First Day: The Egyptian-born police officer proud of Australia's multicultural evolution

When Nick Kaldas’s family first moved from Egypt to Australia in the sixties, they moved to a suburb known to house migrants communities. Almost 50 years on, Mr Kaldas says cultural diversity is no longer confined to particular neighbourhoods.

NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Nick Kaldas recalls a distinctly frosty reception on his first day in Australia.

"My family arrived in 1969. We came out in the middle of the year, so it was winter in Australia," he says.

“We had to get used to much colder weather, even though Sydney is actually quite mild - by Egyptian standards it was quite cold.”

But he was soon warmed by Australia's wealth of diversity, which was thriving in Marrickville, in Sydney's inner west, where his family first settled.

“We gravitated towards an area where a lot of other migrants lived," he says.

“A lot of people from Lebanese background, Yugoslavian, Italian, Greeks - all migrants. And everybody seemed to know everybody else in the street and everybody tended to look out for each other."

He says he admires his parent’s decision to migrate to Australia, describing the move as “incredibly brave.”

"They only did it for one reason, which was to give us a better chance in life.

"Here we are, 45, 46 years later and I certainly don’t have any regrets at the choice my parents made."

Living in Limbo

Mr Kaldas says the first few years in Australia were tough.

Like most migrants, his family were confronted by the challenge of acceptance.

"I think fitting in is always difficult. It certainly was for us," he says.

There was also tension between savouring the family's old life and embracing their new one.

"You want to be accepted but you don't want to lose your own identity and background and that's the balance, I think, most migrant communities face.

"How do they hang on to their identity, their culture and their history, their traditions and what their proud of and so on, and yet at the same time fit in and belong to Australian communities here?"

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Knowing they’d always be anchored to their Egyptian culture, Nick Kaldas says his parents were more focused finding ways to fit in.

"I think they felt very comfortable with the fact that we were never going to lose our identity. We didn’t need to do anything to stay Egyptian, to stay Coptic. But we did need to do some things, obviously, to fit in."

Finding their feet

Nick Kaldas says with the move came lifestyle adjustments.

"We had a maid and a driver and whatever else [in Egypt]. Obviously we didn’t have any of that when we got here and had some funny experiences, like my mother's learning-to-cook phase, when we got here. She's an exceptional cook now and it’s terrific."

Eager to find work, his parents settled for whatever jobs they could get when they first arrived.

"When you get here and you simply want to have money coming in, most migrants - and certainly our experience was - you take the first thing that comes along," Mr Kaldas says.

His father, who was in the importing-and-exporting business in Egypt, ended up taking work on a factory floor before having series of businesses.

His mother, who had been a housewife in Egypt, took on an administration job for the Central District Ambulance.

Eventually Mr Kaldas too, found his feet.

After working as an insurance clerk, he joined the police force.

Today he's the NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Field Operations.

Fluent in three languages, he’s also the police spokesperson on cultural diversity.


Nick Kaldas says he's seen a huge shift in attitudes toward multiculturalism in Australia since arriving.

"I think society has changed dramatically since the sixties to where we are now in terms of accepting multiculturalism, accepting people from really diverse backgrounds, religions, races and so on," he says.

He believes diversity is central to Australian identity and points to the country's vibrant food scene as a product of multiculturalism.

“Now we have a really, really, broad range [of restaurants] - probably much wider than other parts of the world - with Asian food, Vietnamese and Thai food and Chinese," he says.

"Then there is all Lebanese and Egyptian and all other Middle Eastern, Iranian restaurants. And then you get the French and Italian and a whole bunch of Europeans as well.

"That variety wasn’t there then.

It only came, I think, with the arrival of a whole bunch of people that made it viable - that made it important to have those sorts of restaurants to cater for them.

"I think Sydney is a much better and more diverse place for that reason.“

This story was produced as part of the SBS series, First Day, airing on SBS World News throughout January.