Bruno Spandonide, 38

I’ve been in Australia almost thirteen years.

My parents were political refugees from Romania when it was a dictatorship. It took courage and organisation for them to get to Paris. I naturalised French within a few months of my birth. I consider myself a very privileged political refugee. I went to a bilingual school. I grew up in a very multicultural area of Paris, with communities from Mali, Senegal, Morocco, Vietnam, Turkey, Chechnya and Lebanon. Our family comes from all over – ethnically Romanian, Russian and Greek – but I have a very strong French connection culturally; I was born, educated and raised as a French person.

We moved in Bendigo in 2015, my wife had family here and her grandma was sick; it was important for us to spend time with her. Then my wife’s relatives needed someone to house-sit. It was convenient because my work at the time was fly-in, fly-out in but we needed a base.

We had good feelings about Bendigo. We are super happy to be here. We arrived right in the middle of the mosque protests and I said to my wife, I’m not sure about Bendigo, but very quickly it did appear that most of the protests were initiated by people who were not from Bendigo.

At first the quietness was challenging; the level of activity. In Australia people live individualistic lifestyles in general, breaking in to those networks requires a lot of effort, especially for people who are not from an established Anglo-Australian background. I’m very lucky that I have my wife [who is Anglo-Australian]. It is hard to make genuine social connections when you are a newcomer. My wife came across Multicultural Services within the first three months that we arrived and we saw a very different side of Bendigo. We both said, ‘Oh this place sounds really cool, we should actively try to get involved’. We arrived in April and my wife started volunteering in May. Then I started working for Multicultural Services doing some French courses. We made some great friends. A solid 75% of our network are people who were not born in Bendigo or are recent arrivals in Bendigo. That’s not to dismiss the wonderful people who are locally born and are dear friends or family members, but Multicultural Services was an amazing point of contact for us.

Now I volunteer at the Feast of Stories each month and I champion Food Safari at work. We volunteer at Zinda Festival also. We are very closely involved and consider everyone as friends in Multicultural Services. You don’t have a lot of workplaces like that, where you actually work with friends.

I see Australia as a country of freedom and social justice, a country that promotes positive intercultural relationships, brings people together, is inclusive and open to others. And being able to influence some of the processes that are in place and maybe to optimise them, that’s something I truly believe in. I try to share the French enthusiasm and passion to advocate for freedom in Australia.

Having had this family experience of people travelling in different experiences all over the world; my aunty and my grandparents say, ‘Our home is the world’, so we have to look after each other – in a global sense – all over the world. And our home locally is reflecting that; creating a local place that is inclusive of anyone in the world and creating a special connection to everywhere else in the world.