Record haul of new citizens loving life Down Under

Lake Macquarie City Council

Manu Gilbert, fiancee Renea Jaeger and their son Louis, 10 months at Friday's citizenship ceremony.jpg

You could say Manu Gilbert took the long way around to a life Down Under.

The 34-year-old was born in Rwanda, before moving to Canada aged two – growing up in rural Quebec and speaking French.

Enter future wife Renea, who he met in the spectacular ski town on Banff in the Rocky Mountains.

“I moved here to be with my now-fiancee, Renea, after we both met living in Banff,” Mr Gilbert said.

“I wasn’t sure if I’d be here forever, but wanted to give our relationship a real go. Seven years later, we’ve welcomed our first son, Louis, together, we’re getting married in October and I’m getting my citizenship.”

“It’s pretty crazy!”

Now a proud Kahibah local, Mr Gilbert was one of a record 169 people from 39 countries to become citizens across two separate ceremonies held on Friday at Rathmines in Lake Macquarie.

Lake Macquarie Mayor Kay Fraser said demand for new citizenship had prompted Council to host two ceremonies on one day.

“It’s wonderful to welcome so many people from all over the world. They’ve each got a story to tell about how and why they ended up here,” she said.

Seven years is enough to adjust to most things ‘Aussie’, but some aspects of our culture still make Mr Gilbert shake his head or laugh.

“Vegemite totally weirds me out – I don’t get why every Aussie loves it,” he said.

“And a Bunnings sausage sanga – is it meant to be a hot dog?”

While Mr Gilbert is fluent in English and French, he’s still getting used to the Aussie vernacular.

“The Australian slang has to be the funniest,” he said.

“You shorten every word. There’s been a lot of translating that Renea’s had to do.”

Friday’s ceremony marked “the closure of a chapter” for Mr Gilbert.

“It’s the last part of a long journey we’ve been through since I made the big move seven years ago,” he said.

“It also means a lot to be an Australian citizen as we’ve now started our family here. I definitely now feel at home in Australia.”

It was a similar sentiment shared by Gita Bhandari Timilsina, who moved to Australia from Nepal 12 years ago.

With beaming three-year-old daughter, Aavni, in her arms by the lake, Ms Bhandari Timilsina explained Australia symbolised hope and opportunity for her family.

“It’s a nice community here and there are many opportunities,” she said.

“It means a future for my kids as well.”

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