How appropriate it was that Australia Day festivities at Melbourne Park should be preceded by the Australian Open 2013 boys’ junior final between locals Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis.
What’s more, the fact that Kyrgios – the winner in that final – and Kokkinakis are both of Greek descent tied perfectly into the theme of multiculturalism being celebrated on Australia’s national day at the year’s first Grand Slam event.
The celebrations were the result of a partnership between Tennis Australia (TA) and the Australian Government, and the beginning of a five-year, $250,000 program aimed at strengthening local communities and encouraging neighbours from different cultural backgrounds to come together over a game of tennis.
“Do something Australian on Australia Day – play tennis,” was the message from Tennis Australia CEO Steve Wood, a guest speaker at an on-court citizenship ceremony at Melbourne Park that saw 17 people become naturalised Australians.
“Tennis is a universal sport and one of the world’s most culturally diverse. Linking tennis with Australia Day and the welcoming of new citizens to our country is a natural fit,” he continued.
“In fact, some of Australia’s biggest tennis names come from culturally diverse backgrounds. Names such as Bernard Tomic, Mark Philippoussis, Jelena Dokic, Marinko Matosevic, Sam Stosur and (now) today’s Australian Open junior finalists, Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis.”
Today at several of Melbourne Park’s outside courts, more than 100 children – from Melbourne's Keon Park Tennis Club, the Centre for Multicultural Youth and Spirit West Services – and their parents enjoyed the chance to participate in MLC Tennis Hot Shots and Cardio Tennis demonstrations, meet mascots, get their faces painted, enjoy an Aussie barbeque and listen to live music from local performer Luke Matthews.
These activities were simultaneously staged at ethnically and culturally-diverse tennis clubs across the country at Sunshine Park (Victoria), Grange Lawn (South Australia), Melba (Australian Capital Territory) and Chatswood (New South Wales).
At Melbourne Park, these activities were followed by the citizenship ceremony, at which 17 conferees from countries as diverse as the Philippines, South Africa, Israel and the United States were welcomed as the newest Australian citizens.
In addition to Wood, the ceremony was attended by Federal Member for Melbourne Adam Bandt, State Member for Melbourne Jennifer Kanis, and Senator Kate Lundy, Minister for Sport and Multicultural Affairs.
Senator Lundy, who led the ceremony, said it was hoped that even beyond even these community congregations such as today’s at Melbourne Park, tennis-themed Australia Day celebrations would hopefully be evident in the backyards and streets of towns and suburbs all over the nation.
“By opening the courts on Australia Day, local tennis clubs are giving all Australians – from the skilled amateurs to those who’ve never swung a racquet – the chance to enjoy one of our most accessible sports and get to know their neighbours better,” she said.
“Sport fosters a strong sense of belonging among participants and helps Australians from diverse backgrounds forge friendships and build a shared sense of community.”
Following the activities, the children and their families moved into Garden Square to take in the women’s final on the giant screen, which was preceded by the National Boys Choir and Australian Girls Choir singing the Australian national anthem on Rod Laver Arena, and the unveiling of the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup by Australian women’s tennis legend Margaret Court.