While the Turnbull Government considers new rules to settle migrants into rural areas, Goulburn’s multicultural population is demonstrating that immigration can boost local economies, address skill shortages and bring new cultural experiences to rural Australia.
An annual multicultural festival held in Goulburn’s historic Belmore Park in summer is drawing a growing audience, and other cultural events such as the upcoming Onam (Hindi) festival on 25 August and a Mega Music Show on 30 August – a ‘Bollywood’ style show to be held at the local Workers Club, are introducing new cultural experiences to the region.
The number of Thai, Chinese and Indian restaurants is also on the rise as migrants open new businesses offering international cuisine to local diners. Benefits of immigration, according to Goulburn Multicultural Centre Manager Heni Hardi, which increase the diversity and culture of the Goulburn Mulwaree region.
“We have a diverse multicultural population here, particularly with immigrants coming from India and the Philippines now, and arriving from African countries before that,” Heni said.
Immigration pathways include the 489 Visa which addresses skills shortages in rural and regional areas and requires visa holders to work in their designated regions for 2 years before relocating. The Federal Government’s plan is to require visa holders to stay in rural and regional areas beyond the current 2-year requirement. However, Goulburn also has a long-term refugee population which considers the town ‘home’.
“Refugees always like to live with a community and they will go where their friends and family are. We have refugees working here and opening businesses, owning homes and sending children to universities,” Heni said.
“We also have doctors, teachers and nurses working in this region. Immigrants contribute to our economy and help it grow. They also help create a diverse society.”
There are challenges for migrants though as they settle into a new country, including stereotyping, racism and exclusion. However for Heni, originally from Indonesia, Goulburn has been warm and welcoming and racism uncommon.
“In Goulburn, everyone is welcoming. We feel that it is our home.”
Other issues for the newly settled are language, employment and housing. “With no references, it’s hard to get rented homes,” Heni said. “But we help them here at the Goulburn Multicultural Centre.”
The Centre has some 22 volunteers to help 255 clients, as well as casual staff. Programs delivered include English conversation groups and help with obtaining a driver’s licence; resume and employment assistance and a raft of social and recreational activities, all designed to lessen isolation and establish links with other migrants, and the community.
For Heni, who’s managed the Centre for five years and been volunteering there since 2012, integration into a new society is often through joining group activities and learning new skills.
“People can get isolated when they come from another country but getting to know other people, music and dancing, and learning new things can help.”
It’s a vision she embodies and one that has led to her becoming a leader within the Goulburn Mulwaree community. From running Zumba classes to fundraising for autism to recently becoming the President of Argyle Rotary, volunteering and contributing are important and have led to community inclusion.
“I originally attended Rotary to talk about inclusion in 2016 and then I joined. On 26 June 2018, I became the President,” she said.
“I’m a volunteer and a people person. We are currently supporting people with autism in our fundraising but we’ve established gardens at the Crescent School and have worked with BDCU to raise money for the hospital here.
“We often attend Goulburn race days to fundraise and I call my fundraising team the ‘awesome team’ because they turn up in the cold weather, at night and in the early morning and on hot days. They are always helping.
“My aim is to help the community and, particularly, migrant women here because often they are still learning how to communicate and can’t speak up for themselves.”
Heni’s Facebook page carries her favourite saying: “Happy feelings will attract happy circumstances.”
“I’m fun. I’m Heni. I’m who I am,” she says with her trademark megawatt smile.
“I choose happiness over sadness and it’s something that I can give to others…I try to do the best I can for my community and while I’m still strong I want to give back because I’ve been blessed.
“I’m not rich but I can give my time, my kindness and my care.”
More information on the Goulburn Multicultural Centre and its programmes can be found here. Or if Zumba classes appeal, Heni runs them at the Centre on behalf of the Argyle Rotary Club on the last Saturday of each month at 10 am and 11 am. All funds raised from the classes go to the Goulburn Teapot Club Inc which helps local children with autism.