Tibetans thank Blue Mountains community at birthday celebration for Dalai Lama

Blue Mountains locals were welcomed to a traditional Tibetan celebration to commemorate the 14th Dalai Lama’s 83rd birthday on Friday, July 6.

The event at the old Katoomba library gave exiled Tibetans living in the Blue Mountains an opportunity to thank the Blue Mountains community and celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday with the taste, colour, music and dance of Tibet.

The old library was transformed with colourful Buddhist prayer flags and tables brightly decorated with bowls of sweets and Tibetan pastries. Tibetans in traditional dress, the chuba, circulated between the tables chatting and serving tea and sweet rice.

Aunty Carol Cooper gave the Welcome to Country before offerings of the traditional ceremonial white silk scarf, the khata, were made and laid before a photo of the Dalai Lama. The khata symbolises purity, compassion and respect.

Kyinzom Dhongdue, the executive director of the Australian Tibet Council and member of Tibetan Parliament in exile, presented the first khata. Her offering was followed by khatas presented by local Tibetans and some of the Australians who attended.

Many local dignitaries joined the celebration alongside the Tibetan community, including the Federal Member for Macquarie, Susan Templeman and Blue Mountains State MP, Trish Doyle.

Ms Doyle wished the Dalai Lama a happy birthday and offered a message of peace and hope praising the “colour and vibrancy of these strong but gentle people”.  Ms Doyle also commended the “beautiful, caring, collaborative community of the Blue Mountains” for welcoming the exiled Tibetans.

Ms Templeman spoke of her “great compassion for what is occurring” in Tibet. “We want to do everything we can to support you here and support families back home,” she said.

“I feel very joyful that we are here to celebrate a birthday”, she said, but then recognised that “geopolitical help” is needed to progress the Tibetan cause in Parliament saying “there are people working fairly quietly to see that justice is done”.

About 50 Tibetan adults and children live in the Blue Mountains and many arrived in Australia on humanitarian visas.  All of them are refugees or children of refugees who fled Tibet after the Chinese occupation in 1950 and made the long trek over the Himalayas to reach safety in Nepal.  

The journey to Nepal is a hazardous one with some travelling distances up to 1000 kilometres and facing unpredictable weather, storms, frostbite, altitude sickness and risk of capture by the Chinese Army.  It is estimated that about 150,000 Tibetans have fled their homeland since the Chinese occupation, with most settling in India and Nepal.

The first Tibetan refugee settled in Katoomba nine years ago and others arrived after the Dalai Lama visited the Blue Mountains in 2015. In the last six months some families have arrived directly from India on humanitarian visas. Ms Dhongdue praised the local community saying that Tibetan refugees had been ‘embraced with warmth and love’.

During her speech, Ms Dhongdue, reminded the audience that the reason that Tibetan refugees living in exile are so organised and united in their struggle is due to the Dalai Lama’s extraordinary leadership and vision. 

“His Holiness, the Dalai Lama has set up institutions that will keep the community together in exile for many generations,” she said.

Mary Waterford from the Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group praised “the world’s most famous refugee” calling on Tibetans to “stay Tibetan, for the world is a richer place for all the different cultures that we bring to it”.

Student performers from the Tibetan school entertained the audience with song and dance. While the wind howled outside and blew down boards and decorations onto the stage, the students sang with smiles and laughter. Volunteers from the Tibetan community teach the students at the Kunsang Yeshe centre in Katoomba on Saturday mornings.

Also present at the event were the general manager of Blue Mountains City Council, Rosemary Dillon, Ward 1 councillor Kerry Brown, the principal of North Katoomba Public School Cathy Clarke, and the principal of Katoomba High School Jennifer Boyall.

The event was funded by a grant from BMCC after discussions with the Tibetan community facilitated by the BMRSG and the Katoomba Neighbourhood Centre.