This Australia Day Behrooz Gouniai and his family will be at the beach, like millions of others, celebrating what being Aussie means to them. Behrooz, 64, came to Australia as a refugee more than 30 years ago after being pushed out of Iran first, and then India.
Behrooz Gouniai and his family.
Asked what he celebrates each Australia Day, Behrooz said: Australia “is where humanity is alive. It’s where people have freedom of expression.”
Behrooz, a member of the Bahá'í faith, had moved from his birth country Iran to India to study in 1974. He completed degrees in economics and social work before the1979 Iranian Revolution made life more difficult.
“My family sponsored me financially, but then sending money to me was not allowed as I was black listed (during the revolution),” Behrooz said. “In Iran, properties of Bahá'í people were put to fire or confiscated, Bahá'í teachers and government employees were sacked. Iran would not accept my qualifications and employment opportunity was no longer open to me. And then my passport expired and I was told it would not be renewed.
“In India, I could not get work because I was from Iran, so I went to the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees to become a refugee.
“Eventually we ended up in Sydney, and I remember coming out of Customs and there were three wonderful smiling faces waiting for us. There were two of us, UNHCR refugees, and we couldn’t believe it. We were citizens of other countries. We were kicked by our own country’s authorities for no apparent reason except different beliefs; my country’s authorities even went to the extent of preventing me from studying professions I wanted to use to benefit Iran. I could not believe that I had come to a country that had not known me, where the people had no connection with me, and everyone was so welcoming and wanted to help me.”
It was 1984 when Behrooz and his wife arrived in Sydney to the welcome just described. Just two years later they became Australia citizens.
“We realised this is where humanity is alive,” Behrooz said. “I could express my faith. I bought a t-shirt that said ‘Bahá'í faith!’ I could not do that in Iran. There, even Bahá'í children were targeted in schools.
“I felt we were in heaven. It was a struggle – to get jobs, to make livelihoods – but we had freedom, which was priceless.
“Everywhere I went I remember people saying, ‘how can I help you sir?’. From then I said I will do my best for this country.”
Behrooz now works with refugees arriving in Australia as a case manager for Settlement Services International. He and his wife are also active volunteers in the Campbelltown area, where they teach English, host community events for parents of their local high school and mentor migrants in need of a little support.
The couple’s three offspring, two daughters aged 30 and 25, and son, 17, are also active volunteers in their communities. One daughter works for the City of Sydney as a sustainability designer, the other is working overseas and their son works and volunteers in youth work.
“I’m so proud and happy my children have used their potential and made use of the opportunities available to them,” Behrooz said. “So, every Australia Day I go to the beach to celebrate.”