The roads in Walla Walla are quiet at lunchtime.
It’s possible to walk the length of the main street and not meet a single person.
Yet some of the biggest employers in this small country town in the NSW Riverina, just north of Albury, are keen to change that. And they want to do it by employing refugees from as far away as Iraq and Syria.
The small business owners believe the new arrivals would benefit enormously by “going bush”, while helping fill employment gaps at the same time.
Andrew Kotzur is one of those business owners.
Mr Kotzer, who fronts a silo-building business, said a working group in the town had already identified 13 vacancies that could potentially be filled by refugees.
Andrew Kotzur, business owner and one of the people leading the push to attract refugees to Walla Walla. (ABC News: Nicole Chettle)
“There’s local farmers that are looking for farm help,” Mr Kotzur said. “So that would involve working with stock, sheep and cattle (and then there’s) tractor driving and truck driving.
“In the town there’s a reasonable amount of work in metal and steel fabrication.
“We also have opportunity for refugees in areas such as accountancy and financial management, engineering and design.”
Walla has a population of around 700 people.
250 are employed locally.
“We’ve got housing, we’ve got jobs,” Mr Kotzur said.
“We’d like to think we’d be a welcoming community for the refugees as well.”
Just down the road, car dealer Kim Lieschke is preparing to interview mechanics from Dubai and the Philippines after a local advertising campaign failed.
“It’s critical for our business to have the right people,” he said. “We have a fantastic team, but we need more workers, or in this particular case a qualified mechanic.”
Mr Lieschke said not everyone in the town supported the idea of bringing in refugees.
“I understand there are people with apprehension,” he said.
“To me race, religion isn’t what it’s about.
“We’re all people and it’s good to give people an opportunity.
“I probably wouldn’t be standing here today if my forefathers didn’t come from Germany.”
A new life
An hour’s drive north the ABC met a local Iraqi family experiencing only their second day in Australia who had touched down in Wagga Wagga to begin a new life.
Two small boys darted about the airport as a young Iraqi woman greeted the family, presenting them with colourful roses before they were whisked away by a support team from the Red Cross.
That young woman was 29-year-old Soryas Khero.
Soryas Khero, a 29-year-old Yazidi refugee from a town near Mosul in Iraq, has settled in nearby Wagga Wagga (ABC News: Nicole Chettle)
The Yazidi woman, now an interpreter at the local TAFE, fled her town of Shekhan, north of Mosul, in 2016 when the Islamic State group came within 10 kilometres of her home.
“It was very frightening because they did something horrible with Yazidi people and especially women,” she said.
Ms Khero was enrolled to study languages at Mosul University, but left after the first day when she learned three women had been murdered.
“There were many young ladies killed because they were wearing free clothes and they had a religion that was different to most other students at that university.
“So they hated them and just killed them.”
Ms Khero said the best thing about being in Australia was simple:
“We felt free for the first time,” she said. “People don’t ask us about what religion we have. They just see you as a person, same as them.
“Nothing is hard in Australia because everything is by law and the law is for everyone, not just for someone.”
And while Ms Khero was enjoying country life, her brother had to look to Sydney for work.
“Many Yazidi people don’t speak English or they are still learning, so it is hard to get a job,” she said.
Café owner Janet Lauritzen has lived in Walla Walla for 40 years.
She said as the nearest supermarket was a short drive away, and with no public transport around, refugees could feel isolated.
“If they’ve got no money and social problems and they’re sort of sitting around in a country town because there’s nothing to do,” she said.
“We’ve experienced it ourselves, trouble starts to happen, and you don’t need that.
“It can ruin little country towns so we just have to be really careful about how it does actually happen.”
More than 700 refugees have arrived in NSW from Iraq and Syria this year. Many settle in Sydney.
But Peter Shergold, the man in charge of the state’s refugee resettlement program, said that was slowly changing.
“If we want people to move, as they will from Fairfield and Liverpool, it’ll be because there are jobs,” he said.
“Other communities are actually coming forward to us, like Leeton, like Walla Walla.
“And obviously those are the areas I’m particularly interested in — in connecting communities in Western Sydney with those in regional and rural NSW.”
But the question remains: can deeply traumatised families trek across the globe and find peace in a tiny town?
“Living here is not bad … at all!” Soryas Khero said with a laugh.
Andrew Kotzur agreed: “We have that rural background, it’s a great community.
“We just think it’s God’s gift.”
Mr Kotzur said the Greater Hume Council was backing efforts to attract refugees, and if the support systems were in place the town could begin to welcome new arrivals later this year.