People from around the world are seeking better lives in Newcastle, writes Emily Burley.
Australia really is the lucky country. We have a lot to offer, from quality education and a government relatively free from corruption, to that iconic laidback lifestyle and some of the world’s most unique scenery.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of people from all corners of the globe choose to make Australia their new home. Some come seeking refuge, while others are simply looking for change. All come chasing better lives.
Whether or not we have a responsibility to share our nation’s gifts with these people is, and probably always will be, a heated debate. We can argue about who was born where or how many people we can afford to take in, but I think we can all agree that everybody deserves to live a life of happiness, freedom and prosperity.
Novocastrians are compassionate, kind and want to help others but they find politics off-putting.
Welcome to Australia is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to creating a culture of welcome in our country. Welcome to Australia celebrates cultural diversity and focuses on the positive things newcomers bring to our society.
Communications Officer for the Newcastle branch of Welcome to Australia, Kristi Pritchard-Owens, says being non-political allows the organisation to concentrate on helping people in the community.
“In our experience, many Novocastrians are compassionate, kind and want to help others but they find politics off-putting,” she said.
“Welcome to Australia believes that the best way to change people’s minds about migration, refugees and asylum seekers is to bring them into contact with their stories and help foster an understanding.”
I didn’t have a decent school or clothes or shoes. I remember the first time I had shoes I was eight or nine years old.
Berias Masseque arrived in Newcastle almost six years ago. Berias is a musician and came to Australia to study music production – an opportunity he did not have in his home country of Mozambique.
“Growing up in Mozambique was really, really different,” he said.
“I didn’t have a decent school or clothes or shoes. I remember the first time I had shoes I was eight or nine years old. We used to walk to school. We used to walk about two kilometres just to get water.”
The immigration process was almost impossible for Berias and his family.
“I had to be really stubborn to get here. It was a two year process.
“The plan was to come and do some studies, looking for education. You have to pay your own fees, which are very expensive, and then there’s accommodation. You need to prove to the Department of Immigration that there is enough money to be able to pay your fees and rent for at least 12 months.
“I came first with my wife and one child and my wife was coming to study as well. When she finished she had to go home for two years, so I was here by myself for another two years, and my wife and the kids were back home,” he said.
“Then, the process of bringing them back again was another challenge. So only two years later they managed to come and join me again in Australia.
“It was lonely but it was much better to have one person here, because if you were all gone, to come back again would be a really big problem. We wanted to stay here and finish our studies, and we want to give our children a better education here.”
All of this can contribute to social isolation. This is where the simple act of friendship can really help.
Welcome to Australia provides support to new arrivals as they settle into their Australian lives.
“There are government agencies and other services helping them, however an organisation such as Welcome can help build authentic relationships with members of the local community,” Kristi said.
“We can also talk to the agencies, raise possible issues families may be having or suggest ways in which we may be able to help.”
Getting to Australia is difficult, but the challenges don’t stop there.
“Generally, the language barrier is the biggest, while cultural differences – learning how to be Australian – is another,” she said.
“All of this can contribute to social isolation. This is where the simple act of friendship can really help. While refugees take English classes, and many migrants do as well, conversational English is a different kettle of fish.
“In Newcastle in particular, finding suitable long-term housing can be difficult. As any renter around here knows, the market is very tight. Add to that difficulties with language and culture and sometimes it can seem an impossible task.”
Start by simply smiling at someone from a different background to yours.
For Berias, it was a struggle to balance study with working to pay his fees and to support his family.
“I had to work during the night doing night shift and all day I had to be at TAFE. I was working weekends, so I didn’t have much time to do study, so it was very hard in that way,” he said.
“It was very lonely and I had to sacrifice the kids. I had to work, to send money to the family and have money to keep me going here.”
The hard work paid off. In 2012, Berias was awarded International Student of the Year.
“It was a very, very special day. I’ll remember going to Sydney and meeting the Premier. After the hard work and a lot of sacrifice, it made the hard work feel worthwhile.”
Berias has dedicated much of his time to giving back to his new community. As a youth worker, he mentors Australian kids with mental disabilities. He helps them through their challenges while sharing the African culture.
Kristi says this willingness to contribute to society is often overlooked.
“An often-heard complaint is people from different backgrounds ‘don’t try to assimilate’, but many of the families we know take great delight in developing their ‘Australianness’, learning new phrases or doing the same things as their Aussie friends,” she said.
“For those who are lucky enough to do so, sharing a meal with someone of a different background can be an amazing eye opener.
“I would suggest anyone who isn’t sure about refugees and migrants should strike up a conversation with one. Learn what they have come from, why they chose to leave everything they knew and come to a country that is very different to their own.
“Or if that’s a bridge too far, start by simply smiling at someone from a different background to yours.”
People are just naturally gifted and if you have a school that will nurture that gift, they can be better.
Berias believes his music played a large part in building new relationships.
“It allowed me to make friends, to meet people. Playing music breaks all the barriers, culture barriers. You skip colour and all of that, so music made my life much easier to settle in,” he said.
While the Masseque family hope to become permanent Australian residents next year, Berias plans to one day return to Mozambique and start a music school.
“It’s definitely something I want to do. I always wanted to learn music, but there’s never been a music program there, and so I want to go and give that opportunity.
“There’s so much talent in Africa. People are just naturally gifted and if you have a school that will nurture that gift, they can be better.”
WATCH: Berias Masseque – Freedom From Fear
To listen to more of Berias’ music and to find details of his upcoming performances, see the Berias Masseque & Afro-Fusion Band Facebook page.
Visit Welcome to Australia for more information on the organisation, upcoming events and ways you can help break down the cultural divide.