'God bless Australia'

IT'S 11.30am on a sunny Wednesday morning in Queanbeyan, Nigerian-born John Okonkwo is standing on the street, proudly posing with two Australian flags and smiles at the camera. 

Click, click and suddenly out of nowhere a voice from a passing car spits out "Get out of my country!".

Despite this very public display of racism and the venomous words shouted out just seconds ago, Mr Okonkwo gently reminds this reporter to include the words 'God bless Australia' in the article.

It's a disappointing end to an interview where Mr Okonkwo has described Australians as "welcoming", "friendly" and "lovely".

Mr Okonkwo is being interviewed as one of the record 65 local residents to be given citizenship during Queanbeyan's Australia Day festivities on Saturday. The 35-year-old said he was excited upon receiving his letter informing him of his citizenship status.

"[Citizenship] is like a dream come true because it says 'welcome', we accept you as a person and you have 100 per cent freedom to express whatever you feel to the government and community," he said. "If you don't have the freedom to express yourself, I feel you can't offer your best to the government."

Arriving in Australia three years ago, Mr Okonkwo first settled in Sydney but said it was "too crowded, too busy" and ventured down to Queanbeyan where the pace of life suits him just fine.

"The countryside reminds me of back home, the people are lovely and friendly and I felt very welcome when I first came here," he said."[In Australia] I love the variety of food, I love a barbecue and the Australian wine. I love working in the bush. 

"The weather is very confusing though. It can be very hot and very cold, 40 degrees one day and minus 10 the next."

Mr Okonkwo has really made Queanbeyan his home. When he isn't working as an assistant in nursing at Uniting Care and Able Australia, he fills his time visiting the local gym, doing a few laps at the Queanbeyan Aquatic Centre and borrowing books at Queanbeyan Library. 

He even has a membership to the Queanbeyan Leagues Club.Once a week he enjoys a kick with a Nigerian soccer team across the border."We meet people from other countries, play with other countries from Europe, Africa and Australian teams too," he said.

"After soccer we crack jokes, visit each other, try to make the place home you know."

For Mr Okonkwo, Australia represents a place where his aspirations are within reach.

"The people are lovely and friendly and it's a multi-national country," he said. "You have the freedom to express who you are and what you want to do. You can achieve whatever goals and dreams you have in life here and you are given the support to do that."

And Mr Okonkwo's dream?

"I hope to be able to study and complete my degree to become a project manager and set up an NGO. There are too many people dying in silence, in trauma..I think when you are fortunate you must also help others."

God bless, John.

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