NEW beginnings. That is one of the reasons why South African family, the Koks decided to call the land down under home.
Willem, his wife Riana and daughter Karlien moved to Bendigo in the hope of creating a better life for their family.
The trio officially moved from Cape Town to Bendigo on New Year’s Eve 2007.
Willem said moving to Australia was the only option for his family.
“Why Australia? Because no other place is like Australia,” he said.
“When we decided to leave we said it would be Australia or nothing, it was not a choice.
“There are similarities between South Africa and Australia and we thought it would be a culture that we could easily get used to.”
Willem said he chose to leave his home of nearly 40 years because he felt it was time for change in his life.
“We left for the same reason everybody decides to leave South Africa,” he said.
“To have a better future for ourselves and our child.”
Riana said although crime was an issue in Cape Town, their decision to move was not all negative.
“We have always been interested in other cultures and languages and we thought it would be good to learn about another culture and another part of the world,” she said.
“I think the other thing was that we had hit our midlife years and felt a bit itchy and thought where do we go from here.
“We felt it was time for a change and the opportunity came up to move so we decided to do it.”
Willem had a job lined up as an architect in Bendigo.
“My employer Dennis Carter and his wife Karen Ward helped us a lot when we first moved,” he said.
“We felt so welcomed.”
Willem said his first impression of Bendigo was a good one.
“We were very impressed by Bendigo, when we first came it was during the drought so it wasn’t pretty but the people were friendly, we liked the size of the place,” he said.
“We came from Cape Town and we were sick and tired of city life so we liked the change.”
The family said one of the Aussie words they have come to love the meaning of is mate.
“The word mateship is something that is foreign to us,” he said.
“It is just so out there.
“The word mate is a wonderful word, because if someone calls you mate you immediately feel like you are a friend, you don’t feel like a stranger.”
The Kok family will today officially become Australian citizens today, at an Australia Day ceremony at Lake Weeroona.
Willem said becoming Australian now meant he and his family now lived in what he describes as the lucky country.
“It might be dry, dusty and hot sometimes but it is the lucky country,” he said.
“It means that we are part of a nation in the world that everybody envies.
“Being in Australia is giving our family the opportunity to achieve something.
“In South Africa there are opportunities but it is competitive, over here if you try hard enough you can achieve something.”
Riana said coming to Australia she was able to see the Aussie spirit first hand.
“We were here not long before the Black Saturday bushfire took place and we were astounded by how people got together and helped one another,” she said.
“I think there is really something to say about the Aussie spirit, the mateship of people, we got to see that first hand.”
Riana works part-time with the case management team of Bendigo Uniting Care.
“When we came to Bendigo I started volunteering at Bendigo Uniting Care and I started out with emergency relief,” she said.
“I am an ordained minister back in South Africa.”
Riana said getting involved with the community was an important thing to do when they first moved.
“Getting involved with the community is what was important for us when we made the decision to move to Australia,” she said.
“We came with a positive attitude, we wanted to learn about the culture and the people and get involved with the community.”
Up to 50 people are expected to cheer the family on as they officially become citizens.
“One of goals was when we were eligible to apply for citizenship we did,” Riana said.
“We are blown away that so many people we have got to know are interested to come.
“We are thankful for what we have experienced here, it is a good life.
“We are proudly South African but now we can say we are proudly Australian too and that is wonderful.”