By Justin Huntsdale
16 March 2017, ABC Illawarra
Serbian Orthodox priest Father Branko Bosancic is embracing life in Australia and says the cultural differences of his homeland are put aside in his community.
Father Bosancic was born in Bosnia, educated in Serbia, and now lives across the road from a Croatian family and next door to some Fyromians (Slav-Macedonians).
It is a living arrangement that could prove untenable in Europe, but in the New South Wales suburb of Figtree in Wollongong, it works harmoniously.
“When it’s forced, we do build walls, but I have my neighbour wishing me merry Christmas on the 7th January [Serbian Orthodox Christmas] or wishing me a happy Easter so that’s great — they’re great neighbours.”
Coming from the Balkan area of Europe and having lived through the Yugoslav wars from 1991 to 2001, it is a welcome change.
However, Father Bosancic has always felt ethnically diverse.
He was born in Banja Luka in Republika Srpska, which is a constitutional and legal entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
He studied theology and was ordained in Belgrade in Serbia and now lives in Wollongong.
“My vocation brought me to Australia and I serve here for the Serbian community, even though I was born and raised in Bosnia,” Father Bosancic said.
“Being of the Serbian ethnic community, we consider Belgrade as our centre, so it was the most natural thing for me to study there.
“I got an offer to come to Australia — I wanted to go to Kenya first, but my wife was pregnant [and] all of a sudden, an offer came from Sydney.”
The beauty inside the church
Father Bosancic’s church looks like an unassuming building in central Wollongong, but inside is an impressive collection of religious artwork.
In 2014, Serbian nuns travelled to Wollongong to paint the interior of the church in authentic Byzantine style, which involves painting all surfaces of the walls and roof.
There is even a nod to the Australian colours of green and gold.
“They’ve done a magnificent job — it’s really impressive and [with] the colours we’ve been using, we made a decision to put gold there, not only because it is found in our tradition, but because we are in Australia,” Father Bosancic said.
“But we’re also grateful for, and embrace the local culture we found here.”
The Balkan region is known for its cold winters, something Father Bosancic does not miss.
“When I came here, I thought ‘thank God there is no winter’,” he said.
“I remember in the middle of January having minus 10C or 15C and if you want to go to the car, you have to clean up the snow, warm up the car for 15 minutes then drive through horrible grey snow.
“In the city, the snow is not white, it’s grey, so I appreciate and embrace the Australian climate very much.”
How Harmony Day can unite cultures
Tuesday 21 March is Australia’s Harmony Day, and Father Bosancic sees the occasion as a chance to meet people from other cultures and learn about them.
He said it can be especially significant at the school level where young children, perhaps even those born in Australia, can celebrate their cultural background.
“Kids who are aware of their own ethnic background can present themselves that they belong to a small community,” he said.
“I too belong to a small culture and I’m very proud of it, however it’s small in comparison to the civilisation.
“I’m proud of both of the traditions and cultures [Serbian and Australian] I belong to.”