“What I’m going to miss most about this place, I think, is the lasting friendships.”
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After more than 15 years as manager of the Ethnic Council of Shepparton and District, Chris Hazelman is stepping down, not to “retreat to watching the horses on TV and spend life drinking beer and playing golf”, but to seek out new challenges. It won’t be without some tugs on the heart strings, though.
“It’s the day-to-day experiences, because you’re never too sure what’s going to walk through the door and what the circumstances of those people are, and I’m certainly going to miss that,” he said.
President Maria Brown-Shepherd said the Ethnic Council had achieved key milestones under Mr Hazelman’s leadership.
“The Ethnic Council has grown to be a significant service provider to the multicultural communities, especially those who have arrived as refugees, who now represent some 10 per cent of Greater Shepparton’s population,” she said.
“The Ethnic Council now proudly owns its own building and enjoys strong relationships with all levels of government, and reputationally is highly regarded by the sector and multicultural peak bodies.”
Ms Brown-Shepherd said Mr Hazelman’s leadership had also seen the Ethnic Council take on key roles during the recent major crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and flooding, helping with the distribution of vital messaging to migrant communities.
“During COVID and the recent flood experiences, the Ethnic Council responded to the emergency management response and was at the forefront of ensuring impacted people from its client cohort were able to access appropriate support services,” she said.
Mr Hazelman also raised COVID-19 and the floods as moments that showed how important the council was to the Greater Shepparton community as a whole.
“We’ve got no formal role in emergency management, but with COVID, when there were high levels of infection in multicultural communities, we got drawn into the process and we formed a really effective partnership with Goulburn Valley Health,” he said.
“And the floods, a similar situation. We’re still involved there even though we have no formal role.”
Mr Hazelman said there was an estimated 60 languages being spoken in Shepparton, including among refugees and skilled migrants.
They have many issues to deal with as they adjust to a new society and way of life, which can include dealing with a lack of English-speaking skills, children adopting the new language and societal expectations of the adopted country quicker than their parents would like and the impacts of the circumstances they left.
“They’ve (often) come from appalling circumstances, whether it be civil war, oppression in their first country, dangerous journeys to get to Australia, and then having to combat a system where the structures are different to their country of origin.” — Chris Hazelman
“The language is different, we all look different and how are they going to fit into this, and I think the resilience they have shown there, it’s an inspiration for everybody.”
Mr Hazelman praised the Ethnic Council staff he had worked with the over the years as vital elements to the service’s success.
“There have been times when funding was tight and cash flow caused many a struggle; however, council staff always performed above and beyond expectation, which overcame many of the issues and made the council stronger,” he said.
The former City of Greater Shepparton Mayor said local residents could sometimes take for granted how the region’s various waves of migration had combined to build a cohesive society.
“We take our cultural diversity for granted, and it’s one of Shepparton’s greatest strengths, but we don’t necessarily promote it well enough,” Mr Hazelman said.
“We could do a lot more. It’s one of our major differentiation points between us and our regional competitors.
“We have a demographic profile unique for a provincial Australian city and we should be promoting it, as this is what makes us stand out from the crowd — and we do stand out.
“A lot of that’s built on the backs of immigrant workers, who have created what we’ve got here in the valley.”