Leeton migrants share stories of life in Australia's friendliest town with Back Roads
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Ken Dachi has just returned from a long-awaited trip to Kenya to visit his mum, looking a bit different from when he left Australia.
"My mum said I had a good job in Australia and should look nice, so she made me cut off my dreadlocks," Ken says with a laugh.
And it's a big laugh, one that matches Ken's booming voice and huge smile perfectly.
Ken and his wife Sekai, a nurse, moved to Australia from Cambridge in the UK in 2019.
Ken's work in international aid relief had taken him to volatile, war-torn countries around the world, but he wasn't sure how well his skills would transfer in Australia.
When Ken and Sekai first arrived in Leeton, they were invited to dinner at a neighbour's house.
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They made instant connections, word spread about the couple and Ken was approached about a job at the Leeton Shire Council.
"Someone told someone, who told someone about me. To put it simply, we went viral around Leeton," says Ken.
Ken is now Leeton's multicultural program adviser, helping new migrants find their feet, especially those who've moved here from big cities.
"To find a town like this, really championing the cause for settlement, is incredible.
"What do you think of our palm trees? Look at the way they are perfectly lined.
"It continues to be a beautiful experience."
Leeton is well known as a food bowl, with enormous quantities of rice, meat, cotton, and citrus produced here.
But what's not so well known is that Leeton is home to 30 different nationalities.
"All backgrounds, all nationalities, it is so diverse," says Ken.
When Ken and Sekai's baby daughter Alakara was born during the COVID pandemic, NSW was in strict lockdown.
"When we came home with her we couldn't have any friends coming to see her," says Sekai.
"People would bring us food. We would open the door and there would be packages outside. It was surreal, absolutely surreal."
"I think what makes Leeton special is the people, the friendliness here is unlike anything I've ever experienced," says Ken.
Ken Dachi has struck up a friendship with Roshan Yosufi.
Roshan arrived in Australia in 2013 by boat as a refugee.
A Hazara-Afghani, a long persecuted ethnic minority of predominantly Shia Muslims, he fled because his life was in danger.
"This is not just me. This is the reason of all Hazara people in Afghanistan," Roshan says.
Roshan is now an Australian citizen, but he waited nine years for his wife and three kids to be allowed to come to Leeton.
In March, they finally joined him.
"I've waited so long for this and I am happy," he says.
The Afghan community represent some of the town's newest refugees with many Afghani families moving to Leeton in 2011.
Paul Maytom first came to Leeton as a fruit picker in 1967 and has previously served as mayor.
He wants migrants to receive more in Leeton than just good jobs.
"We want to make sure they're living in a lifestyle of comfort, we want to make sure they're not crammed in the houses, and we want to make sure that they're treated as they should be treated, as any other human being," Paul says.
"We can't fix the world, but we can fix up what we can fix up."
Ken's wife Sekai, who is a big fan of the television show Master Chef, loves to cook the traditional Kenyan food she enjoyed back home.
Sekai gets her mung beans – a Kenyan staple – from Leeton farmer Rob Houghton.
Rob was only growing mung beans as an experiment for crop rotation, not for eating, but when he took Ken and Sekai for a tour around his farm, they realised they had something very important in common.
"Knowing we can find these next door and that we have a whole bag, it's Christmas every week," says Ken.
Rob believes Leeton is a richer place because of its multiculturalism.
"It's great to have these guys come to town and bring some of their culture and we really appreciate what they bring to us. Not only the food but the laughs," he says.
"We're very accustomed to having beautiful people come in and make our place a better community."
Find out more about the wonderful people of Leeton in the latest episode of Back Roads on the new series starting on Monday, July 11. Join host Heather Ewart on Mondays at 8pm or catch up any time on the ABC iview.
We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of the lands where we live, learn, and work.
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