By Paul Dobbyn
WHEN Gabriel Ukuno looks at the award he won as New Australian of the Year he sees more than just his own name on the cup.
“I think also of the names of all the people who helped me when I arrived as a Sudanese refugee in Brisbane in 1998,” the community liaison officer at Yeronga State High School said.
“People such as Mary Gavin and Jose Zepeda, from (Brisbane archdiocese’s) Centre for Multicultural Pastoral Care, who sponsored me … even Jessica Walker, from Yeronga school, who nominated me for this award.”
The Australia Day Council of Victoria introduced the New Australian of the Year for the first time in 2014.
The new award is different from the Australian of the Year Award in that it acknowledges the contribution a “New Australian” (someone who has been in the country for less than 18 years) has made to his or her adopted homeland and community.
Mr Ukuno’s family was one among the first Sudanese families who were welcomed to the Brisbane archdiocese in 1998 by parish Community Refugee Resettlement Groups through the Centre for Multicultural Pastoral Care.
While busy with work and raising a family, Mr Ukuno spearheaded the establishment of Church and civic groups such as the Sudanese Christian Fellowship and the African Community Council to help resettle Sudanese and African refugees and migrants in Queensland.
He was also very much involved in the establishment of a regular Sudanese Mass at Annerley’s Mary Immaculate Church.
As Mr Ukuno was overseas at the time, his wife Anjelina and son Abal received the New Australian of the Year award on his behalf at a dinner function held in Melbourne on Australia Day.
Mr Ukuno had mixed emotions when he received the award.
“It was given to me for things I just do in the community as my daily routine,” he said.
“For me, if I see something I can turn around to make it really good, I ask: ‘Why not?’
“And I’m not happy just for myself at getting the award.
“I think it gives hope to all the volunteers in the field, many who do much more work than I do.
“From my award, they can see such efforts do not go unappreciated.”