Originally published on ABC Australia Plus (17 December 2015)
Masoud Parviz has been an international karate champion since he was 14 years old. But, now at 20, he is finding his feet in a new home – Australia.
The birds wake him before the kids most mornings, Masoud Parviz moans.
It’s early Tuesday morning, and the Iranian born refugee already has birdsong in his ears. Back in his bedroom in Iran, on the other side of the world, there were no birds singing Masoud awake.
There he was an international karate champion, a member of the national team from the age of fourteen and a fighter at four.
“He hates the birds,” Leeanne Krista says with a laugh. “He’s still getting used to all the Australian wildlife.”
Masoud has been living with the Krista family since April. Two years ago, the twenty-one-year-old was forced to flee his homeland and make the dangerous crossing by boat to Australia. Now, after eighteen months in detention centres, Masoud is fighting to become an Australian citizen – and represent his new country at the 2020 Olympics.
“Then, karate should be in Olympics for first time and my dream is to compete for Australia,” he says. “I will be 26, so my peak body for competing.”
After years winning gold in international junior championships, Masoud has now joined the ranks of Australia’s national karate team as a senior competitor.
In December, he was released on a bridging visa from Darwin detention centre. Less than five months later, he took home the Australian Open karate title.
“I remember it was really hard to start training because I was long time in detention, I wasn’t strong enough,” Masoud says. “But I train every day.”
Still waiting on the outcome of his application for a permanent visa, Masoud can’t yet compete internationally,
“Already, I’m picked for Australian team World Premiere League and World Championship but I can’t go and I miss it,” he says.
Coach Marco Mazzanti seems almost as impatient to see the Iranian refugee back on the world stage.
“From the first time we saw him, we knew he had a lot of talent and a great prospect to represent Australia one day,” he says. “He has a lot of experience, he’s competed for Iran for many years and he’s really sort of come up through the ranks so he’s very aware of the international competition.”
At just fourteen, Masoud left his family home in Iran to train full time in camp with the national team.
“Karate in my country is very important,” he says. “We train every day for five, six hours and we don’t have enough energy for anything else, study, fun.”
According to Leeanne, there are now few competitors in Australia with the same level of training.
“He’s elite,” she says. “You can just see the difference and the difference in training too, the hours he puts in, just so much more.”
Leeanne first saw Masoud fight alongside his friend, Homayon Hamati, also a former Iranian karate champion, at a Victorian tournament. Her three children were competing in the junior division and Leeanne admits she “wanted to see how it was properly done”.
“He just stood out, because he was so good but I didn’t realise his situation,” she says. “I was just intrigued: what can we do? What do they need? Because you don’t know with refugees and with sportsmen, elite sportsmen.”
While Leeanne says opening her home to a refugee never crossed her mind before meeting Masoud, getting to know the young karate champion made the decision easy.
“How do you say no?” she says. “I liked him.”
Now “one of the family”, Masoud admits he has his hands full training at home with the Krista children.
Max, aged eleven, Jack, aged 9 and Jess, aged 7 are all knocking off karate medals of their own.
“I sometimes call them karate kids,” Masoud says. “They remind me when I was their age starting karate. They’re really good!”
Even dad, Frank, a former soccer player, has been converted to the sport.
“At the end of the day I couldn’t beat them so I joined them this year,” he says. “And I’ve now started karate myself.”
Frank says Masoud has already had a “massive impact” on Max, Jack and Jess after almost six months in the Krista household.
“We’ve noticed he’s even started assisting them with their haircuts,” he laughs. “It’s Masoud’s signature style.”
“He’s like to me a big brother,” says Max, who himself took home a gold medal alongside Masoud at this year’s National Championship in August. “He’s taught us a lot about how the world is and how hard it actually can be for people.”
But Jess, sister to two big brothers, is still lamenting being outnumbered by an extra boy in the house. “No girls,” she sighs.
“Jess has actually been at karate longer than Masoud, since she was three, so she’s giving him a run for his money,” Leeanne says.
Despite living just five minutes from Kimekai karate club in Melbourne’s southern suburbs, the all karate family have now converted their garage into a dojo – complete with training mat. Guests are under strict instruction to leave their shoes at the door.
“We killing it in there with Leeanne and kids,” Masoud says.
Set to celebrate his 21st birthday later this month, he is still uncertain about his future but admits he’s starting to feel at home.
“My culture in Iran, we don’t have this much freedom and Aussie people are really friendly, really kindly,” he says. “In Iran, everything controlled by government and when you in national sport, they try to control you.”
It was after his success at the World Championships in 2011 that conflict with his government forced Masoud to go on the run in Iran.
“Government say me do something and at the time I couldn’t do it because I didn’t believe it,” he says.
At this, his voice drops and he speaks of another Iranian refugee, 19 years old and deported back to their homeland.
It is a sobering reminder for Masoud, even as he sits in the colourful Krista living room, watching Max and Jack get ready for karate practice, chased by Jess on her roller-skates.
With the Australian government still looking to strike a deal with Iran which would see the return of refugees like Masoud, things are less certain than ever.
But for now, the karate champion is content in this house by the beach, with three noisy kids and a dojo out the back.
“I was one day in Iran and now I’m in Australia,” he says. “I feel here is like my home. I lose everything in my country and I don’t have any hope of going back and I want to start a new life here.”
A seagull screeches overhead, as if to offer a challenge.
Masoud grins. He never backs down from a fight.
Listen to Sherryn’s radio piece for ABC Radio “Fighting spirit” here.
Words, video and photography by Sherryn Groch.