A grateful community gathered in numbers to thank and pay tribute to Anton Swan OAM, the Honorary Consul for Sri Lanka in Queensland, who is stepping down from his official duties this month after a tenure of 33 years.
More than 250 people attended a gala dinner organised by the Federation of Sri Lankan Organisations of Queensland to felicitate Anton and his wife, Bronwen, at the Souths Sports Club, Acacia Ridge, on Saturday, July 15.
The line-up of guests included representatives of the FSOQ and its member organisations, State Member for Mount Ommaney Jess Pugh, Brisbane City Councillor Angela Owen, Dean of Consular Corps Michael Horvath, the Swan family and members of the Brisbane Sri Lankan community. The night started with the traditional lighting of the oil lamp, followed by speeches, cultural dances and a song by gifted young entertainers.
Taking a leadership role in Sri Lanka’s expatriate community in Queensland has come naturally to Anton Swan. He has been a driving force in linking communities here and abroad through good times and bad. This has never been more evident than when the wider community was called into action to help in times of need.
Anton’s contribution to the community reached far beyond his official duties. He is a dynamic figure as patron of Sri Lankan organisations in Brisbane that have come together for many fundraising events to support local and overseas causes.
The devastating tsunami of 2004 brought out the best in our community when Anton, along with Bill Deutrom, Jayantha Pathikirikorale and a hard-working team, engaged government, generous welfare agencies and businesses to send relief to Sri Lanka. One of the big ventures of the Sri Lanka Disaster Relief Fund was the despatching of a 40-foot container of emergency aid in 2005, followed by the delivery of 60 computers to schools in stricken areas.
Through all this, Anton played his part as community leader by lending a hand, from loading containers of beds and packing aid, to generating support from government and businesses. He played a key role in liaising with the Queensland Government on its $2 million grant to build 225 houses in Sri Lanka.
In 2006, the Sri Lankan Brisbane community responded in kind by raising $20,000 to aid people affected by Cyclone Larry in north Queensland. Again in 2011, food-fair projects raised funds to help Brisbane flood victims; and, in 2018, Anton headed a drive to help the drought-affected Australian farmers.
Anton faced one of his biggest challenges when Covid-19 raged in 2020-21, a period when he worked closely with consuls from 50 other countries to guide, advise and inform communities in Brisbane. Current Dean of the Consular Corps Michael Horvath praised Anton for his dedication and commitment in mitigating the effects of the pandemic.
FSOQ president Jay Weerawardena said the Brisbane community owed Anton a debt of gratitude, saying he had shown consistent leadership and hard work through the greatest times of need. Past president Jayantha Pathikirikorale, who has worked closely with Anton over the past 33 years, also paid tribute to his abounding generosity and guidance.
Anton, in thanking the guests, said it had been a wonderful journey over 33 years.
“This path in service of the community was multi-layered – most often smooth and sometimes rocky,” he said.
“In my position as a community leader, I have seen hundreds of good-hearted people come together to help in times of adversity, never more readily than in the past 20 years when Sri Lanka faced great distress through a devastating tsunami, extreme poverty, lack of medical supplies and hospital beds, and the pervasive destruction of terrorism.
“It was a credit to our community that people rolled up their sleeves to help in any way they could – through food fairs, tapping generous donors and organising regular fundraising dinner-dances.
“I have been privileged to be in the frontline of these projects as patron of the organisations and remain amazed at the zeal and vigour the volunteers showed as they filled large shipping containers with hospital beds, computers for schools and all kinds of aid.
“Being here in this community has been a fantastic learning experience, and I am thankful for the skills and knowledge I’ve gained to help me in my professional and personal lives.”
Anton thanked his wife, Bronwen, and family for their love and support.
“For more than 50 years, Bronwen has been in step with me during my rewarding journey in service of others,” he said.
“It’s been a pleasure working in my role as a representative of the country of my birth, and I will genuinely miss it. But I will always have the fond memories of a community that has enriched my life and left an impression on me.”
In a special message, Sri Lanka’s former High Commissioner to Canberra, Somasundaram Skandakumar, said: “It was an unparalleled contribution over three decades in which Anton upheld our image with dignity, while selflessly serving the needs of our people in Queensland with his gentle demeanour.”
Report: Lawrence Heyn