Source: Bendigo Advertiser
Bendigo residents have responded to opposition to a mosque being built in the Victorian city with a celebration of diversity on Saturday. The celebration came after a lengthy debate over the issue which included anti-Islamic protests and one Bendigo councillor opposing the proposal because she was "not a fan of Islam."
FULL COVERAGE: Bendigo mosque: Emotion fuels debate
UPDATE 1.40pm: Councillor Mark Weragoda is flying colourful balloons in his front yard to replace black balloons placed there by anti-mosque protesters.
Cr Weragoda said a "lovely man" came to his house at 9am this morning to hand him colourful balloons in a show of support for the proposed mosque.
"It was very powerful and it makes you feel really good," Cr Weragoda said of the man's actions.
"You have so many people supporting the mosque and (support) certainly outweighs, in my view, the minority of anti-mosque people."
Cr Weragoda said despite mosque protesters' insistence their opposition to the development was not on racial grounds, he had received emails that suggested it was.
"I have received messages and emails linked to my colour and my race," he said.
"It certainly makes you wonder. In this type of society our community should be much more educated than to stoop to these levels."
Cr Weragoda is an Anglican of Sri Lankan background.
UPDATE 11.40am: Heri Febriyanto tells the Bendigo Advertiser he feels emotional about today's turnout.
"I'm so grateful and really happy people are supportive," he says.
"It's a win ... for all of Bendigo.
"We want to live in harmony."
He says fears the mosque will promote sharia law are unfounded.
"We are living in Australia and Bendigo," he says.
UPDATE 11.05am: Reverend Cynthia Page says, "I'm blown away, it's awesome."
"If I lived in another country I would like to think I could worship how I would like to worship. Fundamentalists of any persuasion are the problem."
UPDATE 11.01am: Muslim community leader Heri Febriyanto says, "We have about 300 people in Bendigo who are struggling because they have nowhere to pray.
"We respect each other - no racists!" followed by loud cheers from the crowd.
UPDATE 11am: Reverend Cynthia Page and Reverend Rev Bryn Jones are addressing the crowd.
Reverend Page says living with people from other cultures is important.
UPDATE 10.52am: The crowd has swelled to about 120 people.
UPDATE 10.50am: Nathan Wingrave, a Greens member and Anglican, is here to support the mosque.
"Bendigo has no room for bigoted behaviour and Islamaphobia," he says.
"We don't have to bust in people (from outside Bendigo) to get numbers."
UPDATE 10.40am: Jan Govett from Amnesty International is in the mall handing out pamphlets about refugees.
"What we really want for everyone in Australia is freedom for everyone, and that includes religion," she says.
"Fear of the unknown was built with the 9/11 crisis - I'm sure that's where these protests against the mosque are coming from."
UPDATE 10.35am: About 80 people are in Hargreaves Mall blowing up colourful balloons to show support for a mosque to be built in Bendigo.
Reverend Bryn Jones from St Mary's Anglican Church Kangaroo Flat says the protest is, "Really peaceful way of saying that we support diversity - we all saw the horrible pictures of black balloons."
EARLIER: Colour is finding its way through Bendigo streets as residents take a stand against recent anti-Islamic protests.
The protests are in response to councillors this week approving the region's first mosque, with an anonymous party littering the town - and one councillor's home - with black balloons and sharing views that approving the place of worship would see a breakdown of the Australian Constitution.
On Friday a peace ceremony was arranged in response to the protests, bringing people together to replace "hateful" black balloons that have littered the city with rainbow balloons.
Today a peaceful protest will be held in Hargreaves Mall to hand out more rainbow balloons with tags that say "racism has no place in Bendigo" in a move organised by the Uniting Church.
MORE COVERAGE OF THE MOSQUE DEBATE
THURSDAY: Councillor shaken by symbol of hatred
WEDNESDAY: Mosque approved amid fear and anger
THE COUNCIL MEETING: City of Greater Bendigo councillors debate mosque plan