Seven years ago, musician David Nduwimana said a tearful goodbye to his family and fled the politically unstable African country of Burundi, fearing for his safety.
When Nduwimana arrived in Australia he had an economics degree, little more than a guitar on his back and didn’t know a single person.
Having applied for a protection visa, Nduwimana wanted to learn the Australian way of life, so immersed himself in the culture. He did so by learning the Australian national anthem.
One Sunday in 2016, Nduwimana bumped into Rob Clarke, now the interim chief executive at Rugby Australia, and his wife Kylie at St Matthews Church in Manly.Advertisement
The trio struck up a conversation. Nduwimana had fallen in love with Australia and Clarke didn’t hesitate to throw an arm around a man living in fear that he’d be forced to return to his war-torn country and go through more trauma associated with a previous life.
“I want to have you in my house and a part of my family,” Clarke told Nduwimana. “You’re going to live here, feel at home and you belong here.”
For just over a year, Nduwimana moved in with the Clarke family. His music career was flourishing at the church while he also worked at Commonwealth Bank, trying to forget about what he’d left behind and praying he’d be granted permanent residency.
“Rob was there through the ups and downs,” Nduwimana said. “He’s just holding you, giving hugs, giving some love. He saw me cry many times. He saw me when I couldn’t do anything because you feel like you’re in limbo and don’t know what’s happening. You miss your family and friends and people around you.
“But because you have someone holding your hand, you feel the future is assured and bright. You feel like you belong somewhere.
“He taught me so much about Australia, about how to do life as well as being kind and generous to people. I love him.
After plenty of uncertainty, Nduwimana was recently granted permanent residency. It was a major sigh of relief for the Clarke clan.
What better way, Clarke thought, than to give his newest family member the opportunity of a lifetime.
“I said, ‘mate, I want to help celebrate you moving from Burundi Dave to Aussie Dave and have you sing the anthem at the Bledisloe Cup’,” Clarke said. “It’s been a journey of heartache for Dave in many respects because he’s left his family behind.
“He was stunned. I wanted him to have this wonderful experience as a way of celebrating his new life, free from fear of persecution in Australia, which was recently granted by our federal government.
“If there was a roof on ANZ Stadium, he would lift it off.”
Nduwimana, a talented keyboard player, guitarist and singer, has never been to a Wallabies game – “he’s become a bit of rugby fan” according to Clarke – and struggles to describe the feeling of what he has been asked to do on Saturday.
“I was blown away,” Nduwimana said. “I wanted to learn more about Australia and the culture … so I came across the anthem. I listened to it and the way it’s composed, the words and their dynamic. I just fell in love with it.
“I’m so privileged to serve the country in a way where you can sing along with the crowd and feel like you’re singing with the whole country.”
Clarke added: “Having Dave living with us was an absolute privilege and gave us some understanding of what it’s like for thousands of asylum seekers and refugees living with that terrible uncertainty about their future with no control over their fate.
“We were so inspired by Dave’s unwavering faith and deep trust in the goodness of God that makes him such a bright shining light in our Manly community and an absolute joy to have around.
“You can literally see and hear his relief, as well as an irrepressible joy and pride in his adopted country. There’s a sparkle in his eyes.
“It will be a moment of great joy to our family and for all those who know him.”
Clarke said plenty of tickets remain for the ANZ Stadium clash and urged fans to get along to support Australia.