Westpac Cootamundra Customer Relations Specialist Cassie Malone with Bank Manager Karly Kelly with the boys. Photo: Supplied.

It was great this earlier this month to see the community welcome 18 Fijians and four Solomon Islanders into our town with open arms.

The group of men arrived in Cootamundra on May 11 at 10.30pm on a bus and stayed their first night in Junee.

The Rusty Bistro owner Jamie Wilson then picked the boys up at 5.30am the next morning and drove them to the abattoirs in Junee for their induction.

It is said the boys have contracts to work for the abattoirs for the next 12 months.

They are also staying at the Elm & Wren, which is owned by The Rusty Table’s Jamie and Rachel Wilson.

“They call Rachel and I Mumma and Daddy,” Jamie said.

“I suppose that’s what it is, we’re like their parents for the next 12 months. And it’s amazing because although we can’t travel at the moment, it’s like Fiji has come to us.”

After the induction Jamie brought the boys back to Coota as they had an appointment with Westpac to setup their bank accounts.

On the day of the appointment, Westpac Branch Cootamundra offered to open early and even organised morning tea with the help of Outback Bakery.

Westpac Branch Cootamundra Bank Manager Karly Kelly said it was one of the best days during her time at the Cootamundra branch and that it was a pleasure to have met them.

“It was inspiring to hear their stories,” she highlighted. “One man had applied five times for this opportunity [to work at the abattoirs]. They have all grasped this opportunity and Cootamundra is now their new village.”

All 22 men have left behind their families back home and moved into new, unfamiliar territories, in hope to make money to send back and support their families.

Some members of the public this week described the boys arrival as a “fresh breath of air” with their optimism towards life and their humble personalities.

The boys are also gifted with angelic voices, they were heard singing on the bus trip from Junee, during their first night in Coota having 22 pizzas at The Rusty Bistro, as well as at the bank in appreciation of staff’s efforts.

“All community wanting a [singing] lesson are welcome and I am sure there will be more signings with clubs” Karly hinted.

The boys have also showed their willingness to further integrate with the community, with their enthusiasm to join the different sporting codes we have available in town.

So far, there are two hoping to train with the Cootamundra Strikers and four have already trained with the Bulldogs last week.

There are a few possibly looking to join the Cootamundra Blues training camp too and four boys having donned the Tri-colours outfit this past weekend.

Having played big minutes and “more than contributed” for the Tri-colours with seven players out this past weekend, Senior Coach Mitch Wakeford said the boys are a great asset to the town.

“The arrival of them has definitely come at good time for the towns sporting clubs,” he said.

“It’s as though everyone is a little hungover from Covid so numbers have not been great at any code.”

“They will bring their own style to our club both on and off the field. They have expressed they are willing to train hard which is great.

“They all stuck around after Saturday’s game and the club and players made sure they felt welcome and enjoyed themselves.

“Importantly they are good people. They’re well mannered, willing to learn and they provided some great after-match entertainment with some hymns at the club and local establishments.”

Some of the boys in their new colours. Photo: Supplied.

Since the boys’ arrival in town, members of the community have flood to the aid of these boys, to help them feel warm and at home.

Helen Eccleston from Red Cross Cootamundra recently dropped off two boxes of warm clothes to the boys’ accomodation, both the Strikers and Tri-colours have also been involved and various other drop-offs are still to occur.

Christopher Tan