Eddie Whitham is the Chairman of Multicultural Tamworth Inc. and winner of the 2019 Premier's Waratah Award.
This is his story.
The war in Indo China which dragged from the 1950s to the 70s was ever present in my mind when we heard that we could make a difference in settling people from war torn places. We took the steps to bring families here under the Community Refugee Resettlement Scheme. This allowed local communities to be right up front. There was minimal funding and just about no rules. It was compassion matched with need. The community was amazing. Our first families came in June 1978, straight from camps in Thailand; (Lao refugees). We probably made every mistake in the book. However, 40 years on, it has been a great success; and paved the way for Tamworth to be home to more than 80 nationalities.
I am 76 years old with plenty of things to do. I will always be trying ideas to enable migrants to settle and succeed. That's what I do. Also I will continue to write my stories about people. I have written 120 short stories and 4 novels so far. My wife Barbara and I travel to more than eighty countries so far, that should still happen as there is so much more to see and do.
My mother left Poland in 1933 with her family to settle in Jerusalem. My father was an Australian soldier from Victoria. He met my mother in Jerusalem while he was a guard at Goldsmith House, the Allied Forces Headquarters in 1941, not far from my mother's work place. They later married that same year.
Mum was sent to Australia on the Mauritania in 1942, as part of the evacuation of women and children from the Middle East; that would make her one of the earliest War brides of the 2nd World War.
I was born in Wangaratta in 1943. Mum had 9 children, I was number two. We lived then in Western Victoria in Timboon, Port Campbell, on the Great Ocean Road and Colac.
I left school at 15 and had a few jobs. Mum and dad and seven of my siblings left Australia to go to Israel in 1967 to help the country to grow and see her aging parents. Mum died there at the age of sixty. Dad and most of my siblings returned to Australia over the next two decades. Dad lived with us in Tamworth until he died at 92 years old.
I left Victoria, met Barbara and when we married settled in Tamworth where we commenced our family business of carpets and office furniture 45 years ago (Still going!). We have two children and four grand children.
The great challenge is to be able to become a public figure and keep the focus on the real issues and keeping the locals up to date. It is not difficult to help new people, but keeping transparency for the community is the hardest thing. We must always keep everyone informed to remove doubts, suspicions and ignorance; this leads to greater awareness and acceptance of other faiths and other cultures.
I encourage everyone to learn about their neighbours, be prepared to walk that extra yard to make people welcome and become our friends.
It took many years to achieve acceptance for new comers; but when I received the Tamworth Citizen of the Year in 2014 and then received the Minister's Waratah Award at the Premier's Harmony dinner in 2019, I knew the people in our community understood what it was about. The award is for all of those who dedicated their love for new migrants, reaching out and enjoyed being a part of what we do.