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Food can act as a cultural mediator


Steve Spinks
12 April 2013
Food could be the best cultural mediator in a multicultural society, argues two Southern Cross University academics.

Dr Lisa Milner and Ms Mandy Hughes, of the School of Arts and Social Sciences, argue that food could be the best way of bringing different communities together in their paper ‘From Bananas to Biryani: The creation of Woolgoolga Curryfest as an expression of community’, which was published in Locale: The Australasian-Pacific Journal of Regional Food Studies.

The academics made their findings by researching the success surrounding Curryfest, which is held in the Mid North Coast town of Woolgoolga, just north of Coffs Harbour.

“Woolgoolga is home to a significant Sikh population, the largest settlement in regional Australia,” Dr Milner said.

“Early arrivals came to farm bananas and now own a significant proportion of the banana farms in the Coffs Harbour Local Government Area. Early resistance to this group of newcomers included the banning of Sikhs from attending the local bowling club RSL.

“From that point in the 1970s, the local community has moved on to embrace Sikh culture and recognise the role of this significant group in strengthening and diversifying the township on both an economic and social level.

“Curryfest (held this year from April 6 to 14) was conceived in 2006 as a means to distinguish Woolgoolga from other coastal towns and promote curry as a point of difference to be embraced. The festival grows and evolves and continues to provide a point of intercultural encounter and exchange for locals and visitors.

“In this way it also provides an expansion of meanings of Woolgoolga as a place of multiple identities – food becomes a cultural mediator, and provides a celebration of the multiplicity of identities for Woolgoolga and a popular home for the expansion of collective identity.”

Furthermore, Dr Milner and Ms Hughes say that more recent arrivals in the area, particularly immigrants from African nations, have added to the festival in making it a truly multicultural event trading on the use of ‘ethnic food’.

“Curryfest serves not only to promote Woolgoolga’s tourism ambitions but also to strengthen and promote its own community, an always-evolving mix of people living and celebrating ‘together in difference’,” Dr Milner said.

Photo: Curryfest is a great cultural mediator. Picture: Dan Stewart.