THILEEBAN and Devarni Kajalingam’s tale is a cautionary one for the advocates of bullish population growth for regional centres.
The Sri Lankan couple has moved to Bathurst with two-year-old daughter Hirani and are trying to build a new life in a new town and a new country.
They are fortunate to have the assistance of the Bathurst Refugee Support Group and they have settled in a regional centre with an open and welcoming nature.
But still it is has been far from easy.
Mr and Mrs Kajalingam have both found it difficult to find work, even with Sister Bernie Evens taking a personal interest in their case and pushing their cause with local employers.
They enjoy the quiet of Bathurst life but may have to move back to Sydney if they don’t get work soon.
And they are not alone. Hundreds of refugees in regional centres are facing the same difficulties, even as state and federal government consider programs to relocate more refugees out of the capitals to help ease population strains on the major cities.
But the question of population growth should not only focus on the major cities. Instead, it should be a statewide discussion with major regional centres – and particularly Bathurst – part of the conversation.
Most people can see the potential cultural, economic and compassionate benefits of encouraging refugees to relocate to the bush, but there is plenty of work to do before that potential can be realised.
Bathurst’s proximity to Sydney makes it the perfect release valve for a Sydney that is bursting at the seams, but this region has much more than just geography to recommend it.
Bathurst also boasts a thriving economy and diversity of local industry that is the envy of other regional cities.
Without a heavy reliance on a single industry such as agriculture or mining (indeed, education is Bathurst’s largest employer), the Bathurst economy is largely immune to the worst peaks and troughs that other areas must endure.
But no-one gains if refugee families go through the emotional upheaval of moving to the bush if the infrastucture and employment to support them are not in place before they arrive.
We want to give families like the Kajalingams real hope, not a false dream.
Bathurst will welcome refugees, but the government must help us do so.