NEWS On Sunday 3 May the Victorian Minister for Finance and Multicultural Affairs, the Hon Robin Scott, unveiled the new mural installed in the hall of the Maltese Community Centre in Parkville at a cocktail reception organised by the MCCV.
A large audience filled the hall eagerly looking forward to the moment of the unveiling of the mural. When the Minister led the unveiling, it was met with loud applause and expressions of awe for a work of art that aptly reminded all of our beloved Malta.
The vibrancy and flow of the mural scene immediately transformed the hall into an apparently larger space of natural light and colour. The mural is part of a larger program of refurbishment of the Maltese Centre that the MCCV has been undertaking.
At the same event, Minister Robin Scott also launched the Maltese Cultural and Resource Directory 2015 just published by the MCCV to promote cultural awareness of the Maltese community and provide information specifically targeted towards the Maltese aged residing in aged care facilities.
After the singing of the Maltese and Australian national anthems, Mr George Saliba, MC for the afternoon, welcomed the distinguished guests, which included Minister Robin Scott; Mr Victor Grech, the Consul General of Malta in Victoria; Dr Edwin Borg-Manché, Honorary Consul of Malta in Victoria; Mr Mario Sammut, Vice-Consul of Malta in the La Trobe Valley; Mr Eddie Micallef, Chairman of the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria; Fr Edwin Agius mssp, Rector at Parkville; and Sr Doris Falzon OP, Superior of the Dominican Sisters of Malta in Melbourne.
MCCV President Mr Victor Borg warmly welcomed Minister Scott on his first visit to the Maltese Centre since becoming Minister after last year’s State election. Mr Borg spoke about the program of refurbishment of the Centre undertaken by the MCCV to give a much needed facelift to the building after more than 30 years of daily use by the community.
Mr Borg said that the MCCV had to dig deep to find the necessary funds for the refurbishment program. The works consis-ted of a complete renovation of the toilet block, ceiling tiles replacement in the hall, repairs to the roof and the double glazing of the large windows in the hall which provide the location for the mural.
The MCCV President said that the Centre was built as a result of a great community effort and thanks to the great working relationships that existed with the priests of the Missionary Society of St Paul.
Mr Borg said that unfortunately at the time it was built in the early 80s there were no federal or state grants for community capital projects and all the funds had to be raised by the Maltese community through many raffles, fêtes, and so on. This taught us that working together as a small community we can achieve great things and gave us a deep sense of pride that together we were able to establish premises, which has been of such great benefit to the community.
Mr Borg then spoke about the extensive welfare programs that the MCCV runs from the Centre. Many elderly Maltese regularly come to the Centre in Parkville and the other MCCV premises in Sunshine to participate in Planned Activity Groups activities.
Mr Borg said that the Maltese community is “going through a difficult period as a community because we are a rapidly ageing community.” He recalled that he was 13 years old when he arrived with his family in Australia, but 60 years later it will not be much longer before he joins the ageing generation of Maltese who would need to be looked after.
Mr Borg said that the MCCV “gives a sense of security to the ageing members of the community knowing that we mean to help them as much as possible.” He thanked the many volunteers who continue to give their time even though they themselves are getting to a fine and ripe age.
The MCCV President then spoke about the close relationship that Malta has for a long time had with Australia. “Some of Malta’s history is as good as the Australian history because it is fairly common knowledge that Malta also contributed to the convicts who were sentenced to life imprisonment in the State of New South Wales following desertion from the services,” he said.
Mr Borg said that multiculturalism is not a political policy and did not come about because of politicians or governments of the day. “Multiculturalism in Australia is, and has been, a fact of life. It is the way people live and contribute and the way we respect the others’ backgrounds, cultures and langua-ges,” he said.
Mr Borg then spoke about the centenary of ANZAC and the Gallipoli invasion that was recently commemorated. He said that Malta had made a significant contribution in that effort and, as a result, became known as the “Nurse of the Mediterranean” because it looked after and took in hundreds of wounded Australian, New Zealanders and even Turkish soldiers. Unfortunately many of the soldiers succumbed to their wounds and are buried in the war graves in Malta, which are well looked after by the Maltese community.
Mr Borg then referred to the ANZAC monument in Malta. With generous contributions from the Maltese living in Victoria and other states n Australia, a monument to fallen ANZACs was erected in the Argotti Gardens in Floriana, Malta which was inaugurated in 2013. ANZAC Day is commemorated in Malta every year.
Mr Borg said that the mural aptly reminds us of our country of origin. He recognised the considerable contribution of Mr Tony Stafrace and Mr Hank Bos, directors of Axess Glass, and the artist Mr Peter Toyne’ He thanked them for their great efforts in the execution of the mural project.
Mr Borg said that the MCCV felt it would be appropriate to name the mural in memory of the late Fr Stanley Tomlin mssp, who passed away in 2010 and had served as Superior General of the MSSP between 1970 and 1982, and in recognition of his strong support for, and contribution to, the construction of the Centre.
Mr Borg recalled speaking with him many years ago during a visit to Australia and with Fr George Scerri, who unfortunately was murdered in 1982 in MSSP premises not far from the Centre. “Fr Tomlin was a saintly man and a very wise man,” he said.
The MSSP was specifically set up to look after migrants in Australia and other parts of the world. The priests of the MSSP worked tirelessly with the community to raise the funds for the Centre. Negotiations between the MCCV and the MSSP was constantly amicable. Fr Tomlin wanted the MCCV to work together with the MSSP for the welfare of the Maltese community.
Finally Mr Borg thanked the Victorian Multicultural Commission for making a grant of $32,000 to the MCCV towards the costs of about $200,000 spent on the refurbishments.
In his reply, Minister Robin Scott thanked the MCCV President for the invitation and for the warm welcome that he received. Mr Scott said that, through his friendship with former federal MP, Mr Christian Zahra, whose parents he had met, he had gained some insight into Maltese culture. He said that the Maltese community played an important role in multiculturalism and has a deep link to Australia.
Speaking about the mural before it was unveiled, Mr Scott said that he believed that the mural was inspired by the breathtaking coastline and architecture of Malta. He said that there was one other thing about Malta that he knew: “Malta has an old and proud history going back centuries right back to the Phoenicians. However, it is a place not just of culture and history but also a place of natural beauty. The mural pays tribute to those aspects,” he said. He expressed his wish to visit Malta one day.
Mr Scott thanked the MCCV for the opportunity to launch the Directory and unveil the mural. He said it would certainly not be the last time that he would be visiting the Maltese Centre.
On behalf of the Victorian government Mr Scott said that he wanted to place on the record his deep respect and thanks for the Maltese community and for the contribution they made to both Victoria and the creation of the multicultural society.
Mr Borg then invited the Minister to unveil the mural to the delight and applause of those present. Fr Edwin Agius mssp and Fr Denis Carabott mssp led the audience through a prayer for the occasion and Fr Agius then blessed the mural with holy water.
Mr Borg then presented Minister Scott with a vase produced in Malta by Mdina Glass as a memento of the occasion and intended as a gift for his wife. Mr Borg said that he hoped that the gift will have a pride of place in their home and a constant reminder of the close relationship with the Maltese community.
MCCV Vice President Mr Joseph Stafrace, who was the driving force being the mural project, thanked those people without whom the project would not have been possible. He thanked directors Mr Tony Stafrace and Mr Hank Bos, Mr Ben Stafrace, all of Axess Glass, and the artist Mr Peter Toyne. He said that he was grateful for his contribution at no cost to the community. Mr Stafrace then presented Mr Toyne with a Certificate of Appreciation.
In his reply Mr Toyne said that his brief for the mural was to produce something that was not just evocative of Malta, but it also had to be colourful and have lots of movement.
Mr Toyne spoke about the three story lines that inspired the mural design. The central story of the mural represents his artistic view of Valletta as a magical, romantic place and he hoped that it captured the feeling of Valletta. The second story is of the Mediterranean Sea that surrounds the island of Malta, which has a strong and ongoing relationship with the sea. The third story relates to emigration and, if migrants left by sea, they would have passed by the point of Fort St Elmo depicted in the mural at the entrance to the Grand Harbour.
Finally Mr Toyne thanked those who worked with him on the project, particularly the Axess Glass directors and staff who produced the vibrant colours and the final product.
The Consul General of Malta, Mr Victor Grech, congratulated the MCCV on the completion of the mural project. He said that it was a great achievement. He reminded those present that in 2018 Valletta will be the cultural capital of Europe.
Report by Edwin Borg-Manché
About the artist and the mural
PETER TOYNE, the MCCV mural’s artist, has followed many careers before taking up his art and design practice. These included scientific research, teaching, community development work in the Northern Territory, and a 10-year stint as a Member of the NT Parliament. Throughout his earlier working life his interest and involvement in art was always there to resurface after he left Parliament.
Peter considered the commission to design the mural in the Maltese Community Centre hall for the MCCV as both a great honour and, equally, a great responsibility. The latter because the design was to express Maltese culture and identity.
Three story lines
After talking to the MCCV project committee and reviewing lots of photographs and stories of Malta, he felt that a panorama of Valletta could provide a powerful reminder of the home country. The resulting design carries three story lines.
The first is the city itself, drawn as a romantic dream, to present its rich history and sense of place. Peter was thrilled by the obvious connection made the audience to the landmarks which were included in the panorama. Many people pointed to where they lived or worked in the city before coming to Australia.
The second story is the story of the sea. Malta has a rich history of sea faring and this is symbolised by the traditional fishing boats. The water itself is used to reflect the colour and form of the city, lending vibrant colour and movement to the design.
The last, but perhaps the most important story line, is that of emigration. The mural includes the point at Fort St Elmo, the last place in Malta that migrants passed as they left to resettle in their new chosen countries. This place witnessed the flow of people with talent, energy and ambition as they were gifted to countries such as Australia. Many would have contributed tears to the waters of the harbour in memory of those they were leaving behind.
Peter hopes that the mural provides pleasure and context to those using the Community Centre in the years to come.