Longford locals didn’t wait for seasonal workers to discover how friendly they were. They went to the workers and invited them to a community welcome party, supported by Highways and Byways. The workers from the nearby berry farms came in droves, embracing the food, music, and hospitality on offer.
The November party followed months of groundwork by parishioners from the Kings Meadows Parish in Longford. Weekend Mass numbers have increased from the low 20s to around 60 people as the workers, mostly from East Timor, join the community in prayer.
Parishioner Denise Talbot said the parish community has been rejuvenated. Translating some of the Mass parts into Tetun and including some of their hymns, means the East Timorese people feel included. Once a month the parish holds a shared meal after evening Mass and that too is proving a hit, with the Timorese also bringing food.
“Some of the workers have been here for three berry picking seasons from November to May and they are starting to feel a part of the community,” Denise said.
“We recently ran a drought and bushfire fundraiser in town and the East Timorese took up a collection, donating almost $500. These people don’t want to be given everything, they want to give back and be part of our lives here.”
Denise said it was fitting that Highways and Byways had been so instrumental in the welcome party as the Missionary Sisters of Service had worked in the area for decades. She first met the Sisters when she was a young girl.
The welcome party attracted people beyond the parish and created connections between the locals and the seasonal workers from Timor Leste, Vanuatu and Tonga. Denise hopes it was the beginning of something that will go on for many years.
The town’s initiative was recognised at the recent Australia Day celebrations.