Goldfield lessons in religious diversity

Does Bendigo’s multi-cultural history – from its gold rush Chinese temple, embrace of Burma’s Karen refugees and more recent mosque controversy – hold lessons for the rest of Australia?

La Trobe historian Dr Jennifer Jones says it may. And the nation’s top research funding body agrees.

The Australian Research Council (ARC) has just supported the idea with a $164,000 grant to help probe the region’s religious diversity going back to the gold rush.

The City of Greater Bendigo and local Aspire Cultural and Charitable Foundation are partners and supporters of the project.

Cost of religious intolerance

Dr Jones, who leads the study, explains: ‘Encouraging Australians to respect faith adherence has never been more urgent. This project is an attempt to promote understanding and cohesion in Australia’s increasingly diverse communities.’

She says recent events in Bendigo and other parts of Australia have illustrated the social cost of religious intolerance.

‘Understanding Bendigo’s “melting pot” experience with its long history of diverse cultures and faiths could help other communities understand diversity and difference.’

New multi-faith centre

The project aims to re-discover, interpret and share knowledge about the role and value of faith during the gold rush, on the goldfields, right up until today. It will also set up a new multi-faith interpretive centre to communicate the study’s results to wider audiences.

Locally, Dr Jones says, connecting people to their own history will help Bendigo make the most of its heritage assets and tourism.

Dr Jones is based on La Trobe’s Albury-Wodonga Campus. Co-researchers are Associate Professors Charles Fahey and Trevor Budge from the Bendigo Campus and Drs Timothy Jones and Nadia Rhook from the Melbourne Campus.

Agriculture and ageing

The above is one of three new studies for which La Trobe has been awarded a total of $848,000 in ARC Linkage Grants, a scheme for university research carried out with external partners.  The other two studies are:

- making a new hybrid vaccine for liver fluke disease in cattle (almost $540,000, led by Professor Terence Spithill, Department of Animal, Plant and Soil Sciences and AgriBio, the Centre for AgriBioscience);

- and reducing health disparities for older LGBTI Australians,  (nearly $300,000 led by Dr Anthony Lyons from  the School of Psychology and Public Health).

Joint research

La Trobe researchers are also contributing to new ARC Linkage projects at other universities.These are designed to:

- add value to waste products from the brewing industry (Professor James Whelan, Department of Animal, Plant and Soil Sciences and AgriBio);

- devise ‘genetic rescue’ techniques to save threatened plants and animals (Dr John Morgan, Department of Ecology, Environment and Evolution);

- and digitise important nineteenth century anthropological accounts from Alfred Howitt and Lorimer Fison of Indigenous life, language and contact between early settlers and Indigenous people (Dr Stephen Morey, Department of Language and Linguistics, and Centre for Research on Linguistic Diversity).

Media contact: Ernest Raetz, M: 0412 261 919

Image: Flickr.com Chinese Gardens by s13n1

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