Yr 9 English
The Year 9 English students have responded to the graphic story ‘The Arrival’ by Shaun Tan. A series of pieces here indicate the strong connection they have had with task; a number of them opted to share their own family’s stories of immigration.
"Run! Susan, you have to go!" I hear Mother yelling. I am terrified and disoriented. My ears are echoing the sounds of screaming and explosions. What's doing this? I run out of the house, and I see a fleet of Russian tanks rolling into my own neighbourhood. Their shots deafening as they fire at innocent civilians. People are lying limp on the ground. I'm panting and dripping with sweat.
That's when I wake up.
I'm lying in a puddle of sweat, and my breathing is heavy. I hear my mum knocking on my door. She comes in with a concerned look on her face. "What's wrong, Susan," Did you have another one of those horrid dreams again. "Yes, It was worse than ever, though," I reply, with a shaky voice. "Well, you better wake up and get to work now," My mother walks out of the room. I can already smell the food she has prepared for breakfast. Standing up, I have a magnificent view of my family farm. In the mornings, I am so grateful to see such beautiful views over my land.
My name is Susan. I am 17 years old. I have a sister and my Mother and Father. We live in Budapest, Hungary, on about 5 acres of land. The sunrises are one of the only pure things I get to experience during the day. Other than that, I am in constant fear of the Russians who have hold of Budapest. I have heard dreadful stories about neighbouring farms being raided and the women being raped. I shudder at the thought of it. How could they get away with such disgusting actions? I quickly replace these thoughts with Stephen; he lives near me. I have only met him on three occasions, but I already know I am going to marry him one day.
The rest of my day is just the usual. Working on the farm, washing the clothing. Mother says I will be a perfect wife for anyone. She is proud of me. I don't see my sister much she has already married a handsome man.
Tonight she is coming for dinner. It is the night of New Year's Eve 1956. It is a tradition for my family to have everyone come together for a dinner and celebration. I have cleaned up the house ready for a grand night. Uncle and Aunty arrive first. They brought my favourite desert, Poppy Seed cake. Next comes my sister. She settles in, and I have a little chat with her. She says that 'I have to marry as soon as I can,' she winks at me and adds, "Can't run away with that Stephen unless he's your husband," She walks off leaving me with a big grin.
Later that night, I decide it is time for me to go to sleep. I say my goodbyes and lay down in bed, hoping that I don't have another nightmare.
I am startled awake by a loud rumbling. My first thought is I'm in a dream, but it feels far too real. As I clamber out of bed. I can notice my bare feet hitting the wooden floorboards. My dreary eyes desperate for a rub. I look out the window. My senses become overwhelmed. Adrenaline starts pulsating through me. I am instantaneously woken by the shock of the sight that falls upon me. I take a step back from the window, putting out of view the horror that lay before me. I tried to calm my breathing and collect myself. I hastily walked down the hall into my parent's bedroom. They are snoring ignorantly not aware of the current situation. I shake my mother till she groggily opens her eyes. My words flow out, drowning my mother in stressful nonsense. At first, she explains it is just a dream. I calm down, and all is silent. The rumbling seems to have faded out. Maybe I just imagined it all.
"BANG!" Out of nowhere, the silence is disgustingly disturbed by what sounded like a cannon. We soon hear a loud SMASH! And nearby yelling. It sounds like people's houses are being fired at. In a matter of seconds, my parent's bedroom wall was blasted apart. The splinters of wood flew all over the room. I just ran. I sprinted out of my house. I paused a second to see about 20 Russian tanks scattered around my farmland and the streets of the nearby neighbourhood. I couldn't bear it any longer and turned and ran out into my paddock. I would never see my parents again after this. Seventeen years old, my whole life changed forever.
I had soon jumped the fence into the next paddock. I had tears streaming down my cheeks, my hair blowing into my face. Fear gripping my throat, each breath made a struggle. "Whoosh!" I suddenly lose all the air in my lungs. Someone is here, is it a Russian soldier. "Susan?" I hear the person say. The voice seems familiar. It's Stephen. I sink into him, letting him hold me up. "Woah there, are you ok?" he says. I nod. He continues, "We have to go and get out of here now Susan,"
We decide just to keep walking till we find someone who can drive us to the border.
After this, we crossed the border to Poland and were married. We managed to stay approximately one year there. But the threat still remained. Stephen and I decided to fly to Australia and start a new life there. I hope that in the future, I can tell my story to my children and their children. But first of all, I don't want to miss my flight.
I, Theo Vandeligt, was born in 1948 in Barband province near central Holland with my mother Johanna, father Anthony, my two brothers Henry and Marius and two sisters Nelle and Mary. My father was a farmer who owned a small farm in which he sold and produced dairy products to sell at markets. It had always been a dream of theirs to own a large farm.
My parents often spoke about their plans to move to Australia to enhance the quality of life for their children.
Following quite a while of consideration, the fantasy to move to Australia turned into a reality. My father was off conveying his last container of milk when he found a flyer which educated him that an ex load transport was being changed over to a vessel that will take us to Australia. It didn't take much convincing to persuade my mother to agree to let us move as father had a job prepared for him as a dairy farmer so before we knew it we were boarding the SS Waterman liberty ship to dock at Port Melbourne Australia.
The Ship was an incredibly terrifying encounter particularly for somebody at the youthful age of 6 as there were a wide range of individuals and it felt highly threatening. I shared a cabin with my dad and siblings. The room was exceptionally little and I needed to share a bed to Henry as we were the oldest males of the family, while Marius imparted a bed to father.
The ocean was unpleasant and many were nauseous, in fact my mum was unwell for the entire six weeks while pregnant with my sibling Joe, I can't envision the fear she was experiencing during the expedition of her life.
We showed up in Australia I felt debilitated, sick to my stomach, I had been stuck on this boat for a month and a half yet I would prefer not to leave, not presently. I see individuals, a large number of them standing up at the dock. We know not a solitary expression of English, not so much as a straightforward "hi." After we landed the boat there was no warm invite like what I was anticipating. Individuals were herding us around like sheep. It made us feel like our privilege of mankind was detracted from my family and me.
From Port Melbourne Pier father went directly to Bunyip to begin his new position as a farmer while mother guided us via train to the Bonegilla migrant camp.
Words can't portray how unpleasant this camp was. The houses were made of tin with heshin sacks for warmth. We lived on top of one another in petite beds made of metal. We had shared kitchens and washrooms. The belittling slurs from the laborers that worked there were consistent and intellectually depleting, all I needed was to be moved of this camp they called a "protected place for migrants to live"
Following two intense months at the camp dad amassed enough cash to purchase a little ranch house for us to live near the dairy farm that he worked at. I found that living in our own home permitted us to adjust to the methods of "Australian life."
While living in this house mum had three additional children named Tony, Margret and Anne. Their birthdays were all close to a year apart. The new additions to the family made it financially harder for our parents. Father chose to place the three eldest males in the family into unpaid work finishing jobs that were unreasonably hard for somebody at 52 years old to finish. This permitted Father to gain more cash for the work he was doing.
At age 8, I started school at Marius Brothers Collage in Warrigul. School was hard as I had still not fully adapted to the english language, therefore it was harder to make friends and to keep up with the great workloads expected of us.
In year 7 (age 14) I left school.
Working from a young age was common so it was expected that I would follow in my father's footsteps and work on the dairy farm he had recently bought. The business was successful and I believe my parents felt a sense of fulfillment by coming to Australia for a better life and achieving their life long goals that not only set up a comfortable life for me but also my siblings.
Grandparents Immigration Creative Story
I can’t wait to start a new life with my lovely wife; it will be sad moving because I won’t be able to see by little daughter, we gave her up for adoption 1 year ago, and it was the toughest decision of my life. I just hope I will get to see her again. It’s bittersweet though, as I’m also happy because I’m going to have lots of opportunities and will be able to play sports all year round without having to worry about the weather.
It’s one week since we left south Hampton, we’ve got three more weeks until we’re there. We’re about to stop in Egypt, but we’re not allowed to get off the boat because of the war England just had with Egypt. Those traders are quite clever chaps coming out to the boat in row boats to sell their goods to us though, but the stench from those camels- I don’t know what they stuffed them with but I’m not keen on finding out. We were able to leave the boat at night when we got to Aden but it was too hot and stuffy for us to really do anything. Once we left Aden towards the Shrealan Canal it was even worse, the boat was going at the same pace as the wind, and we had to sleep on deck three nights in a row because it was too hot in our room and there was not air conditioner to cool us down.
Just past Shrealin there was an outbreak of the measles, which was quite a scare. One man died and the crew threw his body overboard and had a funeral. Everyone was on edge after that, and once rumors of even deadlier diseases started to spread the crew nearly had a full-blown uprising on their hands. We saw some flying fish which looked breathtaking in the sunset. Perth is amazing, it is incredibly clean and the university is amazing, I hope the one in Melbourne is like that too.
I remember that day. The day I heard about Australia. Back then, in Afghanistan, I was just a fruit farmer, growing, harvesting, and selling my produce at local markets. I didn’t have much money, but I got by selling pomegranates and apricots. It was my friend who left first. As we said our final ‘goodbye,’ he begged me to join him as a camel driver. I wasn’t an expert with camels, but I grew up around them, and I understood their ways. I was hesitant about leaving my family and my home but promised I’d meet him in Maree. Months later, when the second big call came out to Afghans willing to start a new life in Australia, I left.
I came on a huge ship, surrounded by water. So much water. Although there were hundreds of other men like me, our bodies literally crammed together, I felt alone. But what kept me going was the thought of seeing my good friend again.
When the boat finally arrived in South Australia, there was no-one there to greet me. The only person who even looked at me was the customs officer who merely glared at my migrant papers and pointed at the exit.
My first day was tough. I couldn’t speak a word of English; at first, I didn’t even know the difference between ‘dog’ and ‘banana.’ I didn’t know my way around, and the Australians were hostile. They were there only for the pay, and in between they did the bare minimum for us. It was so different from Afghanistan. I grew up in a household without much apart from a bowl of food in the evening, but we were taught to work hard and be useful. For the first few months, I wished I was back with my family, instead of trekking up and back with a camel.
The food in Australia was bland. Most meals consisted of potato, a tiny portion of vegetables, and a gelatinous, brown, salty sauce that they called ‘gravy.’ With bread. So much bread. There was no flavor and no colour. Compared to the vibrant spices and fruit back in Afghanistan, the food they gave us was just a grey blob.
Most of the other men were from Pakistan, India and Egypt although we were all ‘Afghans’ to the Australians. We were forced to camp on the other side of the road to them, so we used the evenings to share pieces of English we’d picked up or joke about the lazy white men.
We tried to make the most of what we had, telling stories of our old lives and learning about the wonders of the Australian desert together. A few people even brought dates that we shared and planted the seeds to remind us of our hometowns. Those nights were what I looked forward to as I led the camels.
I missed the liveliness of evenings in Afghanistan. The music and dancing and celebrations that lasted weeks at a time. At our camp in Australia, when one of us had a birthday, all the other men would give them their bread and butter for the night. It wasn’t a lot, but we tried to enjoy what little we had.
We helped set up the one of the first Mosques in Australia. It was a long project, but it gave us something to do other than driving the camels. Everyone had a different past, so between us, we found builders, architects, and managers. I mostly helped with the financial and planning parts, but it was great to see it created piece by piece. It was our group purpose for many months, and it was beautiful when it was finally finished.
As the early 1900s arrived, most of the men returned to their families. I asked my family to come to Australia, telling them about the wonderful and weird things I had discovered, but they always refused. Even when the friends I’d made eventually went back to their old lives or started life in Australia as tradesmen, I stayed with the camels. I liked the way they snuffled, and how I couldn’t tell if it was because of disgust or pleasure, they kept me company.
The men who left Australia were denied entrance when they wanted to return to find work. The government had introduced the ‘White Australia’ policy, and everyone coming from another country was forced to sit a dictation test, assessing their level on English.
I stayed in Australia. Although use for camels is limited now that there are trains, I haven’t felt the need to find another job. Work is no longer about money. I’ve learned that it’s about love.
I'm 23 now. There's not much memory left of you or my father. I still write to you though, I'm not even sure that you get these, but at least I try. I'm not sure that you would write back to me, father definitely wouldn’t. Every time, I write the same thing. The same story. The same past.
I always start, with you leaving. Choosing your happiness before that of your own children. You abandoned us and that was the cruelty. You left us with an abusive father, and a heartless addict. He never put us first. You are lucky that you got out when you did. He went downhill from the night that you whisked away, devastated that his woman left him. Sari left shortly after. Being the eldest daughter she had her rights. She avoided father’s opinion on her suitor. A kind gentleman she chose, he was not from this town, and certainly not from this poverty. Sari managed to escape, and all the anger and rage he had towards you both he took out on me. He forced me to be a slave and work in his bar. A ratchet place, of drunken disorderly aged men, it wasn’t a rare occurrence for them to take advantage of a young girl.
Hey, but are you proud of me. I ran too. I ran away with Arjuun, his father was a regular at the bar too. Arjuun was constantly dragging his father out the door, passed out and snoring. We gradually became friends, I met him first when I was 15, he must have been 17 or so. His father was soon to send him off to a shoe factory in Canada. We both had so little in the place of our so called 'home'.
We left in the cold of night, like so many before us, why is it not normalized to run away from home. So many do it, at least one in a family, more commonly the mistreated women and girls. Although we were always told not to run, what were we supposed to do? Stay? That was not an option for us. In our last days of staying, we tried to remain as droopy and sad as we normally were, concealing our happiness for a chance.
The moon was bright, and the night was just like any other. Cold and dark. We met at the fence behind our houses. A rickety farm fence, three rails, moldy and rotten. An easier option running into the fields rather than attempting to leave via the main road, being in the bar, I hear all the tragic stories of the running women from their husbands. They definitely don’t use the kindest of words to describe their women and wives. But we ran. From fence to fence, through the grasses, through the goats and into the trees. We made it out. Not far, but we made it. Together.
The trees were tall and endless. And the leaves crunchy underfoot. I realize that I haven't actually been this far away, from 'home' and from my father. Is this freedom? Is that what it feels like?
Robert Saddington was born and raised in Middlesex, England. His father ran a soap factory, so his family was well-off.
At school, he was usually bored. The only really interesting thing for him was learning about geography. Hearing about far-off places like Africa and the New World was exciting, and he yearned to go out and find his own new place in the world.
However, his father would hear nothing of it: “You’re going to continue the family business, and that’s that. Your future is here, in Britain, not off on some magical adventure.”
Due to his father’s wishes, Robert finished school at 15 and took on a management position in the family soap factory. Despite all the talk of “proudly contributing to our nation’s industrial success,” he was bored to death.
Four long years of work only strengthened Robert’s resolve to strike out on his own. He read about different countries he might travel to, and decided to travel to Australia, as there he could make a new life on the empty land.
Robert bought a ticket to Australia on the SS Great Britain. He did so without his father’s knowledge. And so in 1853, at age 19, Robert Saddington boarded the SS Great Britain and set sail for Australia.
Being quite well off, Robert had a second class cabin to himself. It was quite luxurious and only a little cramped. The voyage was 72 days long. Every day passengers followed a strict routine, getting up at 7:00 am sharp and going to bed at 10:00 pm. Robert had to clean and change his own bedding, but it didn’t bother him, as it filled some of the long voyage.
To pass the time, passengers played games or organized short plays or concerts. Robert was quite good at playing cards and won a fair bit of money during his voyage.
About two-thirds of the way through the voyage, a sailor fell from the mast and drowned. All the passengers congregated on the deck and held a funeral service for the man, whose body was never found.
The ship sailed into Melbourne on the 21st of October, 1853. It was quite hot, and Robert was sweating in his warm British clothes.
He spent one day in Melbourne and marveled at how much space there was here, and how clear and fresh the air was compared to London’s acrid factory smoke. The next day, he once again boarded the SS Great Britain, this time travelling to Sydney.
When the ship docked in Sydney, everyone jumbled down the gangplank, eager to return to the freedom and space of solid land. Robert set foot in Sydney and found it bore an uncanny resemblance to some British coastal towns. However, there were some differences. It was much warmer here, which caused plants that thrived in Britain to grow weakly in Australia. The animals were also very different. There were many new birds and insects which delighted Robert, who was used to seeing very few animals.
Robert was especially fond of Kangaroos, and would take frequent trips out of town just to observe groups of them in the wild.
When he arrived, Robert stayed in a hotel. He bought a plot of land towards the edge of the city and had a modest house built upon it.
He also started a pub near the center of the city. Working there made him many new friends. About a year and a half after arriving in Sydney, he fell in love with a woman who he was introduced to by one of his friends. They were married soon after, and went on to have three sons. Robert did his very best not to become like his father and accepted his children’s wishes.
One child became a doctor and remained in Sydney, one became a sailor and travelled the world, and one bought a farm near his father’s house.
Robert lived a relatively happy and healthy life with his wife and died in 1903.
December 22nd 1939
I’ve done it. I finally escaped that German hellhole. I knew I should never have gone to war. It just felt like a duty. If I could do it again I wouldn’t. I was so scared that I was never going to see my son or my wife ever again. We rarely ate or drank and we were so cramped in our metal cage. We can’t stay here though, it’s not safe.
December 24th 1939
We will run to Australia, the land of the free. That’s a place where we would be safe from the war. My lovely wife Gross loves the look of Australia too. We won’t tell our son Andy yet because we don’t want him to worry.
December 25th 1939
We have talked to a man named Ehlo and he has agreed to smuggle us through the German infested city for a price. The plan once we payed was simple he will get us on a boat to England and then his friend that lives there will get us on the boat to Australia. It’s the best Christmas present we could’ve asked for.
December 29th 1939
He did it! Ehlo got us onto the boat! I’m so excited to leave Poland even though I’ve lived there all my life and there isn’t a better way to do it then on a massive boat. It’s very impressive and it’s the biggest thing I’ve ever seen. We have been travelling for a couple of days and it’s still amazing to me.
January 1st 1940
We landed in England and it wasn’t what I was expecting. There was obvious damage from the bombing from a few months earlier. Craters in the road, half destroyed and burnt buildings surround and a big grey cloud accompanies the city’s sky
January 4th 1940
This isn’t good. Ehlo’s friend got busted. He got caught sneaking us on and now we have missed the boat. Being stranded in England isn’t the worst result though even though where we are has been decimated.
January 9th 1940
This isn’t fun anymore. I just want to go to Australia. They say things are better there. Better for everyone.
January 10th 1940
My wishes have been granted. Each day we have been down at the dock trying to get tickets for the boat but they are always sold out. So we had to beg the people in line for their tickets. We offered a lot of people money for their tickets but they are just as scared as we are. We finally found people to trade with. There were only 2 tickets though.
January 12th 1940
I am hopeful that I will be able to see my family again but I know that its not likely. I gave them all my money to ensure that they were set to live a good life where I knew they were safe.
March 4th 1942
I haven’t written in a while because ive been busy. I joined the navy and learned how to sail and control the boat. I then resigned and volunteered to captain the boat to Australia. I will finally see my family. I’ve missed them both so dearly and I don’t feel complete without them. We are close to the coast of upper Australia and we should be there within a month and a bit. There is concern about the Japanese but no one expects them to bomb a boat.
March 12th 1942
One week closer to seeing them and I still can’t believe it. When I see them I wouldn’t need anything else to come my way for the rest of my life. Just seeing them at the docks could make me cry.
December 29th 1974
No matter how long I wait I’ll never see my dad again. I just know somewhere at the bottom of the ocean he can finally stop fighting and be at peace.
It's Mum, Dad, Aidan, Sadie and Me. We are fleeing from the potatoes. It's strange to know that the thing that kept us going and was what gave us life can so suddenly take away everything. Well, we are trying to find a way to have more potatoes. Australia is where we are going. It's going to be our new land or home. But now, after weeks of travel, we have lost a lot...
Dad can't really deal with what's happened to our family. Mum has been underwater for only one week now.
Our future was bright when we left. Mum was strong, caring and she loved us. Dad was loving and thoughtful. Aidan was lined up for a prosperous future and was engaged. Sadie and I, we loved our life; so many caring people and our friends. But we got hungry. Actually, we were starving.
One day Dad came home and told us the crops hadn't grown, that the life that brewed underground and fed us, was gone. I felt a dryness in my throat, a ripping in my stomach. The difference between being hungry and knowing dinner is coming and then there is being hungry and that hunger will float over your head and steal your mind. It's all I could think about. Aidan's fiancé had a child inside her and the baby needed food. Our family was destined to fall apart.
It wasn't like we weren't well off in Ireland, we had a solid life. But this hunger changed us all. And our next meal is a blissful daydream. That's when we heard about Australia.
Mum told me, 'Sweetie, I need us to survive.' It was a small sentence but it packed our bags and took us to the port. Survive. Leaving my home. My place. Me. How could my safe place and everything I have ever known be sacrificed? To survive. The word survive sticks with me. I never thought I would have to survive after living for so long.
We survived long enough to get to the boat. I didn't really understand this part. We were on a boat. Dad's arms wrapped around Mum. Mum's arms wrapped around me, I was holding Sadie and she was cuddled with Aidan who nursed his fiance. My family were starving. But we were together and we were surviving.
Sickness had become bountiful in Ireland. And the sickness had snuck onto the boat. Mum held my hand and told me again 'Sweetie, I need you to survive because you deserve to live an incredible life. You deserve to live. Australia is your future, it's a place you will be able to live.' The sickness stole my Mum.
Mum was gone after that she was underwater. And we found Australia. The journey has given me life. With incredible sacrifice.
July 8th, 1949
I found this book lying on the deck of the boat at the start of the journey, and so I treasured it, and I think I’m going to start writing. I’m Milka Trstenjak. My husband, Ivan and I are trying to escape. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this scared and sad at the same time. My heart aches for my old country, but also longs for a new one. We are about to arrive in Sydney. Sydney, the place of hopes and dreams. And I have many of them. For myself, for my husband, and my baby daughter. She was born in Austria, just after we fled Croatia. June 16th, it was. 1948. A while before we got moved to Naples in Italy. She’s over a year now, and she’s everything to us. A new baby is on the way too. It’s made everything a lot harder. It’s a weight that won’t rise until the moment I can hold them in my arms. I can’t wait for that moment.
I’m so glad we left the camp in Italy. We weren’t there for very long, but it was hard to communicate. I could hear everyone, but I couldn’t comprehend. I could see everything, but I couldn’t understand. I know Sydney will be like that too, but we plan to make a life there. A home. A new place to learn.
I can see the harbor approaching now. I better go and get my things together. There are nervous flutters in the bottom of my stomach. Only a few more steps to freedom.
August 27th, 1949
Wonderful news; I had the baby! It’s a lovely little girl, and even her cry makes me want to sing with happiness. We are placed at the Bathurst Army camp, and my daughter was born at the hospital here. There was a young lady in the bed alongside me. She showed me kindness like I have never before experienced. She gave me baby clothes and a pram that I almost couldn’t take. She almost brought me to tears. It was the least scared I had been since we arrived here, and her generosity made me feel a little bit safer.
I hope we aren’t in this place for too much longer. We aren’t restricted, so we can leave as we please. I’m just so scared. Mainly for my daughters. I want to help give them the lives they deserve. My husband wants us to get on the road as soon as possible, but I’m not sure.
What would people say about a family of nobodies from a faraway place?
November 14th, 1949
We left the camp. The feeling of leaving behind the lady who gave us clothes made me feel a bit down. I wanted to do something for her in return, but we had to get on to start our new life. We walked a lot, that day we left, trudging along the side of the narrow, dusty road for hours. I was starting to feel alone. I had my family beside me, but it seemed like we were the only ones in the world. Until a man drove by in his car. He was an Italian farmer, and he offered to take us all the way to Mt Druitt. It was a foreign place to us, but the thought of a civilization and a possible place to live gave me more hope than ever before.
He gave us his chicken coop on his property. It was small, but there were blankets. It was better than having to sleep on the road. There was a river of unspoken words between the man and our family. We couldn’t speak the same language, but it didn’t matter. He came from somewhere else. That made him like us, and it gave me a comfort I don’t think I could have found so easily anywhere else.
February 2nd, 1950
My husband got a job. The Italian farmer who gave us a shelter helped him find it. He’s working on something called the Snowy Mountains Scheme. There isn’t a lot of money coming through, but it’s better than nothing. Anyway, I have my two girls who give me more joy than any amount of money could. I can’t imagine doing this without their constant smiles; it brings light to my days.
I’ve started using the money we’ve got to go to the general store down the road. There is the kindest man there. We can’t understand each other, but we have learned to share hand symbols. He is helping me with learning English. It’s nice to have a friend in this lonely place. I can be myself with him, and I can learn to laugh a little.
I really hope we save enough money to buy a house of some kind soon. The girls are getting older, and it’s getting squishy in the little coop. I miss my family back home, but I feel so free and safe here. I want to be able to give my girls what I didn’t have. I want to live somewhere I can call my own. I want many things in this unfamiliar land. But above all, I want us to belong. To fit in. To be loved. Our little family, together.
I spent my first three months in Australia alone. The journey leaving my war infiltrated town was long and tiring. Having to see where I have spent all my life become of destruction, and people I know get killed was traumatic, to say the least. I'll never forget what happened to my home. I was 23 when I left Cambodia. After a long couple of weeks of traveling, we got to the ocean and got on a boat. We didn't know where we were going, but that didn't matter; we just had to leave. After several stops at ports and countries, we found our way to the new land of hope. Australia. A country in peace.
We left in a large group and arrived in a small one: me, my aunty and her son. We didn't know what happened to the rest of our family and whether they're still alive or not, and that's something I'm going to have to live with for the rest of my life. Not long after arriving in Melbourne, I got split up with my aunty and cousin. That separation is when I started to feel completely lost. I didn't know a word of English, and there was not one recognizable thing. I felt swallowed up by the enormity of people the city was home to, and not one of them was one of my people. Not one of them knew my story, and I had no way of telling it to them.
During my first two months, the energy I spent trying to reunite with my family blinded me from reality. I was here. I was safe. I wasn't going to waste the opportunity of starting a new safe life. But starting a new life was hard. I couldn't even communicate with anyone. I had to learn a new language but had no way of doing so. I missed my home and now had no connections except memories. Memories clouded by the fear of the unknown. It was not knowing if the destruction back home had stopped or if it ever will.
Once I was thinking about more than just finding my aunty and cousin, I was able to think clearly; this being the first time in since the war started. It wasn't until I heard someone speaking my language that I was able to make a connection. That connection turned into my first conversation in months. There was a whole community of Cambodian immigrants in the eastern suburbs. It was there that I was able to reunite with my family. The feeling of seeing someone I could connect to after months of no connection formulated hope. The community had a Buddhist church. Being inside it made me feel at one with myself and my culture—a culture I hadn't been able to celebrate in months. I had been trying to become at peace with the new culture that I had become at war with mine. I had been changed. Being around people, I can create connections with was when I started to reconnect with myself and my past peacefully and happily.
It took me years to learn English, but once I had, it felt one big step closer to being accepted in this new city. As much as the barrier between me and the rest of society started to fade away, it is still clearly existing in now in the present and will be in the ongoing future, and that's something I am coming to accept. Since my time in Australia, I have traveled back to my country many times and have reunited with the rest of the family that survived the war. I have also managed to start a new family of my own with two beautiful children, one still studying at university and one about to have their first child. As much as I know-how at home, I feel here in Australia, and I have always managed to make staying connected with my past and my culture my number 1 priority.
This was it, I finally reached my destination after 15 long days. I was a young boy, only 8 years old when I left and the middle child of 12 siblings. I had trekked through the tough winter climate with the snowing weather and the high altitude on the mountains I was up upon. The journey was tough but completely worthwhile. Sleeping throughout the day, and trekking through the night so we could keep in secrecy and not be found felt very out of the norm. My whole life I had felt watched over like someone was always on my back, but this is what kept me going, to get away from this cruel feeling. Hi, my name is Sonam and this is my story.
1985 was the year I left Tibet as a refugee.
The year where everything changed for me, but for the better of course. Leaving my country was not a choice, something that I may not have wanted to do, but something that I know would be a better option. A safer one. Where I could start fresh, find a good education, and try to live life with my head up high, and no regrets. My uncle, the porters, and I arrived in Nepal 15 days later. We took a route from Tashizom to Nang pa la, which then took you to the Nepalese border. I never felt like this before, a sense of relief and excitement for my journey ahead. I was soon to become a monk, and this was a new experience for me. My uncle was a monk, and learning Buddhist teachings and living a different type of lifestyle felt so very different.
My family and I lived very poorly, and as the Chinese had invaded our country they took many things from us, including valuables. My family wanted the best education for me, so they decided to send me to a school in India (which I arrived in 1986), that was set up by the Dalai Lama’s sister for Tibetan children living in exile. This whole school environment was new to me. Interacting with this many people, and having teachers was all very different. I spent the rest of my schooling at this boarding school, learning many subjects including learning two new languages, Hindi and English which took many years to excel in. Graduating school felt like an amazing accomplishment, and I was later awarded a scholarship by the Tibetan exile government to attend the Delhi university. I studied and completed my Bachelor of arts which took three years to complete, which I was pleased about.
2002, was the year I met an amazing woman named Rebecca Mayer. She was Australian, and we first had met online. After many calls, emails, and letters later, she told me she was flying down to India to see me. We had many discussions for me to come to Australia to live with her permanently, but within this, there was a huge problem. The Australian immigration had no intention of letting me in because they thought that I would never return to India, and they didn’t believe our relationship was authentic. They didn’t think that a successful white business woman would want anything to do with me because I was a refugee from a third world country who had very little money and had left everything behind. As I thought it would get easier, it became harder and harder for us both, as I kept getting rejected as a total of 7 times. The pain we went through was indescribable. I can’t imagine going through it again, the many hours of waiting to see if I would be allowed in, and hours of paperwork and us having to justify our relationship to the Australian embassy. Pure bullshit.
As I had just finished my degree at university, I decided to study Masters of Multimedia. This was the most exciting news I had heard in a long time, as Monash University had accepted me to study it. It felt like we were finally getting somewhere. Everything had been sorted, the paperwork had been filed and Rebecca had helped me out. But as we began to realize how long we waited for, they had yet to contact us back. They said that our application had somehow gotten lost, and said: “We will call you back." I was supposed to start university in 2 weeks!
As the phone rang, I jumped up just dying for an answer. Rebecca picked up the phone in confidence. Anything at least. I was praying for the positive outcome we had been waiting for. As the phone call was ended on both lines, my heart pounded. I could tell by the look on her face what the answer was. She tells me that the visa has been refused because I did not meet the criteria. That Rebecca’s company was not an international company and that she was sponsoring me. At this point, I had it with Australia’s immigration policies and the lies they told us. This was not true as her business was international. We began to quickly look for other options, and I mentioned New Zealand. We came to the idea to try the tourist visa for New Zealand.
We landed in New Zealand in the year 2003, and we got married on the 27th of March 2004. The wedding was quite small with a few of our close friends, and Rebecca’s family that had flown down from Australia. Our wedding was beautiful and a traditional Tibetan wedding. The wedding was extra special. Seeing all of her family there and having our closest friends be there with us. What made it more special to me was that we found a Tibetan celebrant who married us, which meant a lot to me.
Later in the year, we decided to try again. We applied for a tourist visa to Australia, which was much easier now, but I still got rejected at least once. Persistence, courage, and patience are what got me through this tough time. And of course my wife. After a long process, I was accepted into Australia. Biggest relief of my life, but of course there was one condition. Every 3 months I had to return to New Zealand and renew the visa.
One year later we arrived in Melbourne. We stayed there for a couple of weeks, then moved to South Australia due to Rebecca’s work commitments. Little did we know that we were going to have a baby girl named Lhamo. We later moved back because of more work commitments. A small suburb called Mt Martha is where we lived for a year, down by the beach. We loved the suburb so much that we decided to move to another area in Mt Martha, but a bigger house for Lhamo to grow up in. In the years 2008 and 2009, we had two boys named Yonten and Jamyang.
I am very grateful to have been finally allowed to be accepted in this beautiful country, found the love of my life, built a family, and started work at a family business.