Residents rise above opposition

UPDATE 4PM: Hundreds of colourful balloons will be passed out in Bendigo tomorrow morning bearing tags that say "racism has no place in Bendigo".  

It follows a response to the anti-Islamic black balloons that have appeared in Bendigo recently. 

Many faith and community leaders will take part in the action, which is being organised by the Uniting Church. 

Many local  leaders, including MP Maree Edwards, Rev. Cynthia Page of Eaglehawk Uniting Church, and Rev. Bryn Jones of Kangaroo Flat will be passing out the bright balloons on the corner of Hargraves and Williamson street to show their support for all residents in their community. 

“We are proud of our history of multiculturalism in Bendigo and want to use this event and the symbolism of the colourful balloons to express our support to our Muslim neighbours.” said Rev. Cynthia Page of Eaglehawk Uniting Church.

"Racism truly has no place in our community."

 UPDATE 3PM: Bendigo residents will stand together for diversity this afternoon. 

A group are calling on residents to take part in a peaceful celebration of diversity at 5pm outside Bendigo Town Hall. 

Rainbow balloons will be available to "help spread the love". 

UPDATE 1.30PM: Hundreds of residents have today signed an online petition supporting diversity in Bendigo. 

It comes amid fears from an anti-Islamic group that say approved the region's first mosque would see a rise of violence in Bendigo and the overthrowing of the Australian Constitution. 

But residents are fighting back.

"Because we're people. We're all just people. And we all deserve to be treated like people," Dave Hogan said on the petition, which aims to "show the world that Bendigo supports multiculturalism". 

Other reasons stated include that "racism and bigotry have no place in our community", the richness of diversity and the freedom of belief that Australia offers to all its residents.

EARLIER: A GROUP of residents have fought back against anti-Islamic sentiment, saying the world needs to know that Bendigo is for multiculturalism and diversity. 

It follows strong opposition to the region's first mosque, where an anonymous party littered the town - and one councillor's home - with black balloons and shared views that approving the place of worship would see a breakdown of the Australian Constitution. 

Black balloons, which link the prevalence of domestic violence with the rise in Islam, have twice been hung on Bendigo Cr Mark Weragoda's fence in what he says is a targeted attack and a "strong symbol of hatred". 

But residents are fighting back, with one resident planning to distribute "as many" rainbow balloons around town. 

Almost 100 people have also signed a Change petition this morning which supports multiculturalism and diversity in Bendigo. 

The petition was set up by Bendigo's Damian Wells, who says the recent anti-islamic messages in the media did not  represent the town he knew and loved. 

"People of all cultures and religions need to know they are welcome in Bendigo and we embrace diversity," the petition says. 

There are just over 200 Muslims in Bendigo who currently congregate for worship in rooms at La Trobe University, who mosque applicant Munshi Nawaz says are relieved the mosque had been approved. 

He said the decision was expected to face a legal challenge from protesters but reiterated the anti-Islamic group did not represent the whole of Bendigo. 

Mr Nawaz, who is a Muslim himself, said the Islamic community had tried to distance themselves from the often faceless protests. 

"The response I have had from the community is so nice and understanding," he said. 

"The people who are opposed to the mosque are a very minor section ... and don't represent the views of most Bendigo people."

He said racism often came down to overall misconceptions, of which "this was an example". 

"We believe many of these anti-Islam protesters aren't even from Bendigo and many local members of the community have expressed dissatisfaction (about the situation)."

Residents can find the petition here

The group responsible for the black balloons has been contacted for comment. 


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