LUCK WOULD HAVE IT

Townsville Bulletin - - NEWS -

AUS­TRALIA is a lucky coun­try be­cause it has a lot of op­por­tu­nity: in ed­u­ca­tion, health, hous­ing, em­ploy­ment, en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­te­nance, you name it. Those of us who come to Aus­tralia know how lucky we are to be here. We all have a big part to play in cre­at­ing an Aus­tralia in which we are the cus­to­di­ans of the present and the fu­ture.

Aus­tralia is not my first home. My per­sonal for­tunes be­gan when grow­ing up in colo­nial Pa­pua. The League of Na­tions had des­ig­nated Aus­tralia as the au­thor­ity to gov­ern Pa­pua and that meant we had a struc­tured gov­ern­ment which re­sourced us post World War II.

It gave us Pa­puans dis­ci­pline and helped re­build our lives af­ter war had cre­ated fear and havoc for our fam­i­lies.

For ex­am­ple, my grand­fa­ther had gar­dens, horses, pigs and cows, but the Amer­i­cans took that over dur­ing the mil­i­tary build- up. The fam­ily had to move to an­other fam­ily prop­erty in the bush about 40 miles away.

Gran­dad, Jim Solien, re­turned to his prop­erty af­ter the war and the Amer­i­cans com­pen­sated him ( some­what). The sur­vival strength­ened my fam­ily and sur­vival is what I learned from them and what I brought to Aus­tralia when I came. Many mi­grants also bring this strength from their fam­i­lies and their cir­cum­stances.

But, I also re­ceived a lot from Aus­tralia. In 1970, I de­cided to come to Aus­tralia as a 19- year- old boy to join the Army. I didn’t re­alise how big the coun­try was and that I would be out­num­bered by the colonists ( whereas in Pa­pua we were the ma­jor­ity).

Jump­ing on the plane, I had to bor­row a suit from my cousin be­cause I thought ev­ery­one dressed in a suit and tie in Aus­tralia. I looked smash­ing! But most peo­ple on the plane were wear­ing sin­glets and shorts.

At Mas­cot air­port, I looked around, the weather was ter­ri­ble, it was pour­ing rain and there was noth­ing but white faces all over the place. I also saw white peo­ple mop­ping the floor and emp­ty­ing rub­bish. I had the big­gest shock of my life. They didn’t do that in Pa­pua!

On ar­rival, I met up with a sergeant who gave me my travel de­tails. They es­corted me out to a big black limou­sine. The chauf­feur picked up the bag and opened the door for me. I was in shock! It seemed like royal treat­ment. ( The big­gest mis­take the mil­i­tary made was that they thought I was a rel­a­tive of Tunku Ab­dul Rah­man, the first Prime Min­is­ter of Malaysia who had re­tired the pre­vi­ous month. This didn’t last long.)

Prior to leav­ing Port Moresby, Mum gave me $ 5 and ad­vised me not to spend it on rub­bish! So, when I was dropped off at Wat­son’s Bay, the cook said, ‘ your din­ner is in the oven’, but I met some­one who took me to King’s Cross.

The first per­son I met was a Pa­puan na­tional who asked me for $ 5 and an­other told me she would give me a good time for $ 5! Mum’s $ 5 got me into a lot of trou­ble. Here was I, a boy from a place that was so dif­fer­ent.

But, in the Army, we learned a lot about ca­ma­raderie, about be­ing bud­dies and about mate­ship, which was the strength be­hind the Army’s train­ing pro­grams; the Viet­nam War was on at that time.

That time in the mil­i­tary re­ally gave me an­other foun­da­tion to build on. It was tough all right! I had to change my cul­tural per­spec­tives on many things be­cause it meant that some parts of my own cul­ture were not fit­ting into Aus­tralian so­ci­ety.

The laws were dif­fer­ent. There were dif­fer­ent at­ti­tudes to so­cial is­sues, too. Even the free­dom I thought would be a right was not al­ways the case; I was kicked out of one bar in Townsville be­cause I was black.

But over­all, re­flect­ing on where I was only makes me be­lieve how lucky I was to end up in Aus­tralia. The mil­i­tary gave me the foun­da­tion to sur­vive and, as well, my up­bring­ing – what I learned grow­ing up – was also my strength.

All of us who come from dif­fer­ent places have re­ceived a lot, but we have given a lot, too. For me, giv­ing was very im­por­tant: giv­ing of your­self in vol­un­tary work, such as play­ing mu­sic in church, look­ing af­ter home­less peo­ple and youth in cri­sis.

In re­turn, I re­ceived ap­pre­ci­a­tion and recog­ni­tion as a com­mu­nity mem­ber and a com­mu­nity el­der.

So, home to me now is liv­ing in and cre­at­ing an in­clu­sive so­ci­ety, a so­ci­ety that al­lows me to have con­ver­sa­tions that are open and chal­leng­ing about what it is to call Aus­tralia home. And, it’s still about fam­ily and about mates.

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