By Duncan Murray
SYDNEY, Sept. 24 (Xinhua) -- Australia reaps the benefits of having some of the most culturally and ethnically diverse communities in the world, and food has often been the path to harmony and celebration.
Not having a clearly defined cuisine of their own, although some would argue for the status of a number of food items from meat pies to pavlovas, Australians have not been shy about adopting the smorgasbord of dishes that migrants have brought from across the globe when arriving in Australia.
Prominent among these is Asian cuisine, with Chinese restaurants permeating Australian suburbs for decades following a long shared history between the nations.
One hub of Asian cuisine is the Sydney suburb of Cabramatta, where on Sunday before the Mid-Autumn Festival (also known as the Moon Festival), the annual Cabramatta Moon Festival took place, featuring mooncakes, dragon dancing and other festivities.
Now in its 20th year, the Cabramatta Moon Festival heralds itself as the biggest Asian festival in Sydney, with an estimated 90,000 participants.
Cabramatta became a popular settlement for Vietnamese people in the second half of the last century. However, freshly arrived migrants, language barriers, and marginalized young people led perhaps inevitably to trouble.
The vibrancy which Cabramatta displayed on Sunday for the festival is a long way from the suburb which used to be known as being overrun with drugs and associated crimes.
In the early nineties, heroin in particular was known to be prevalent and readily available in Cabramatta, and the suburb's reputation soured considerably, as organised crime gangs operated with relative impunity.
In 1994 Cabramatta was the site of the nation's first and only political assassination when member of parliament and anti-drug campaigner John Newman was gunned down outside his home, at the order of local politician cum crime boss Phuong Hgo.
Since Hgo's conviction for the crime in 2001, Cabramatta has reformed considerably and now, instead of heroin, Australians are flocking there for the mooncakes.
Mayor of Fairfield, which encompasses Cabramatta, Frank Carbone is proud of how far Cabramatta has come and the part that cultural cuisine and celebrations like the moon festival have played in that.
"I think Cabramatta if you look at it today is an extremely successful town centre, it's one of the most successful town centres in South-West Sydney," Carbone said.
"I think there's no doubt that the success of the restaurants and the diversity that you see in Cabramatta has created more jobs, has brought investment, has allowed and provided opportunities and I think all of that has only made Cabramatta a safer and more vibrant place for all of us."
Carbone said "The stories associated with cultural celebrations like the moon festival help to express shared values, and convey an important truth -- that regardless of how different we seem, we also share a lot in common."
"It allows us all to know what a mooncake is and to understand the significance of it, and truly to see that whilst we're different we're not that different at all, we all hold those important values as part of our own identity no matter where you come from."
Dr Marianne Hulsbosch from the University of Sydney who specialises in multicultural studies believed that aspects of the moon festival which revolve around family, reunion and missing loved ones, present outsiders to the Asian cultures with a different picture, which is recognisable and relatable.
"With the kind of instant social media that we have there can be a lot of negative sentiment spread and I think what the Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations do is humanise a group of people," Hulsbosch said.
"It promotes family, and I think that is something that we share, whether you come from the depths of Africa or the North Pole, it's something that we all share, so these kind of thing put us on an equal footing, regardless of what the news shows to us."
The mooncakes themselves are an object by which the uninitiated can be offered a "taste" of a different culture, and at the Cabramatta festival, Sydney's Chinese and Vietnamese are generally overjoyed to see Australians sampling not just the cakes, but a range of different foods, for the first time.
"Food is a great opener, it's a great way to open the door because people are very welcoming they'll ask you to come and join the table, and I think that every culture shares that."
"We really are all the same and what we all value is getting together and sharing time with family, it's no different and I think if we can promote that, or if the Chinese community can promote that then I think it's great."
While the moon festival does not yet carry the reputation that the Chinese New Year does in Australia, and outside of Asian populated areas Australians may have no knowledge at all of what takes place in Mid-Autumn Festival -- the festival's reputation is spreading, cultures are integrating and food is at the heart of it all.