Long, hard road to Newcastle ends in joy

24 Jan 2018

Marie Niyowera and husband John Bukuru survived war in Rwanda, endured hardship in Burundi and suffered tragedy in Malawi.

Now, finally, they've found happiness in Australia.

The former refugees will stand proudly alongside their two children, Memory, 17, and Ivona, 11, and 176 other people from 32 nations tomorrow, to make their pledge to Australia at a citizenship ceremony at Newcastle City Hall.

The event will be the biggest Australia Day citizenship ceremony anywhere in NSW and the largest in Newcastle's history.

The peace and comfort Marie, 45, and John, 56, have enjoyed since arriving in Newcastle in June, 2012, are a far cry from the war-torn countryside of Rwanda they fled in the 1990s.

Years living in refugee camps in nearby Burundi were barely better, with illness rife, food in scarce supply and prejudice levelled at Rwandan refugees.

Then, after being moved to another refugee camp in Malawi, the couple had to deal with the death of their 13-year-old daughter, Aline, who succumbed to illness.

"Life was no good. It was very difficult," Marie recalled. "But then we came here and everything changed. I didn't even know how to ask 'How are you?' when we arrived, but I went to TAFE, I learnt how to speak English from zero and began studying Aboriginal culture and sociology at university."

Marie eventually left study to take up work as a cleaner, while John found work as a taxi driver.

The couple and their two girls said they were excited and proud to become Australian citizens.

"We are very happy here," Marie said. "The people are beautiful, the beaches are beautiful. Everyone here is united. We want to keep living in Newcastle and working together in this community."

At tomorrow's citizenship ceremony, Polish immigrant Krysztof Kwiatkowski will provide an address on behalf of new citizens.

"Being naturalised confirms to me that I am part of the Australian community and will be sharing the same nationality with my wife and son," the 40-year-old said.

"Becoming Australian means that I too get to call this beautiful country my home, vote and contribute to society in the way my friends and family do."

Lord Mayor of Newcastle Nuatali Nelmes, who will preside over tomorrow's citizenship ceremony and Australia Day awards, said it was an honour to welcome people from so many nations and so many backgrounds to Newcastle.

"Hearing the stories of some of these people really opens your eyes to how lucky we are here in Australia - particularly in Newcastle - to enjoy the life we have," she said.

The City Hall citizenship ceremony starts at 9am.