China extended the long arm of its security apparatus across borders in order to securitize the Dalai Lama’s birth anniversary this year, which is traditionally celebrated by Tibetans worldwide on 6 July. Abandoning the element of fear that is a hallmark of failed authoritarian projects—Tibetans defiantly celebrated the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday inside restive Tibet, despite the risk of severe punishment in doing so. At a time when respect for human rights and international norms is receding before our eyes in a changing global order, it was significant that Australians came together for the first time to honour the spiritual leader in the anthology, Dear Dalai Lama: Letters from Australians.
Conceived and compiled by local Tibetan refugee, Tenpa Dugdak, and published in association with the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS) and Brave Media, the limited edition book is a deeply considered collection of profoundly intimate correspondence, featuring a foreword by Emeritus Professor Stuart Rees AM, alongside a number of contributors at the vanguard of interdisciplinary peace research and praxis.
Amongst the contributors were: former Greens leader, Dr Bob Brown; the Hon. Melissa Parke MP; mediation lecturer and practitioner, Abe Quadan; CPACS associate, Dr Sev Ozdowski OAM; 2014 Sydney Peace Prize laureate, Julian Burnside AO QC; Australia’s former foreign minister, Professor the Hon. Gareth Evans AC QC, and founder of the home grown Global Peace Index, Steve Killelea AM.
An official book launch was held at NSW Parliament on the evening of 4 August and hosted by MP Jamie Parker, the Member for Balmain, who is admired for his leadership across a number of local pro-justice campaigns and global causes. Dr Bob Brown travelled especially from Tasmania to launch the book alongside a few good men – Jamie and Professor Rees – whose unfailing support and tutelage inspired this project to its full realisation.
The launch was opened with a hair raising traditional nomadic Tibetan song performed by Kunchok Gyaltsen, establishing a sense of place and historical memory. It was as if the aspirations of all Tibetans were carried on Kunchok’s vocals, which resonated beyond the walls of the enchanting Jubilee Room. Among the guests of honour present were: the Hon. John Dowd AO QC (joined by fellow members from the International Commission of Jurists); 2014 Nobel Prize nominee, Steve Killelea AM; Rev. Bill Crews OAM; public figure Kylie Kwong, Jenny Leong MP – member for Newtown and Chair of Sydney Peace Foundation, David Hirsch, who was in good company with both current and former council members of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.
In finest form as Master of Ceremonies, affectionately noted by members of CPACS council, Stuart primed the hearts and minds of a full house audience with his moral
stature and elegant humanity. His presence and participation infused the local Tibetans in attendance with a sense of pride and belonging. Dear friend and confidant of the Dalai Lama, Dr Bob Brown shared his personal experience from a secret trip to Tibet in 1996, describing his moving encounter with a Tibetan woman who appealed to Bob to help realise the wish of all Tibetans for the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet. Motivated by that encounter ever since, the former Greens leader has been the most consistent and vocal advocate in Australia for Tibetan self-determination. While launching the book, he remarked that it resembled a ‘bouquet of flowers’ to His Holiness from Australians.
One of the book’s authors Abby Meyer (OI Society), travelled all the way from Adelaide with mum in tow to recite her letter featured in the book, which she shared with deepest humility. A masterful storyteller, world renowned pianist, Simon Tedeschi then invited us into his imaginings and narrated his letter in the most vivid creative detail, worthy of a concert stage and full orchestra.
Tenpa Dugdak extended his gratitude for the support of CPACS, and expressed the pride that Tibetans felt when the Sydney Peace Foundation honoured the Dalai Lama with a Gold Medal for Human Rights in 2002. While he warmly thanked the audience for sharing joy with local Tibetans, Tenpa’s father, a former political prisoner, offered traditional Tibetan khata scarves to special guests.
Following the book release, Tenpa reported of the positive feedback via local and international media coverage, particularly from interviews he gave to two major Tibetan radio networks. Those interviews were transmitted into Tibet around China’s ‘great firewall’, and listened to secretly by Tibetans, who came to know of the event. Australian singer-songwriter and peace ambassador, Abby Dobson elevated minds when she performed her final song, Rise Up – a beautiful gift to the audience and inspired call to action.
It was as if time stood still when beloved Professor Rees shared a stanza of ‘The Call of The Wild’ by Robert William Service. Stuart’s intuitively selected poetry for this event was the most remarkable gesture I will forever recall:
They have cradled you in custom,
they have primed you with their preaching,
They have soaked you in convention
through and through;
They have put you in a showcase;
you’re a credit to their teaching –
But can’t you hear the Wild?
– it’s calling you.
Let us probe the silent places,
let us seek what luck betide us;
Let us journey to a lonely land I know.
There’s a whisper on the night wind,
there’s a star agleam to guide us,
And the Wild is calling, calling,
let us go.
*Dear Dalai Lama is available in store or online at Gleebooks. All proceeds from this project are pledged to Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies Scholarships program for students from developing countries.*