strengthening Australia's multicultural society and economy.

As the Shadow Minister for Multicultural South Australia, it has been my absolute pleasure to work closely with the Sri Lankan community in South Australia and personally witness the growth and accomplishments of community-minded leaders and volunteers of ASLA over the years.

As the oldest Sri Lankan community organisation in Adelaide, ASLA has built a respectable position as a pioneering community organisation that has been serving, and still serves, the Sri Lankan Australian community by providing valuable networks and platforms for community members to develop friendships, exchange ideas and share the rich traditions of Sri Lankan culture in our state.

ASLA has been a driving force for fostering a strong sense of belonging amongst Sri Lankans and Australians. For instance, their flagship Sri Lankan Food Festival and Cultural Day, which is an event that I have the pleasure of attending every year, brings together the Sri Lankan Australian community and is well supported by many small businesses, fruit vendors, community schools, dance groups and cultural performers. The collaborative efforts among different community groups create an atmosphere of welcome and harmony that showcases the best of Sri Lankan food, arts and crafts, and cultural traditions for all to enjoy.

I also attended the Sri Lankan Spring Cultural Luncheon and had the pleasure of cooking with chef Manoj at the cultural day and making dosa at the Spring Cultural Luncheon. I think my 'making dosa' video was published on social media and received some 3,500 views. I think they just wanted to see how badly I actually make the dosa.

Since its inception, ASLA has also embraced the philanthropic spirit and has a long history of generosity in doing tangible compassionate work, including raising funds for many charity organisations over the years. Some of the organisations that ASLA has supported include Cancer Council, Catherine House and Guide Dogs Australia. ASLA also contributes to many projects to assist those in need back in Sri Lanka, such as the deaf and blind school, the Tsunami Project, the COVID-19 Project and the Easter bomb project, in collaboration with the Sri Lankan consulate.

ASLA today is led by a dedicated and hardworking committee of 14 talented and professional individuals who bring complementary skills and knowledge to serve the association. It is my privilege to place my special thanks on the public record to acknowledge the ASLA team, consisting of the following office bearers: President Nishani Seneviratne, Vice-President Manoj Ransome, Secretary Vinoba Ambigapathy, and Treasurer Chamita Kotte.

The ASLA committee members consist of Nazli Farook, Ajith Seneviratne, Lourdes Jayasuriya, Nishantha Jayawardena, Chandani Jayawardena, Senuri Jayasuriya, Madu Punchihewa, Deepal Punchihewa, Nirosha Punchihewa and Priya Viraj.

There is a proverb in my culture that literally means 'when you drink water, think of its source'. The proverb simply asks people to remember from where and how the water came. Do not just be thankful for the water but be thankful for all the elements and processes, both past and present, that allow us to enjoy that humble glass of water.

I often mention in my speeches that my late grandparents would constantly remind their grandchildren that we must remember the past so that we can appreciate the present, and for those in the present to pass on their knowledge for the future generations.

During this year's Food and Cultural Festival it was heartening to learn that the current president, Nishani, acknowledged the founding members and past committee members who laid a strong foundation in order for the current committee to continue carrying on the great work of ASLA.

As we mark the celebration of 50 years of ASLA, let us take a walk down memory lane back to the establishment year of 1974. Recognising that there was no Sri Lankan community organisation at the time, a few Sri Lankan individuals and families of various ethnic backgrounds, including Burgher, Sinhala, Muslim and Tamil families, came together with a common purpose to form the Australia Sri Lanka Association with the intention to create a social support group that provided valuable platforms for community members to develop friendships, exchange ideas and share the rich traditions of Sri Lankan culture in Adelaide.

It also enabled the association to work with Australians and other agencies and organisations to welcome and provide assistance to new migrants settling in South Australia.

The founders of ASLA and the first executive committee members consisted of Dr Lucien Keegal, president; Dr Chinti Wijesinghe, vice-president; Radley Claessen, secretary; and Dr Fred Perera, treasurer. Other prominent members of the community during the pioneering stage of the association included Thilak and Dawn Goonasekera, Dr Risien Bartholomeusz, Irwin Herft, Everard and Carryl Walker, Suzette Jansen, Alex and Chandani Lokuge, Peggy and Warwick de Kretser, as well as the Walles, Farouque, Pincher, Karunaratne and Paiva families. I am sure Hansard knows how to pronounce all of these surnames.

As the association grew during the eighties and nineties, the annual Christmas and New Year celebrations attracted crowds of over 300 people in attendance. The rapid growth in community members and events held by ASLA led to its eventual registration as an incorporated body in 1999, at its 25th anniversary, with a membership base of 180 people.

With the support of its members, ASLA moved into the next chapter with grander and larger events including the festival I mentioned earlier, the Food and Cultural Festival, utilising the growing Sri Lankan Australian community and hardworking base of committee members and volunteers to ensure that their cultural as well as fundraising events for important causes are well supported by the Sri Lankan community as well as the broader Australian community.

Over the last 14 years, I have had the great honour to work with so many community leaders and I want to recognise and pay tribute to all the immediate past presidents who have contributed to the success and growth of ASLA.

These amazing leaders include Llisa Wijetunga, Nazlie Farook, Ganga Gamage, Anurudha Mediwake, Ajith Senevirtne, Manoj Ranasoma and Lourdes Jayasuriya. Many of these past presidents I have the pleasure to call good friends, and I thank them sincerely for their tireless efforts, leadership and dedication to serve ASLA in the past, and many are still part of the current committee.

As ASLA is celebrating its golden jubilee this year, it is very rewarding that the ASLA team is extending their compassion and acts of giving by dedicating their efforts to support the Stroke Medical Project. In collaboration with the Sri Lankan consulate and Rotary Club, ASLA is helping stroke patients in Sri Lanka by providing beds and medical equipment. Recently, ASLA members donated and sent off 55 hospital beds and enough medical equipment to fill up a 40-foot shipping container from Adelaide, which will be used in up to five stroke units in Sri Lanka. This is highly commendable.

At their planned Annual Dinner Dance event later this year, ASLA will donate all profits from the event to support a mental health project in Sri Lanka, another remarkable life-changing initiative. There will be a number of celebratory events throughout the year to mark the 50-year milestone of ASLA, which will include participation in the traditional Sri Lankan games where they will be showing their support for other Sri Lankan organisations as well, their participation in the multicultural festival, and their end-of-year event recognising the founding members of the association.

I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the Honorary Consul of Sri Lanka in Adelaide. I think many honourable members have met Dr Charitha Perera. Dr Perera has always taken an active role in the Sri Lankan community, helping to facilitate events and providing assistance and services at the consulate office. He is a true gentleman and he and his wife, Dr Mirihi Perera, working together have demonstrated their unwavering support to all Sri Lankan community organisations in South Australia.

Once again, my sincere congratulations to the president and all the committee members of ASLA on this wonderful celebration. They will be thankful that their contribution to South Australia has not gone unnoticed and today is a great way to acknowledge all their achievements and contributions throughout the last 50 years. I offer my very special thanks and deep gratitude for ASLA on this golden jubilee and I am sure that my parliamentary colleagues in this place will also join me in wishing ASLA much more success to come in the next 50 years and beyond. With those words, I commend the motion.