IT’S not uncommon for Sardorbek Ergashev to have to explain where he’s from.
Many people would need to quickly reference a map to locate his home country of Uzbekistan.
The dairy pastures of the south-west are worlds apart from the Silk Road that cuts through the central Asian nation.
Since December Mr Ergashev and his wife Dilnozahon, along with their children Muhammad, 6, and Kamronbek, 2, have called Ballangeich home.
Mr Ergashev arrived in Australia on his own after a search for online work brought him to Gippsland.
“I found a farm experience program in Australia so I applied and got a visa and came to Australia,” Mr Ergashev said. “I wanted to stay and work longer.”
Luckily he was sponsored to do work as a farmhand in the south-west.
His son Muhammad is Panmure Primary School’s only overseas-born pupil.
Uzbekistan is central Asia’s most populated country, with 30 million citizens.
Once part of the Soviet Union, it gained independence in 1991. Uzbekistan’s pastures and cotton production fields are vastly smaller compared with Australia’s expansive farmland, Mr Ergashev said.
But there’s a more obvious difference.
“We have no oceans. We’re landlocked and there’s no sea and that’s another reason we came to Australia. I like the ocean,” Mr Ergashev said.
Being away for five years made him homesick for some unlikely things and it’s made for some interesting discussions with customs when he’s returned home from holidays.
“Every time I come here I bring my rice with me from Uzbekistan. It’s a dark brown rice. I make the Uzbek national food palov,” he said.
Sharing the last four letters of its name with the countries around it hasn’t won Uzbekistan any favours. Mr Ergashev regularly has to correct misconceptions.
“Uzbekistan is a safe country, it’s not like Afghanistan or Syria. Many people think Uzbekistan is like Pakistan and there’s fighting. But it’s different and very peaceful,” he said.
Its archeological attractions are also gaining more interest from international visitors.
“Many Australian tourists are going to Uzbekistan because there’s buildings thousands of years old,” Mr Ergashev said.