Photograph, John Owens.
My story of migration from Malaysia started with my sister and brother coming to Australia to study. When they graduated in the 1970s Australia had an open policy to migrants and they decided to stay. After my parents passed away I decided to join my brother and sister in Australia and start a new life.
I was 26 when I came to Australia in 1986. At first I wasnít sure if I would stay. After finishing a hairdressing course, I returned to Malaysia for eight months to think about things and decided to come back. I had my brother and sister here and I had also met my future wife in Australia.
Before I came here I thought Australia was just a Western country but after I arrived I noticed an oriental flavour, which suited me. Australia is a Western democracy, which I strongly believe is a good system but it also has a little bit of Asia.
There are good things and bad things about this country and we have to look at the good things to balance the bad things. If you look only at the bad things then life is pretty miserable.
I feel I am gradually integrating into the Australian community and my son feels very at home here. But in a sense I also feel foreign because I miss Malaysian food, our culture and the way we talk. I feel comfortable speaking English with my son because I think English is a very good tool. My son will use English all his life and heíll have an advantage learning English at a young age. However, my wife prefers to speak Chinese, so our son speaks Chinese as well.
Lately, Iíve been very happy living in Clayton South. It is a really mixed area and I have neighbours from Chile, Sri Lanka, India, Hungary and Vietnam. Five households from five different countries! Sometimes we have a party or a barbecue in the back yard and talk about our experiences and itís fantastic.
I definitely feel a sense of community among my neighbours but in the wider area this is more difficult to find. Some people who are new here are very busy trying to build their lives in Australia and if they donít show interest in what is happening in town or in the environment we can only try to help them integrate into the community. I am also trying to build my life in this country and I dream of a strong and harmonious community.
I feel it is very important to develop a strong social life and neighbourhood. I talked to people and looked for openings and I decided to join the Clayton South Village Committee. Clayton South is a migrant area and sometimes it is very hard to get messages across to people. I thought that being a migrant myself I might be able to help. We want things to be better for our neighbours and for our children when they are grown. Now when I walk around in my neighbourhood I feel socially rich because I know many people.
Home is a place where I feel safe and where I can rest comfortably and peacefully with my loved ones. Sometimes it disturbs me when I watch the television and see stories which discriminate against a group of people. I hope Australia will not take the same path.
Being a hairdresser in Springvale, I talk to a lot of migrants. Many say how they wish to go home some day. This is a dream. Itís not real. Sometimes I feel nostalgic for the people I was brought up with but what I am wishing for is to go back to the time when I left Malaysia at 26 years of age. However, the country I left has disappeared and developed. My playground is not there and my friends have grown up. If I went back now it would be like migrating to a new country again.
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