Goans celebrate SFX in Sydney with lots of energy, happy smiles and devotion

From left: Tony Colaco with the statute of St Francis Xavier, Colaco with the birthday girl,97-year-old Maria Beatrice Nazareth, Fr Vincy D'Costa, Bishop Peter Comensoli, acolyte and Fr Jose Phillips of the Greystanes parish.






Sydney celebrates St Francis Xavier’s feast.


The annual St Francis Xavier’s Feast Day celebrations  in Sydney, Australia, never fails to teleport the small Goan community to a Goa that lives in the realms of memory past, or legend, that may have been romanticised by the tyranny of distance and the ages of time and the fact that Australia is perched fairly close to the very bottom of the world, not too far from Antarctica.  But Goa, is very close in most folks’ hearts.

This year was no different and certainly better attended than sometimes in the past.

Fortunately for us in NSW, Australia, we are caste, class, position, language-neutral in diaspora, mainly due to the demands of the environments Goans live in.  Konkani is a fading language but you would not have thought so on Sunday, November 30 at a suburban church in Sydney. There was a real gusto in the singing of the Konkani hymns (as well as some of the prayers) at Mass concelebrated by Fr Vincy D’Costa, originally from Navelim. The other celebrants were the Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney, the Most Reverend Peter Comensoli and Fr Jose Phillip of the local Our Lady Queen of Peace Church.

Sydney Goans react with great energy for anything that links them with the “old country”. For example, when the relic of St Francis Xavier (part of the arm) toured Australia, Goans virtually jammed the church where it was being exhibited.

The processional hymn “Misachi Beht Suru Zata” took us back home at the very start of the Mass. The response to the Prayers of the Faithful was  “Do-iall Bapa , Tu-jeam bhurgeachim magnnim aik, am-chi kakut kor.” The Post Communion hymn was “Dev zagta mon’xanchem khan” and the service culminated with the Recessional hymn Sam Fransisk Xaviera. This was a very special day for the Goans in Sydney.  Rachel Menezes did a terrific job in organising the choir.

The Mass was followed by celebrations in the school hall. The event commenced with the serving of the traditional chick peas and coconut pieces.  Father Vincy said the “Grace” in Konkani and both young and old enjoyed the food, the Goan mandos and the English songs, as well as a variety of fun activities. The centre piece of the day was the celebration of our senior citizens. They were the centre stage of the event, with a special effort made to provide them with food and refreshments and traditional Goan sweets. We sang “Happy Birthday” to Mrs Maria Beatrice Nazareth (mother of Felix, Victor and Greta, grandmother and great grandmother) who recently celebrated her 97th birthday and cut a cake to share the occasion with her fellow Goans. She has been blessed with an angelic smile and was always a magnet for 100s of children who came often to visit her, or accompanied her children home from school in Nairobi.  Maria always had a smile to welcome them as well as some goodies from the kitchen.

Music from the old country is still a big draw (even if you don’t understand the language, your DNA helps you to be one with the rhythm).  Roy Rosario brought a variety of mandos, dulpod and masala, among them Jurament, Tambde rosa, Moddgonvam prasar, Dalia, Eskolak vocho and lots more.

Santa came and thrilled the kids and presented them with gifts.  The crowd enjoyed playing Bingo which is an old time favourite at community events.  Looking at all the happy faces, it would be a fair cop that everyone had a great time.

However, none of this would have been possible had it not been for the husband and wife partnership of President Tony and Alzira Colaco and the various Goans who have graced his executive committees. A few years ago, after Tony surrendered his first stint as President to help his children with their Higher School Certificate examinations, the association almost floundered for reasons best not mentioned.

One year we had the smallest crowd in the history of the GOA at the annual Christmas Dance which once used to attract more than 350 people, when most of us were young naturally.

Tony who is a Chartered Accountant from the UK and an MBA from Sydney, hails from Borda, Margao.  He has served nine years in office: 6 years as president, making him the longest serving president in the history of the GOA, 2 years as vice-president, and 1 year as treasurer. His wife, Alzira, a former General Secretary of the association is in the legal profession.

It is no exaggeration that a president or chairman of a Goan association must have the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job to deal with some of those sticky issues that sometimes rear their heads. However, Tony has shown that  he can rise above all that and more, and he has been very quick to smooth any hiccups, however minor they may be, before they become problems.

However, Tony is endowed with a natural charm that is found in abundance in the blessed few in Goa. He is the consummate professional in his dealings with everyone he comes into contact with. He is also acutely aware of the needs and tender loving care that each one of his committee members require.  As the Australian saying goes, there is plenty of sunshine for everyone to busk in.

It has required all of his skills to galvanise a community which now attends every occasion in reasonably large numbers.

The other notable achievements over the past 24 months has been how a growing number of young people are now attending GOA functions. Under Tony’s guidance, they have even been able to establish their own niche under the auspices of the GOA. A long time ago, we used to have as many as 60 young people at our functions, but over the years we lost contact with them.

Tony’s other skills have been to instil in each of the committees the need to be “with it” in the area of communication and has taken the GOA into cyberspace with excellent results.

His growing fame as the leading community leader has resulted in various Goan organisations requiring his mediation skills. Yet, even his patience has been tested but he continues to work at finding a solution.

Tony also serves on the committees of other Indian community organisations and is well connected with the Indian Consul General’s Office as well as the Consul General of Portugal in Sydney.

His current committee is: Abel do Rosario (Margao), Roy do Rosario (Margao), Tony Colaco (Margao), Colin Pereira (Moira), Amelia Pereira (Aldona), Ralph Vaz (Assonora), Yvette Braganza (Sangolda), Paul Dias, Bernard D’Souza.



One young man who I would like to single out (accusations of bias will be gratefully acknowledged) is Colin Pereira. He is the son of George and Sheila Pereira (ex-Nairobi).  George was the President of the association in the early 1980s and Sheila, a Konkani singer and socials organiser of no mean repute, were utterly dedicated to the community and involved their three boys Clive, Colin and Carl from the earliest days. Sheila was famous for jumping on tables and singing Konkani and Portuguese songs for our seniors. But everyone loved her forever for it. I know Colin is dedicating his services to the GOA in memory of his parents. Sheila is probably smiling from up there.

An interview with Tony Colaco:

What made you start? This has been a partnership between you and Alzira... thoughts?
To serve effectively in any community organisation requires the strong support of your spouse.  Alzira has been the rock and my greatest supporter since I joined the committee many years now. This was easy for me as Alzira served on the Committee as General Secretary in the early eighties. She knew of the commitment required, the temperament and the “Goan politics” if I may say so.   I still discuss strategies and use Alzira as a sounding board for ideas. Alzira has been hands on with the taking of bookings etc for all events for many years now.

When you started your children were fairly young and they were involved in the association as well: what contribution did they make?

I took both my kids since they were born to all of the GOA NSW functions that  Alzira and I attended. I must say that I am a bit lucky as both my kids - Clinton and Cherie’s love for the GOA NSW is still ongoing. They were always a part of my secret weapon when I needed any help before, during and after any events. They were there when I had to clean the hall after all the participants had left. The kids still ask me regarding the GOA calendar of events so that they can participate.  Clinton normally flies from the Gold Coast where he is studying to be a doctor to participate in the GOA events - whether it be a cricket match, anniversary dance or World Goa Day celebrations.  In fact, at the recent soccer match between the GOA NSW Youth and Veterans, Clinton was part of the youth team, Cherie was part of the cheer squad and I was the match referee. The kids’ contribution is ongoing – simple tasks like taking phone calls and leaving me messages that I receive on a daily basis, is a great help to me and the Association.
  What were the things that gave you the most satisfaction during your first stint? My first stint on a GOA Executive Committee was in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in the early eighties. I was the youngest member of the team and got my coaching from some of the best Goan leaders of that time. The rest of the Committee were all about three times my age and I learnt a lot from these veterans as to how to run a Goan Association. As a young treasurer, the responsibilities were huge. The club had two bars, a large double storied building, a badminton court, 2 tennis courts, a billiards room and over 2000 members.
My first stint with the GOA NSW was in the year 2000. At that time, I remember the AGM was discussing, amongst other things, whether the GOA should be wound up as it was difficult to find volunteers to serve on the Committee.  Glenn D’Cruz ultimately put his hand up to take on the position of President.

 

That  same night, I received a phone call from Glenn requesting me to take on the position of Treasurer. I gladly accepted. By doing so, the journey to serve the community in Sydney began. I resonated well with the community and with my financial background, I had a good understanding of the drivers that made up our Association’s finances. The journey of change was taking shape. Since that time, all of the committees that I have led, have left a surplus to the GOA funds each year. However, the greatest satisfaction was to see the Association alive and well and to see the number of attendances at all our events growing from year to year.
 

Again you came back to lead the GOA (when ?) at a time when the association was literally dying on its feet after you had left it in a fairly healthy state?
I came back in 2010.  I took a break as both my kids were about to do their HSC exams. I needed to provide them with all the support. Today, it is paying dividends. Cherie my daughter has just graduated from Sydney University as a Diagnostic Radiographer and is working at Westmead Hospital.  Clinton is about to complete his degree in Medicine from Bond University. I promised the Association that I would be back. I kept my word. I came back after two years. The Association needed to be recharged. I had time to reflect on this. I hand-picked  the next committee – dubbed the “Dream team”. Together we celebrated the 35th Anniversary of the association. The current Committee has built on the success of the previous committee and is aptly named as the “Innovative team”. We are looking forward to celebrating our 40th Anniversary in 2016.
It is now a buoyant and successful organisation. What has been secret of your success?
I owe the current healthy state of the Association to the men and women I work with on the team. I tell them personally and in public “I could not do it without you”.

It’s the people who make the difference. Good leadership is the key in bringing it all together. Leading by example is also very important. Having a plan for every event is critical, as if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.


Every event now has a detailed budget and a detailed run sheet where all the items are clearly itemised with responsibilities. Every event has a director assigned, who in turn appoints at least two co-directors, to carry-out the initial planning and to share it with the whole committee. The personal satisfaction and growth from managing an event cannot be measured. The committee celebrates its success when it meets face to face and we all encourage each other as we review the lessons learnt.

There has been a generational as well as a changing of the old guard: a lot of new young people have joined the association, and a lot of the original East African Goan founders are slowing down.

Indeed! The East African Goans were perhaps the first group of Goans to come to Sydney, Australia. Their pioneering effort led to the formation of the association in 1977. The model which worked so well in East Africa was exported to other parts of the world. The constitution we use is a modified copy of the East African GOAs – may I add that all of them have celebrated 100 years. The second wave was the Goans from Pakistan and the Middle East and those who ran away from the cold countries – UK and Canada. And finally, we had the big skilled migration from India including young professionals coming directly from Goa. The association is moving and powering ahead with the changing times and demographics. Today, we have representatives on the Executive Committee from Africa, Pakistan and India including Goa - 33 percent each.  It is sad to see that many of the pioneers have either passed away, or are in nursing homes today.
Who are the new Executive Committee members and how have you recruited them.
One of the challenges for any President of the GOA is to form a well-balanced and motivated team. To get motivated volunteers to serve on the Committee is always a challenging task for any community organisation. I am in a recruiting mode at functions that I attend. I am always questioning what will help us grow and thrive as a leading GOA in the world. The current executive is made up of highly talented and highly driven busy professionals, with an enormous personal following whose love for Goa and everything Goan is unbelievable. My role as President has been to harness this great treasure and deliver meaningful events that resonate with members of the Goan community here in Sydney.
 

What is even more delightful is the number of women who are taking on frontline roles.
An all-male or an all-
female committee lacks balance required in community organisations. We are blessed to have two very talented and hardworking busy executives on the Committee. Amelia and Yvette have brought to the table a different perspective and a compassionate and consultative approach in doing things.  
Another breakthrough achievement is the involvement of young
Goans in the Association: For more than 30 years the association struggled with encouraging youngsters to join the association with only intermittent success, in 2013, all this changed: explain what happened.
The youth of today are our future leaders. This needed to be recognised first. To ensure the Association as a “ going concern” we needed  a pipeline of young emerging leaders. In my opinion, some of the very strict policies of not having children attend our dances was to our detriment. We automatically made it hard for young families and new migrants to attend. This policy encouraged our members and their children to engage with the GOA. We have lost a generation of Goans because of our no children policy in my opinion. After consulting the committee and commissioning an informal enquiry as well as visits to dances in Goa during Christmas time, it became abundantly clear that this had to change. We now have children who are allowed to attend our dances, and in my opinion, we are planting the seeds in these young ones - the love for our Goan culture and rich heritage.

The natural progression was to form a youth leadership group which was formalised at the 2013 AGM. The youth have celebrated their First Anniversary dance and have many functions planned.  I am very proud of this achievement and would like the whole community to support it. This will secure our Association’s future for many more years to come.  
  While you have dedicated your time to the GOA NSW, you have also engaged many Indian organisations as well as the sister GOAs in Melbourne Victoria and Perth, what has that been like?
I am the Public Relations Director of the Council of Indian Australians (CIA) NSW.


I have also been nominated to represent NSW on the new Australian Council of Indian Australians – all these involvements have helped to keep the high profile of the Goan Association NSW intact.


I currently serve on the Finance Committee of my local church – Our Lady Queen of Peace . I have been doing so since the last 10 years.


I have kept in constant touch with other sister GOAs in Australia.


Further. I have worked with other likeminded Goan leaders globally to form the World Alliance of Goan Organisations.  The 2008 Global Reunion Dance organised at the Mandovi Riviera in Goa was a great success. Goans from over 20 countries attended this event.
Who are in your current committee: Abel do Rosario from Margao
Roy do Rosario from Margao
Tony Colaco from Margao
Colin Pereira from Moira
Amelia Pereira – Aldona
Ralph Vaz - Assonora
Yvette Braganza - Sangolda
Bernard Dsouza - Anjuna

Paul Dias - Verna


Looking back what would you say were your achievements so far?

    

1.       I pioneered the formation of the GOA Toastmasters Club with John Mascarenhas and Glenn DCruz.


2.    I started the World Goa Day celebrations in Sydney – This is now an annual event on our calendar.


3.        We are the co-founders of the Mango Cup which is now in its seventh year. This has assisted with the strong ties we maintain with the Manglorean Association, the Anglo Indian Association and the East Indian Association.


4.        We have been sending at least 2 of our youth each year to Goa to participate in the prestigious Know Goa Programme in Goa. We are the only Association in Australia to do this.


5.        Creating High Performance Executive teams which deliver results and maintain a healthy growing organisation which is financially viable.


6.        Maintained strong relations with both the Consul General of India in Sydney and the Consul General of Portugal in Sydney.


7.        The formation of the GOA NSW Youth Committee.


8.        Introduced an active website with strong presence in the social media which is assisting us in marketing our events.  The GOA website is no more an expense, but rather,it is a revenue earner with many organisations advertising on our website.


9.        Constantly reviewing the structure of the committee to keep pace with the changing needs of the community – the Cultural and Sports Director and the Social Services Support Director portfolios have been added to the Executive Committee.
10.        Constantly reviewing our Constitution and making it a living breathing document.

11.        I have even designed and made a BINGO board for the GOA NSW.