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Australia Day: One beautiful story of migration. A metaphor for one million more.

Today is Australia Day – a great day for a barbecue at home, watching the cricket, and getting together with family and friends.

But there’s significant meaning beyond that, particularly for those who have come to appreciate Australia from a different way of life – like me.

Arriving in Australia as a young immigrant child in the mid 70s was a challenging, but rewarding and life changing experience that has shaped the person that I have become today.

Leaving a country torn apart by civil war and arriving to the safety and beauty of this wonderful country can only be understood by those who have experienced such a contrast of worlds.

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I grew up in Melbourne’s south where I went to school with children from various backgrounds and faiths. The majority were Anglo Australians, as were most of our neighbours. Some were welcoming and friendly. Others told us to “go back to where we came from”.

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Houda Merhi.

My mother was a great role model on how to treat our neighbours; she often hung a bag over the back fence to share Lebanese food with them and the neighbour reciprocated by hanging fresh fruit or vegetables from her garden back over the fence for us to find. Our next door neighbour used to give us apricots from their tree and my mother would return it to them in the form of apricot jam.

Having experienced both the good and bad from neighbours and some school peers, my family and I chose to focus on the good, as I still do today.

We built friendships with those who embraced us and could probably see the value in Australia becoming a more multicultural country. I believe this country would not be the cosmopolitan, trending, bucket list destination that it is today without the influence and contribution that countless communities have made, over the years.

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From as early as 1650 with the annual visits of the Macassan fisherman from Indonesia who lived and traded with the Aboriginal community, through to today’s most recent arrivals, each migrant community has added something of value to our society which helps to enrich us all.

It’s not just our economic position through the tough financial crisis that has made Australia the envy of the rest of the world; I believe it’s our success of multiculturalism which makes us so much richer than any balance sheet can ever show.

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That’s not to say that we live in a Utopia and that we haven’t had our challenges.

From my own observations and experience, most new arrivals have had to endure hardships and challenges both from outside and within their own community. It can sometimes take a generation or two for these communities to find their feet and their place in Australian society.

I feel very fortunate to have grown up and been educated in this country. Australia is a land of opportunity where you can truly do what you set your mind to. It has given me so much and in return I too give back in what ever way I can.

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I have volunteered in several fields over the years including as a tour guide at the State Library of Victoria, and now volunteer as a tour guide at the Islamic Museum of Australia. This has been incredibly enriching as I have the privilege of meeting people from all walks of life, faiths and backgrounds and share with them among other things, the stories and contributions that Muslims have made to Australia. It is through knowledge and education that we all grow and move forward.

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Through the education I received and opportunities available to me in this great country, I was able to attend business workshops and seminars, invent a product, get it to market, and become a small business owner helping to manage bedwetting – one of life’s many day to day issues experienced across cultures.

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Image via Tumblr.

Along with the millions of others who now call Australia home, I am indebted to the generosity and warmth of so many fellow Australians who help make this country one of the best in the world. We truly are the lucky country. This Australia Day, in particular, I will be thinking of the asylum seekers who also left their war torn lands in search of a better life.

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My thoughts will also be with the Aboriginal community who still seek justice and prosperity in their own land. We cannot control many of the human rights abuses that occur around the world, but we can certainly do more to affect positive change in our own backyard – because after all, everyone deserves a fair go.

We cannot truly be successful as a nation while there are those who are still suffering and seeking justice under our watch. I pray that 2015 will be a year where we can feel proud of the headway we have made in these areas, which will improve and affect the lives of so many.

This Australia Day, I will reflect on where I have come from, appreciate where I am today and look to the future with much hope for peace and justice for all.

Houda Merhi is an artist, small business owner, and volunteer at Islamic Museum of Australia.

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