LILIAN Nieves-Caligdong arrived in Bendigo in 1999 not knowing what she would find.
She had been writing from her home in the Phillipines to a man called Randolph, who lived in Bendigo, for a year.
She decided to visit Bendigo to meet her pen pal.
Eight months later, they married.
Fourteen years later, she can’t imagine calling any other place but Bendigo home.
“I love it here. It’s quiet, peaceful, and the people are friendly,” she said.
“When I first got here, I think I knew I was going to be here a while.
“I love animals and I love the country feel of the place.”
Farina Palmer also found love in Bendigo.
The 24-year-old Iranian moved here in 2009 with her family after they mistook Bendigo as a suburb of Melbourne.
It proved to be auspicious mistake.
Farina met her husband three weeks after she arrived.
They got married at the Bendigo Pottery last October.
"It's amazing. I would not have met him if I didn't come to Bendigo," she said.
"I met him at La Trobe University, then at church, and then we realised I walked where he walked as well.
"It was just one of those things that was meant to be."
Lilian and Farina are two of the thousands of people from places all over the world who have moved to Bendigo- some for love, some for work, some for a chance at a better life.
They bring with them different cultures, faiths and cuisines.
Loddon Campaspe Multicultural Services general and programs manager Noemi Cummings said this has made Bendigo a rich place.
“Multiculturalism is a positive thing for our community,” she said.
“When we meet people from different places, we learn so much.
“I enjoy learning about all different cultures- the Karen, African, Chinese, Indian.
“We become rich by the experience of learning about other people.
“In Australia, the more we learn about each other and the more languages we get to know, the wider our understanding will be.
“That will lead to a more inclusive and harmonious place.”
Noemi, who is originally from Venezuela, has been a driving force behind the 2013 Bendigo Festival of Cultures.
From Monday, September 30 to Sunday, October 6 the city will be awash with colour, culture, song and dance.
“There is so much purpose for an event like this,” she said.
“What we want to see is a partnership between all different cultures.
“When people come to this country and they isolate themselves in different pockets, that is bad.
“Also, when very Anglicised people don’t accept people from other countries, that is very disappointing.
“I think it’s important to break down barriers and I think we can do this by facilitating a place for people to get to know other people and cultures.
“There is a lot of things the whole community can get out of a festival like this.”
Lilien agrees that the festival is an important event for Bendigo.
“I think it is important that we showpiece the different cultures we have in Bendigo,” she said.
“It’s important to share and learn someone else’s culture.
“It opens up understanding and tolerance.
“Some people don’t know there are these different communities here.”
Lilien said Bendigo had become more tolerant to immigrants since she moved here.
“The majority of people are very friendly, but I think people maybe 10 or 13 years ago people were not as open,” she said.
“It was very difficult for me to get a job when I first got here.
“People sometimes talked to you like you didn't understand anything just because you had an accent.”
Noemi had a similar experience.
“I came here and I’m brown and I had an afro," she said.
“The more different you are, the more challenges you have.
“There is an underlining line of racism, but it’s not everybody.
“But what can you do?
“You can only do your best to highlight how positive multiculturalism is for our society.”
Deeptha Wickramarathna was one of the founding members of the Sri Lankan Fellowship of Bendigo.
Deeptha moved with his wife and three children to Melbourne in 2008, before landing a job as a chartered accountant in Bendigo.
He said Bendigo people are, in the main, open-minded and tolerant people if you give them the chance to be.
“Australian people in regional areas have very little understanding of other cultures and sometimes they have a negative opinion of people from other countries,” he said.
“But, my experience since being here is that when we open up and show the community what we are, what our cuisine is like and so on, people get an idea of what kind of people we are and are very open to it.
“Bendigo people are very tolerant and accepting people.”
Farina said she had also only found a few who weren't so accepting of other cultures.
"I think almost all of the people I have met are really friendly and nice," she said.
"Maybe one or two people don't feel comfortable with it."
Farina agreed with Noemi, Lilian and Deeptha that the way to get past this barrier is through getting to know each other.
She said the Festival of Cultures brought everyone back to their common denominator- their humanity.
“I think it’s really nice to get to know other cultures," she said.
“It allows you to see all people as humans, regardless of language and cultures.
“As I get to know people from different cultures, I learn we all want the same things.
"We all want love and peace."
For a full schedule of events, visit www.bendigofestivalofcultures.org.au.
As I get to know people from different cultures, I learn we all want the same things - peace and love.Farina Palmer