The Nadesalingam family are back in Biloela after spending four years in immigration detention, with emotional supporters welcoming them home on Friday afternoon.
After four years of detention centres, court challenges and a major medical scare, the family of four who captured the nation’s hearts touched down at Thangool Airport near Biloela shortly after 2.30pm.
Priya and Nades Nadesalingam and their Australian-born daughters Kopika, 6, and Tharnicaa, 4, were all smiling as they disembarked their small plane.
They shared a hug on the tarmac, and the two girls waved to a waiting crowd, who clapped and cheered. Ms Nadesalingam blew a kiss to friends and supporters who had fought for Friday’s reunion since the family was first detained in March 2018.
There were more emotional moments outside the airport. Footage shared on social media showed Ms Nadesalingam so overwhelmed to be reunited with her friends that she dropped to the ground.
Later, she thanked the Biloela community and the Australian public – and talked about starting a new life.
“Thank you so much,” she said.
“Me and my family is very happy again start my journey back to my community Bilo.
“My community and Australian people, my family, helping – thank you to all in Bilo community.
“I’m starting a new life … so happy, thank you.”
Ms Nadesalingam spoke briefly about the family’s more than four years in detention, saying it had been extremely difficult.
“Long time in detention, no medical facilities, no healthy food, mentally stressful,” she said.
“Detention life is hard on both children mentally.
“The treatment wasn’t human – we had a really hard life and I hope nobody has to go through that time. I hope there is a change in government.”
But most of Friday was about arriving home to Biloela.
“I felt like I was flying, I can’t describe the moment of landing in Bilo,” Ms Nadesalingam said.
“Landing here gives me a lot of hope and for my daughters, I hope I can give my girls a better life and better future.
“Words can’t describe what I am feeling.”
The waiting crowd was equally emotional, waving welcome signs and streamers as they jumped and cheered, then danced in celebration to Coming Home by Sheppard.
Family friend Bronwyn Dendle said it was a special day.
“It’s a special day for me personally because I haven’t had the opportunity to see my friends in the flesh since they were unnecessarily taken from us over four years ago,” she said.
“But it’s also a really special day for the community of Biloela and Australia.
“Today is the day that we prove that you should never underestimate the power of the people.
“Today is the day where we prove that home will always be where the heart is.
“Today is the day that we prove that love really does conquer all.
“We are so, so grateful to have our beautiful little family home with us in Biloela.”
Nearly 600,000 people signed Home to Bilo campaigner Angela Frederick’s petition in support of the family, and more than 53,000 phone calls and emails were made and sent to Australian politicians.
The family’s return coincides with the Banana Shire’s Flourish Multicultural Festival on Saturday and Tharnicaa’s fifth birthday on Sunday.
She was nine months old when her family was first placed in an immigration detention centre in Melbourne.
The former Coalition government tried to deport the family on a commercial flight from Melbourne to Sri Lanka in 2019. An 11th hour court injunction order the plane to land in Darwin.
The four were then held at the Christmas Island detention centre for two years until then immigration minister Alex Hawke moved them to community detention in Perth in mid-2021.
His change-of-heart came after Tharnicaa was medically evacuated with a suspected blood infection.
Following the change of government in May, interim Home Affairs Minister Jim Chalmers gave the family permission to return to Biloela on bridging visas.