A Victorian woman has launched a peaceful counter-protest to a fierce campaign raging against the development of a mosque in the regional city of Bendigo.
Elise Snashall-Woodhams, 25, rallied a small army of people to put up hundreds of multi-coloured balloons, to send a message that ‘everyone is welcome in Bendigo’.
She says she hopes others will see the balloons and join in.
Black balloons started appearing across Bendigo on Friday, including outside the homes of city councillors, after council approved plans to build the city’s first mosque.
Ms Snashall-Woodhams told SBS she posted a call out on social media, because she wanted to show that not everyone was against the plans.
“People are commenting on articles that Bendigo is just a town of red-necks, which is totally not true,” she said.
“I’d hate for a vocal minority to dictate what people feel, when I think the majority of people in Bendigo are quite welcoming.”
Councillors voted 7-2 on Wednesday night to approve building, amid heckling from protestors.
The council received more than 400 letters of objection to the $3 million development, which will be funded by the Australian Islamic Mission.
Council documents show the majority of complaints related to concerns over the influence of Islam, citing the threat of terrorism and the introduction of Sharia law.
Snashall-Woodhams says she believes much of the opposition comes down to people’s fear of the unknown.
“It’s just breaking down those barriers and showing that every person is just a person. Everyone should be free to practice their culture, whether that’s in a church, a synagogue or in a mosque,” she said.
Separately, a petition on Change.org to ‘show support for multiculturalism and diversity in Bendigo’ has gathered more than 600 supporters.
Snashall-Woodhams says she hopes the colourful balloons don’t further inflate the tempers of anti-mosque campaigners.
“I think people are concerned about how they can show their support without coming under the wrath of these people so we just thought this would be a nice first step,” she said.