Asylum seekers, country hosts find common ground on a cricket oval at Wangoom

It’s hard to imagine anywhere further removed from the razor wire of Christmas Island than a cricket match at Wangoom.

And that’s probably the idea of organisers who brought 17 Sri Lankan asylum seekers living in Melbourne to the south-west yesterday for a friendly match and day out. 

According to Warrnambool’s Don Stewart, there’s a perception in the cities that country people aren’t welcoming to other cultures. 

During last September’s federal election, Mr Stewart and others held a public picnic to promote a compassionate approach to asylum seekers “just highlighting that there is support for refugees in the Warrnambool community”.

“Out of that a few of us thought we’d do something else,” Mr Stewart said. 

They linked with a Melbourne group called Home Among the Gum Trees that organises trips for asylum seekers. 

“Some are here for a week and some are here for two weeks. They’re all from an ethnic group called the Tamils in the north part of Sri Lanka,” Mr Stewart said. 

“It’s a break from the city. I suppose there’s a perception that people in the country are a bit ‘not open’ to people from other cultures and we want to break that down.

“There’s five (local) families who are all helping out.”

The week is more about sightseeing than politics. The asylum seekers who stay with families speak little English and are still afraid of reprisals against relatives in their home countries. 

Kandee, who asked to be known only by his first name, isn’t keen to talk about the situation in Sri Lanka. He fled by boat and was held at Christmas Island.

But he gave a glowing review of the south-west. 

Kandee and others have spent the week gazing at Tower Hill’s wildlife and seeing the coastline. 

“I have peace of mind. All the tourist places are in the one place … rivers, beach, koalas and kangaroos,” he said.

“We want to thank the people of Warrnambool. They are very kind people. 

“Australia is a beautiful place,” Kandee said. 

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