A guest at the refugee picnic took a final look at the Castlemaine botanical gardens in their autumn splendour and said to one of the organisers: “This is the best day I’ve had since arriving in Australia”.
The comment was music to the ears of the team of people from Rural Australians for Refugees and churches and community groups who had put a large picnic together for refugees living in Melbourne who have come to Australia mainly from Iran, Tanzania and Pakistan.
Josh Lourensz from Lentara UnitingCare said recreational events like the Castlemaine picnic provide a welcome distraction from the daily struggles of housing, employment and keeping in contact with families overseas.
“It gives refugees a few hours of fun and a chance to meet people outside their immediate circles.”
Other days out have included visits to Anglesea, a magic show and the Melbourne Zoo.
“These events are particularly appreciated by people suffering from depression and anxiety, they value being in a safe place,” Mr Lourensz said.
The Castlemaine people who put the event together said they enjoyed having fun with their visitors, particularly playing games like soccer and a tug-o-war. One organiser said the contest should be renamed a “tug-of-peace”.
Two IGA supermarkets in Castlemaine donated snacks and icy poles that augmented the delicious country cooking. One picnic organiser said “I felt like Father Christmas as I handed the icy poles out. They were a real hit with everyone and helped our visitors feel even more welcome here.”
One of the organisers, Solway Nutting, described the day as “just lovely”.
“The animals we had were a terrific attraction, food was abundant and face painting, balloon twisting and origami-folding absorbed many kids,” Ms Nutting said.
“The tug-of-peace was to have been the best of three but it was more peaceful to stop when the score was even. Anyway, we were all too winded to do another!
“Our guests were delightful and there were lots of local people making them welcome. The picnic was well worth doing and doing again for another year.”