By Natasha Fujimoto
Chris Hazelman has left an indelible mark on the Ethnic Council, having dedicated 15 years as manager. His departure is a significant loss for the Council, but it is also a moment of reflection and gratitude for the contributions he has made.
During his time as manager, Chris has learned a great deal about the challenges and opportunities facing multicultural communities, particularly throughout the immediacy of response required throughout Covid and last year’s flood crisis which highlighted the importance of identifying and leveraging the technology and social media used by individual communities to covey key and vital messaging.
Building and fostering strong relationships with all levels of government, Chris has worked closely with a wide range of stakeholders, including community leaders, government officials, and business owners to promote understanding and build bridges between different cultures.
With all the complexity and challenge that cultural diversity has brought to Greater Shepparton for well over 100 years, fostering economic growth as well as cultural vibrancy, it has been the growth in refugee arrivals that has been the hallmark of change during Chris’ time at the Ethnic Council.
“Shepparton’s demographic profile is unique for a provincial Australian City. For well over 100 years, the region has been a destination point for non-traditional migration, due to intensive irrigated agriculture.
“Everyone got their start on the farms, starting from the Greeks, Italians and the Albanians in the 20s, followed by the Turks in the 60s, a large Punjabi community in the 80s and later, Pacific Islanders.”
“But in the last 20 years or so, the refugee intake into Australia has increased and a significant number of those people have come to Shepparton for the same reasons all the previous migrants did-namely the availability of employment,” Chris said.
With refugees now constituting 10 percent of Greater Shepparton’s total population, a unique demographic unheard of anywhere else in regional Australia, Chris said,
“What we’ve seen in my time is the growth of those refugee communities. Early in the piece we had a very small African community, initiated with a pilot program from the Commonwealth which saw 13 Congolese families settle here.
“But from there and with continuing labour demands here, we’ve seen an absolute explosion of people from Sudan and Afghanistan from about 2008 onwards and I think that trend is going to continue.
“In pre Covid days, backpackers from Europe picked 38 percent of the fruit but they disappeared off the scene and the refugee community has essentially filled that gap along with an increase in Pacific Islanders under the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme.
“These trends are not going to change, if Shepparton’s history tells us anything, somewhere on the horizon another group, a different community, will always come.”