Oran Park woman takes out 2021 NSW Australian of the Year Local Hero award

Rosemary Kariuki
Rosemary Kariuki

Rosemary Kariuki has spent more than a decade helping migrant and refugee women adjust to everyday life in Australia.

Now the Oran Park woman's dedication has rewarded with an award win at the NSW 2021 Australian of the Year Awards.

Ms Kariuki, 60, was one of just 16 nominees in the running to be named the state's Local Hero, Young Australian, Senior Australian or Australian of the Year.

The NSW award recipients were announced at a Luna Park ceremony tonight.

The passionate women's advocate said she was delighted just to be nominated for the prestigious Local Hero award.

"I was very excited and shocked at the same time," Ms Kariuki said.

"I realised that to empower migrant women and families you have to empower the woman who freely shares information.

"I use friendly ways to reach and engage with women, like the Cultural Exchange Program where I take women to the countryside to exchange culture.

"By the third day, they have made friends who share their issues, like domestic violence and lack of employment.

"I use high teas to talk about mental health and a mother and daughter dinner dance to talk about domestic violence, forced marriages, slavery and how they can keep away from the isolation."

National Australia Day Council chief executive Karlie Brand congratulated the NSW award recipients.

"The 2021 NSW Australians of the Year are leaders by example," Ms Brand said.

"Their efforts are truly inspirational, providing leadership in crises, paving the way for others, showing us what is possible, fighting for what is right and helping those in need."

Ms Kariuki fled Kenya alone in 1999 to escape family abuse and tribal clashes.

She found her early years in Australia to be 'terribly lonely' and it was this experience that inspired her work with fellow migrant women.

Many migrant women aren't used to going out alone, have little access to transport and speak little or no English.

Rosemary Kariuki

Rosemary Kariuki

To help women come together in Australia Ms Kariuki helped to start the African Women's Dinner Dance in partnership with the African Women's Group.

More than 400 women attend the annual event which is now in its 14th year.

"I started the African Women's Dinner Dance in 2006 because African women were isolated, couldn't access services and dancing is in our blood," Ms Kariuki said.

"I also started working as a Multicultural Community Liaison Officer with Parramatta Police in 2005.

"I help police to communicate with non-English speaking people who are migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

"Where we come from we fear the blue uniform, and thus people like me go into the community to help to increase that trust."

Ms Kariuki's work with the police specialises in helping migrants who are facing domestic violence, language barriers and financial distress.

Her work was the subject of a documentary called Rosemary's Way.

Ms Kariuki said she loved living in Camden because of its multicultural community.

"People are real, they stop to say 'hi' and want to know more," she said.

"They are friendly and the council engages with the community.

"My neighbours visit me and likewise I visit them. We share food, gardening and celebrate with each other."

Ms Kariuki said she was grateful to live in Australia.

"I'm very proud that Australia accepted me in their country, to be able to educate my boys and also to fill those gaps that services do not understand through my volunteering with women and the migrant community," she said.

"I couldn't do this alone - without organisations like STARTTS (NSW Service for the Treatment And Rehabilition of Torture and Trauma Survivors) and the Community Migrant Resource Centre (CMRC) my work wouldn't be possible.

"I also acknowledge the Indigenous people of Australia for opening this land to us, thank you for accepting us migrants and refugees."