Like all non-Indigenous (Aboriginal) Australians I am an immigrant . I have lived here much longer than I lived in my home country.
I identify on a basic level with refugees and boat people who are desperately seeking entry into Australia.
We came for a better life, and found it. But it wasn’t easy and plain sailing, pardon the pun. We, however had the option to return to our former home, not to a pile of rubble, or torture and possible death.
The plane trip in 1972 with tiny baby and toddler was bad enough. We were ‘Ten Pound Poms’, one of the first families to fly for Ten British Pounds instead of taking the six-week cruise to Australia. Otherwise we would have been legal boat people.
My former husband was a skilled Fitter i the mining industry. He had a job interview inland, up in the Hunter Valley. The scheme to import skilled workers ceased soon after. We didn’t know they had already closed the Greta Migrant Camp that we were booked into until we got off the plane from Sydney. Our arrivaI was so awful we wanted to turn back.
We were bussed with others to Coogee Migrant Hospital, as our only option. Hardly anyone there spoke English. The staff in the shop were Hungarian and the goods were foreign to me. We were in the totally wrong city we had applied for and the office staff didn’t know what to do with us.
I had been forbidden to bring my baby formula through customs so we had a frantic search for different formula for a two and a half month baby., who by now was screaming from hunger . The formula we bought, or the change of water upset him even more, till the people in the room next door who were from South America and spoke no English, complained. I had been travel sick on the plane, had not slept properly for days, and it was all a complete nightmare. Totally surreal.
My husband and two-year old went out discovering, and loved what they found. Coogee Beach in particular. I have yet to see it! While he looked after both children I had to go to a packed canteen for a meal. Mental exhauston had taken over. I was on another planet. It felt horrible.
Things got worse before they got better ; no family support, no easy phoning overseas, the sense of isolation, total foreignness of absolutely everything (even the Aussie English language was different). The Poor baby finally settled in his carrycot on top of the table in the train carriage on the journey from Sydney to Newcastle. The scenery on the two hour journey was fantastic, and I remember a glimmer of hope.
We were going to the unknown. With nowhere to live, and no family apart from some unknown stepbrothers and stepsister. They turned out to be lovely and got us on our feet, then on to the train to our new life in Singleton, New South Wales.
It had taken nine nerve-wracking months to get approved for immigration, during which our second child was born. We had sold our house and a stayed with parents, who were devastated when we took their two adorable grandchildren to the other side of the world. Now it seemed I had made a big mistake but I began to love the country town,its quaint buildings and fantastic scenery with big blue skies. The children and I made new friends we have kept to this day.
The next few months awere filled with overcoming difficulties of settling into a country town with a husband on night shift. My husband was either asleep or uncommunicative. He had his own issues and it was not the dream we had been offered. The townspeople were wonderful, and when Santa came to Burdekin Park we first felt part of the community.
We were ‘Poms’ to them, and it was up to us to prove we belonged. We built the dream house after some tense times with interest rates. The marriage lasted sixteen years in all, but the boys grew up healthy Aussies and now have their own families.
Yes we had great times. I have done amazing things. We were part of a growing, successful country. We were thelucky ones. We thought we were escaping an oppressive government but nothing remotely like today’s refugees are running from. No doubt bad people got through in our day. Who knew?
I hope these poor people find peace and acceptance here. They have nothing left to lose but much to offer.
What I went through was devastating for me, but a drop in the bucket compared to our new settlers experiences. The kinder and more helpful we are, the happier and more settled our new people in the comu
nity will be. Simples!