“Wow! Throughout my 40 years of coverage of diplomatic functions, 10 with The Korea Herald as cultural editor and 30 years as my own boss at The Korea Post, I have never seen a National Day party using the entire space of the Grand Ballroom, the Regency Ballroom and the lounge put altogether,” said Publisher Lee Kyung-sik of The Korea Post at the Australia Day 2015 party at Grand Hyatt Seoul on Jan. 29, 2015.
An estimated total of over 1,700 guests came. The host, the Embassy of Australia in Seoul, must have used a fortune, probably tens of millions of Won. One of the guests at the party said, “A party of this scale would cost 80 to 90 million won.”
Deputy Prime Minister/Minister of Education Hwang Woo-yea and former Prime Minister Goh Kun were there with other senior officials of the government and leaders of the Korean and international business communities, including CEO Sergio Rocha of GM Korea.
From the Diplomatic Corps came many mission chiefs who included (in alphabetical order) Ambassadors Jorge Roballo of Argentina, Elisabeth Bertagnoli of Austria, Petar Andonov of Bulgaria, Hernan Brantes Glavic of Chile, Tito Saul Pinilla Pinilla of Colombia, Sylvestre Kouassi Bile of Cote d'Ivoire, Tomas Husak of Czech Republic, Grecia Fiodalicia Pichardo of Dominican Republic, Nikoloz Apkhazava of Georgia, Gustavo Adolfo Lopez Calderon of Guatemala, Hassan Taherian of Iran, Khalil Ismai Abdul Sahib Al-Mosawi of Iraq, Aingeal O’onoghue of Ireland, Bessho Koro of Japan, Omar Al Nahar of Jordan, Kejjo Bien of Marshall Islands, Jose Luis Bernal of Mexico, Ganbold Baasanjav of Mongolia, Mohammed Chraibi of Morocco, Zahid Nasrulah Khan of Pakistan, Bill Veri of Papua New Guinea, Raul S. Hernandez of the Philippines, Tissa Wijeratne of Sri Lanka, Kulkumut Singhara Na Ayudhyya of Thailand, Hernani Filomena Coelho Da Silva of Timor Leste, Mark W. Lippert of the United States of America, Dr. Alba Florio Legnani of Uruguay and Mumba Smyth Kapumpa of Zambia. There also was Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Bernarrd S. Champoux of the United States Forces Korea.
(For Ambassador Kapumpa of Zambia, a Korea Post hat tip to Ambassador Bile of Cote d’Ivoire and for Lt. Gen. Champoux the same gratitude to Ambassador Andonov of Bulgaria, without whose assistance The Korea Post should have bypassed them.)
The guests came from all walks of life and it was impossible to introduce them all. There were former Minister of Foreign Affairs Yoo Myung-hwan, former Minister of Trade, Industry & Energy Bong-Suh Lee (now chairman of Danam Corp.), Chairman Cho Hai-hyung of Nara Holdings, Grand Hilton General Manager Berhhard Brender, CEO Peter Coleman of Woodside Energy Ltd., Chairperson Kim Chong-sook of Seoul Garden Club, Professor Byung-Jong Lee of Sookmyung Women’s University and Chairman Shin Wang-soo of Yangpyeong Business Association.
“Australia Day, which is on 26 January every year, is an opportunity for Australians to pause and reflect on the great Australian journey,” said Ambassador William Paterson of Australia in Seoul welcoming the guests. “We remember our past, and proudly celebrate Australia as it is today, an innovative nation infused by a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance, fair play and compassion.”
The Australia Day 2015, in fact, had a long string of firsts, besides the use of the enormous space of the venue and the all but unprecedented guest attendance.
For one thing, the guests were not to wait with a hungry stomach or a thirsty throat until all the celebration formalities were over.
On the contrary, they were welcome to all the foods and beverage just as they came, the Australian cherries, mangoes, almonds, beef, wine, beer and what’s not. “Of all the foods, the Australian cherries stand out,” praised Publisher Lee of The Korea Post, “as they taste really sweet in contrast with some other cherries in the market, which are a bit sour.” Ms. Joanne Pearce and Claire Reynolds manning the table loaded with a ‘mountain of Australian cherries’ looked so happy complimented on the cherries.
Why the flattery? Publisher Lee told the Australian ladies “I just want to do justice to your cherries.” In fact, however, Lee had a bit of hyperacidity and did not like tart fruits.
Another attraction at the party that night was the attendance of the GM Korea executives. Besides, CEO Rocha, there were Vice President Mark Polglaze, Managing Director Paul Gibson, and more. “It’s a GM Korea Day,” Lee told them.
At National Day functions, the National Anthems of the Republic of Korea and the hosting country are mostly by mechanical music. At the Australian party, the Korean Aegukga was presented by an attractive soprano, Ms. Kho Mi-hyun, and the Australian National Anthem by Vocal Star Dami Im.
“Our theme this year for Australia Day 2015 in Korea is ‘Showcasing Australia.’ With the entry into force in December 2014 of the free trade agreement between Korea and Australia, we want our guests to experience some of what Australia has to offer in a nation, a trade and investment partner and a diverse and dynamic culture,” said Ambassador Paterson.
To the person of Publisher Lee of The Korea Post, Australia is a special country from his memory of the Australian soldiers who fought side by side with the Korean soldiers during the Korean War of 1950-3 when Lee worked with the 1st British Commonwealth (Comwel) Division, of which one brigade was from Australia. Although Lee belonged to the 29th British Brigade as an interpreter-translator, there were frequent contacts among the three component brigades of the Comwel Division the other one being a Canadian brigade. As a little boy of 19 at the time, Lee remembers the Australian soldiers as getting much more pay than the soldiers of the other brigades.
Why the pay story? Plentifulness is the immediate mental picture formed when the name, Australia, is mentioned as seen at the party.
According to the Australian Embassy, Korean-Australians have played, and continue to play, an important role in the Australian story.
Australia welcomed its first wave of Korean immigration in the early 1970s, and it is estimated that over 88,000 people of Korean descent now call Australia home.
Korea is Australia’s third-largest source of international students, third-largest source of working holiday-makers and eighth-largest market for inbound tourists. With the active Korean community in Australia and the growing number of alumni in Korea the people-to-people links between the two countries are extensive and constantly expanding.
The Australian Government is committed to ensuring that more young Australians have an opportunity to live and study in Korea. Under the New Colombo Plan, which will begin in Korea this year, Australia aims to build on the existing education, cultural and people-to-people links that exist between the two countries.
Australia is an ideal partner for Korea in relation to President Park Geun-hye’s “creative economy” initiative, with strengths in medical and materials research and world-ranking universities.