The Apex Club of Albury took the opportunity to live the forth ideal, re-connect with our past and, most importantly, have a great time this Christmas season.
In the 1950s the Bonegilla migrant camp, approximately twenty kilometres outside of Albury, was one of the major stepping off points for post war migrants coming to Australia. During this time the Apex Club of Albury held an annual Christmas pageant for the camp’s children, organising visits from Santa and bags of sweets. During the time it operated 320,000 migrants moved through the Bonegilla camp, so many thousands of families received a small gesture of welcome from the Apex Club of Albury.
This year we, in a small way, revived that tradition by hosting some newly settled families from the local community at our own kids Christmas Party. This traditional social event in our Club’s calendar, where all of the members’ kids get an opportunity to spend some time together and receive a visit from Santa, seemed a perfect fit for newly settled families who are looking to build a life in this country.
I started making calls back in September to various groups who I thought might be able to put us in touch with some families and was lucky enough to be contacted by Jane Pope from the Multicultural Council of Wagga Wagga. I explained a little about Apex to Jane and told her what I had in mind. The criteria that I gave to Jane was as follows, we wanted families with children of a similar age range to those in our Club and for whom a Christmas celebration would be culturally appropriate.
Jane understood what we were aiming to do right away and started looking for appropriate families.
I had spoken to the Club Board about my plans, but had not spoken yet to the members as a whole, and while I was confident that most people would be happy with the plan I realised that there may be a bit of resistance to interfering with one of our traditional social events. As it turned out the Club overwhelmingly supported the idea and approved a budget to buy presents for all of the children that we were hosting.
Jane found four families, with fourteen children in total, who were willing to come to our Christmas party and provided us with a list of the children’s names, ages and gender so that we could buy suitable gifts for them. Jane also organised volunteers from a refugee support group in Albury to transport the families to and from our party, as most of them either do not have cars or do not have a driver’s license. The families originally came from Sudan, Togo and Ethiopia and are all now permanent residents, living in Albury.
It was amazing to see these gregarious kids mixing with our own, joining in the fun with our visiting clown, playing cricket and soccer and of course anxiously awaiting to see what they would receive from Santa. Most of these children had spent their entire lives in refugee camps in the African desert, so getting presents from a cheery guy in a red suit was a marked contrast to their previous Christmases.
Speaking with the parents was an eye opener for many of our Club’s members. It is almost impossible to understand the trials that these people have been through to build a better life for themselves until you have heard it first hand. I can honestly say that the Apexians gained as much from our guests as we gave to them. The consensus amongst the members was that we should definitely repeat the event next year.
The day after the event I had one of our members ring me, bursting with ideas about what more we could do to help these families settle into our community and perhaps even, when they had found their feet, become members of our club. He described the Christmas party as “the most meaningful thing I’ve done in Apex.” and it was amazing to hear his new found enthusiasm.
Talking with the families and the volunteers from the Sanctuary group it was clear that one of the biggest things that these new settlers need is for people to give their time to teach them the basics of Australian life. Mowing a lawn, changing a light bulb or a tap washer are all things that we take for granted, but are skills that these families have never been exposed to. Hopefully in the new year the Apex Club of Albury can build on the relationships that we now have with these families and help them to be active participants in our community.
Albury Apex, I’m proud of you all, you punch way above your weight and you’re all class.