THIS week marks a special moment for Bendigo, with the announcement of the inaugural Refugee Week Business and Employee Recognition Awards hosted by the Rural Australians for Refugees Bendigo.
It’s a welcome move that acknowledges the remarkable contribution a group of people has made to our city and broader region, despite having been here just a short time.
In that time, Bendigo has come a long way, and we have grown from being one of the most Anglo-Saxon federal electorates in Australia, to one whose multicultural character has undergone a massive and relatively rapid transformation.
The 2016 census revealed our city’s population was about 112,000 and approximately eight per cent of us were born overseas.
That might not seem a lot, but a few decades ago, just on five per cent of us could make that same claim.
Local support agencies have relished the opportunity to engage with many of those who have chosen Bendigo as their home.
There has been support and empathy from the state government to help those agencies and organisations charged with rendering service and support and recognize the extra call on their resources.
This is a good story for Bendigo.
Bendigo has become a welcoming city and we have been enriched by what others have brought to us.
Different cultures, different faiths, different sports and different languages can be barriers, but they can also be opportunities.
Approximately 15 years ago, the City of Bendigo operated a highly successful skilled migration program, in conjunction with the state government that won it much acclaim and deserved acknowledgement.
The program offered newly settled Bendigo residents the chance to live and work in our community and to share in what Bendigo had to offer their families.
This was, arguably, the beginning of what we now share today.
Most of our more recently arrived citizens have come from India, Thailand and Burma (Myanmar).
And while it’s easy to think that many came to Bendigo to learn and enjoy a new way of life, it would be foolish not to also acknowledge that this has been a learning experience for all of us.
As Australians we are privileged to share our fortunate way of life and the relative luxuries and lifestyle living in this country affords us all.
We should be grateful that we have the opportunity, and the means to do so.