Carrie Ridley-Clissold, Program Manager for the Humanitarian Settlement Services program at Communicare in Perth, recalls the day a man with dusty boots and a cowboy hat decided to pay her a visit.
The man had read stories about people seeking asylum struggling to find accommodation and ending up homeless so he had driven 200km from the rural town of Collie to explain that the old coal mining town’s two real estate agencies held vacant properties,
“He sat me down and asked if we’d thought about Collie. He said it was a great town,” Carrie said.
Later, in mid-2013, when Communicare was approached to extend its asylum seeker support program to families, at the height of a housing rental crisis in Perth, Carrie’s thoughts turned to Collie. With a population of about 1,500, a major hospital, GPs, a Catholic school and affordable quality housing, Collie was seen as an ideal location to house a Kurdish asylum seeker family recently released from detention on Christmas Island.
Despite some initial negative publicity, Collie’s community rallied behind their new neighbours while the family had to overcome a few hurdles themselves. “When they heard they were going to the country they were not happy. In fact they tried to jump out of the car. There was a fear of the unknown,” Carrie (pictured) remembers:
The first week or two they were still very reluctant. Their luggage had been lost, they had $1,000 to their name and they were sitting in this nice house but not knowing what was going on. But it didn’t take them long to slowly start to realise that this was a good place. The community came out of the woodwork. It was incredible. This is not what you’d get in the city. People would see them walking in town. They’d stop and give them a lift. They’d arrive home and there would be fresh eggs at the doorstep, mandarins, clothes – they couldn’t get enough.
The three boys were enrolled at the local Catholic school and embraced by the local parish. After staying in initial short-term accommodation, the family were assisted into an old house once home to a parishioner.
The house was by no means palatial but it was refurbished and furnished with community support. The church organised a working bee and the local hardware provided paint and other material.
In Perth, the family would have been forced to pay about $450 a week in rent but in Collie for $100 they had their own backyard with a vegetable garden, lemon tree and chickens. The kids love attending school and are teaching their Mum to speak English and they are an integral part of the local soccer team. “They think they’re in heaven,” Carrie says.
I’ve been down there to see them and the kids have brought home Australian flags and said to Mum and Dad ‘I’m Australian’. The people of Collie were so keen to take them in and adopt them, there’s no doubt about it. For families, the country towns are a really good option because they’re cheaper, there’s more community support and it’s easier to get housing.