Photograph, Kris Reichl.
I was born in Galle on the south coast of Sri Lanka and lived with my husband in Colombo, the capital city. Sri Lanka is a very beautiful country and we had a good life there. However, we thought Australia would offer better job and study opportunities for ourselves and our children. My husband had family in Canada and they wanted us to go there but we had heard many good things about Australia and preferred the Australian climate.
My husband came to Australia first and, because I was pregnant, I came after our son was born. It was winter 1976 when I arrived and I found it very cold.
I was a little bit lonely at first because my husband and I were alone with a small baby. In those days the Sri Lankan community in Melbourne was very small and we only knew three or four other Sri Lankan families. But before I arrived in Australia my husband lived with an Australian family for a few months and they were like family to us and treated me like their own daughter. It proved to me that Australians were good, friendly people.
We moved to Clarinda because we had a friend living here. We decided we wanted to buy a new house and Clarinda was quite cheap in those days. There was a lot of open land, almost like paddy fields, and even though there are many more houses here now, Clarinda still has many trees and is like the countryside.
Later we decided to invest in a business and set up the Clayton Asian Food Centre. The business did so well that we both left our jobs and set up two other shops in Dandenong and Hampton Park. It is a beautiful business.
At the Clayton Asian Food Centre we sell takeaway food, groceries, rice, cooked food in bottles and cans, lentils and spices. When we came to Australia we couldn’t buy Sri Lankan spices at the supermarket and my parents used to send me spices from home. Now we sell every Sri Lankan food and spice you could wish for.
We sell mainly Sri Lankan and Indian food but also Chinese, Fijian and other islander food. We import spices from India and we have a small company in Sri Lanka where we cook, bottle, can and pack food. At least once a year I go to Sri Lanka and India to organise the business and the imports. We also have regular mail customers in Queensland, Sydney, Adelaide and New Zealand.
Most of our customers are Sri Lankan, Indian and islander people but we also have many Australian customers. When we first came here many Australian people were not used to hot food but gradually Asian people have introduced Australians to spicy food. Australians are now eating and enjoying food from many different nationalities.
When I went to the shop yesterday about 20 Aussies were sitting down eating hoppers and curry and every Sunday a group comes from Frankston to have a meal. Some people have difficulty eating curry and they have their glass of water beside them but they still enjoy the food.
Melbourne has a big Sri Lankan community now and there are over 80 Sri Lankan associations here. In Sri Lanka, Tamil and Singhalese people do not get on but I get really upset when I see people bringing these problems to Australia. Sri Lankans should all be united here.
My husband and I help anyone who needs it. We like to help all the different churches in the area, by giving food vouchers and hampers for raffles. The satisfaction I get from helping people is enormous and it always comes back ten times greater.
I am a Singhalese Buddhist although my father was a Roman Catholic. When we first came to Australia my husband and I got together with three other families and rented a h ouse, brought out a Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka and started a Buddhist temple in Springvale. I go to the temple whenever I have time and it gives me peace of mind. I am also a Sai Baba devotee, which is a philosophy more than a religion. Once a year I go to India to see Sai Baba and meditate, sing and relax. When you are in business you really need that relaxation.
Article Cat. Blended Voices
Article Ref. 142