Photograph, John Owens.
Happiness and relief were my strongest emotions when I arrived in Australia in 1987. Although I love Sri Lanka very much, I was pleased to leave and glad I was coming to a good job in Australia.
In 1983 we had serious ethnic disturbances in Sri Lanka. Thousands of people were killed in riots and homes were burned in our street, which had a very traumatic effect on my children, especially my youngest son, who feared that our house would be attacked. One day he told his mother that he hoped our whole family would die together. When an eight year old is thinking these thoughts, we knew it was time to leave Sri Lanka.
I wrote to my journalist friends in five continents asking if they knew of any job for me. I was offered a job as journalist for the Catholic Advocate newspaper in Melbourne. I arrived in June 1987 and my family joined me two months later.
Australia was not such a strange place for me because from the time I was very young I was interested in Australia and had a book with information about kangaroos, Aboriginal people and the boomerang. From the age of 16 I knew the song Waltzing Matilda and had read the poetry of Banjo Patterson and C.J. Dennis. And of course, Sri Lankans have a very high affection for Australian cricketers.
I think we had a soft landing in this country because I had a friend to stay with and a good job to come to. I was soon able to rent a house, furnish it and bring my family into a nice warm home. The day they arrived was the first day of spring and Melbourne did us proud with a hailstorm.
My wife worked as a schoolteacher in Sri Lanka but was not allowed to teach in Victorian Government schools without a Diploma of Education. She got a job at a Catholic school but the boys were very rough with her and every morning she cried before she left for work. Later she got a job at a Catholic girls school in Windsor and studied part-time for her Diploma. My sons had part-time jobs while they were studying and contributed to the housekeeping, which helped us a lot.
I was 55 years old when we left Sri Lanka and so many of my roots remain there. It was a sacrifice to leave all my friends and relations. Every time a bomb explodes in Sri Lanka I phone to check that everybody is alright. Children can uproot and settle anywhere, but I still have a yearning to return. I particularly missed the consolation of friends when my wife died four years ago. Being a migrant always carries the burden of isolation.
However, the pull to return home is getting weaker. I have been back to Sri Lanka six times and each time I return to Australia feeling happier that I live here. Two years after we came to Australia I took my family back to visit Sri Lanka. I was very pleased to find that the children started putting pieces of their life together as we visited the places where they grew up.
Clarinda is a trouble-free area but I have found it difficult to get to know people in the neighbourhood. People will say hello but there is no activity, which promotes getting to know neighbours. I am a gregarious person but I donít find people willing to make conversation. Clarinda is also a difficult area to live if you donít drive because it is a long walk to the bus stop and railway station.
I love the Clarinda market, however, because it is full of all the nationalities of the world. I enjoy watching the Greeks sitting on the benches, their faces alight with conversation.
In the 13 years I have lived in Australia I have always wanted to find a pub where I feel comfortable and where people will call me by my name. I have tried a few pubs in Melbourne and country Victoria but I still feel a strangeness and I donít feel confident walking into a pub by myself.
But I was very proud one day when I was walking down a street in Carlton and a group of teenage kids asked me, ďWhatís the time, Cobber?Ē I felt very much accepted.
Article Cat. Blended Voices
Article Ref. 147