There are more than 500 sister city arrangements between Australian towns and their international counterparts, but what significance do they have amid the pandemic?
Roughly 250 local government areas are involved in sister city arrangements. About 25 of them are in WA, spanning from Port Hedland to Albany.
Sister City Australia national secretary Mike Jakins says sister cities are formal arrangements made between the councils of two cities, either within a country or overseas, with the intention of building community and business relationships.
“The whole aim is about building world peace,” he says.
“If we can get this appreciation of how people live, rather than focus on the negative side, we could end up in a good place.”
Mr Jakins says the Sister Cities movement has its origins in 1956, when US President Dwight D. Eisenhower set up the People to People initiative, aimed at boosting international friendship through educational and cultural programs in the wake of World War II’s horrors.
The US Sister Cities Organisation was subsequently formed in 1974, followed by the Australian equivalent in 1979.
As part of these arrangements, authorities from local towns travel to their sister cities, learn about the communities, and facilitate educational programs like school exchanges.
While many programs are on hold amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Jakins says local government authorities have kept in contact with their counterparts through online means such as Zoom and are planning for when the borders open again.
Sister Cities Australia president Bill Wilson is a Vietnam veteran and spent 30 years in local government. He says sister cities play a role in establishing communities across the world.
“I’ve dealt with all sorts of people all over the world. I’ve beaten cancer, I’ve walked on the Great Wall of China, I’ve been to the pyramids,” he says.
“I don’t want my children or their children to be involved in a war.
“So, if we make friends with more people, we’ve got less likelihood of being involved in a war.”
One of the many local governments which have sister cities is the City of Cockburn. They include the coastal Croatian town of Split, overlooking the Adriatic sea; Yue Yang in China – just 200km south-west of the now-infamous Wuhan city; and the shipbuilding town of Mobile, Alabama in the USA.
Cockburn mayor Logan Howlett says the sister city arrangements have played a vital role in cultural, knowledge and business exchange opportunities locally and offshore for many years.
Projects include plans to bring up to five Croatian song and dance teachers to Cockburn in a bid to promote cultural exchange in the local community, many of whom are of Croatian heritage. The initiative, however, has seen setbacks due to the pandemic.
“At the same time, we’ve had the Noongar elders engaging with many of the sister visits to our city and explaining and showing and demonstrating their culture,” he says.
“We’ve supported Noongar elders in performing, for example, going to Mobile in the USA to perform over there and be part of their cultural fair.”
In addition, Cockburn has been involved in bringing Canada, New Zealand and Noongar elders together, as well as world-touring exhibitions and engagement between Chinese officials and local organisations like Chung Wah.
With the 23rd anniversary of Cockburn and Split’s sister city arrangements coming up on July 6, Mr Howlett says the council is planning to celebrate the occasion with the Croatian Consulate General, Croatian business leaders and local community groups.