Dandenong is home of great diversity in Melbourne. Like other parts, there are people from different backgrounds living in this heavily multicultural suburb. Rightly so, it is known as the most culturally diverse suburb in Victoria.
Afghan businesses have flourished in Dandenong for the past 10 years or so. Specially, Thomas Street is home to many Afghan businesses including restaurants and takeaways, Afghan carpet and rugs stores, Afghan groceries and more. In 2009 after the successful precinct branding of Little India, the Afghan traders advocated for the development of a recognisable brand for Thomas Street. The project was implemented by the City of Greater Dandenong in 2009 and later on the Afghan Bazaar Tour was developed for tourists to have a taste of Afghan culture in the heart of Victoria.
Recently the City of Greater Dandenong has undertaken Afghan Bazaar Streetscape Enhancement Project in Thomas Street Dandenong. Many members of the community have shown interest in this project. There has been face-to-face meetings and workshops, and the City of Greater Dandenong has welcomed opinions from all member of Afghan community.
Some days ago, I received an SMS from a friend suggesting that some members of Afghan community are advocating for changing the name of Afghan Bazaar to something that is either more specific to one ethnic group or strangely enough “Boat Bazaar”. Initially I thought it was just a rumour but this was confirmed by other more active members of the community.
Afghans have been part of the diverse Australian community for over 200 years since the arrival of the cameleers. Contribution of Afghan community is not a new trend that started after arrival of “boat people” but it is well-documented in Australian history. As a matter of fact the re-branding of Thomas Street as Afghan Bazaar was to recognise the contribution of Afghans from the time of the cameleers to date and not that of a particular ethnic group. This is visible from the branding logo.
It will be a sad day for Afghan community in Melbourne to lose this recognition to a particular group of people who are trying to score political point. Besides, entertaining the idea of re-branding Afghan Bazaar to “Boat Bazaar” is unethical. This will encourage the arrival of illegal migrants that has caused a lot of issues in the country whether due to unfortunate deaths of boat people or political controversies.
I have always voiced my concern about arrival of illegal migrants and the fact that many people undeservingly used the prosecution of certain ethnic groups in Afghanistan in their advantage to get residency status in Australia. I am not suggesting that all those people were lying about their situation in Afghanistan, but I know for a fact that many people arrived to Australia from Middle East or Pakistan who have used their background to gain sympathy from Australian government and now they are promoting a dangerous and ethnocentric ideology. No matter what ethnic group we belong to, we came to this country as Afghan migrants and anyone denying this fact has a personalised and political agenda.
I do not believe the City of Greater Dandenong will agree to changing the name, however, to know that there are people in Australia who would promote such ideas is a cause for concern.