Family tree . . . Holding grandson Isaac Ani (8 months), Ani Noh (left) says he is "very happy" with his life in Oamaru. With him are (from left) his wife Ramlah Jusoh, daughter-in-law Hani Mohd, son PJ Ani, and grandson Eidyn (2) Ani. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD

In 1985, a bright-eyed Ani Noh travelled from his home in Malaysia to take up seasonal work at the Alliance Group Pukeuri meat works.

He was one of the plant’s first halal slaughtermen and one of the first people of the Islamic faith to live in Oamaru.

During the processing season, Mr Noh spent time hunting and fishing and became very close friends with Elton Wilson, who worked in the boiler room at the works, and Eric Smith, a painter.

Between seasons he would venture home to be with his wife Ramlah Jusoh and their four children.

After working at the Pukeuri plant for three years, Mr Noh was transferred to another Alliance plant in Dunedin, which has since closed.

Enjoying New Zealand life, he underwent a physiotherapy course at the Otago Polytechnic and became the Green Island Rugby team’s masseur. One of his sons joined him in Dunedin.

But Mr Noh did not enjoy living far away from the rest of his family for long stretches.

In 1989, he applied for residency.

With an endorsement from his family away from home – the Green Island Rugby Club – it was approved.

Mrs Jusoh and his other three children joined him in 1991, and they moved back to Oamaru. Mr Noh also supported the Old Boys Rugby Club as a masseur.

“When we got here it was a very welcoming environment, especially the Wilson and Smith family,” their son PJ Ani said.

But it was difficult being the only Muslim family in Oamaru, he said, particularly for his older siblings, who had a tougher time adapting to a new culture.

Mr Ani went to Pukeuri School and Waitaki Boys’ High School, and could remember only two other “international” families at the time.

Maintaining their religious and cultural background was the biggest challenge, and was something his mother often fretted about.

“When you’re a teenager, you want to go and do your own thing,” he said.

But by 2005, more Muslim families were moving to Oamaru – mostly to work at the Pukeuri plant – but would not stay because of visa-related barriers.

“Before it was just my family. We were used to seeing families come and go.”

Of the Oamaru Islamic Centre’s 100 or so families today, the vast majority were non-residents, Mr Ani said.

Although the town’s Islamic community continued to grow, many still faced the same visa issues.

Mr Ani works at the Pukeuri plant as a supervisor, compliance officer and halal officer.

Following in his father’s footsteps in more way than one, Mr Ani put his work as a travelling auditor behind him – and the nomadic lifestyle it compelled – to settle in Oamaru for his own budding family.

Now he and his wife Hani Mohd had their own children, Isaac and Eidyn, he understood his mother’s anxiety.

And as an adult Mr Ani sometimes felt as if he was losing or forgetting his roots.

But he had come to realise New Zealand also made up a part of those roots, and he strived to give his children the best of both worlds.

Still bright-eyed, but certainly more grey, Mr Noh lives with Mr Ani, surrounded by family.

His other children were also nearby, one in Cromwell, and two others in Oamaru.

“Oamaru is very good and friendly,” Mr Noh said.

“It has warm people.”