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Photograph, John Owens.

One of my earliest childhood memories is of stepping out of the plane at Melbourne airport with my family when we arrived in Australia. I was five years old and I donít remember much except a feeling of relief. I was so used to the noise, suffering, screaming and crying of the battlefield that the quietness of the airport felt strange.

I was born in 1975 in Cambodia and by the time I was four years old my family and I were slaves on the Cambodian killing fields. We were forced to work 16-hour days with little food and no medicine.

In 1978 my brother died from starvation. He was 11 years old. A short time later, my sister died from disease at 18 months of age. Within two years my parents lost their son and daughter and my father lost his parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunties and numerous family friends. In 1979 we found our way to a refugee camp in Thailand with just the clothes on our back.

After arriving in Australia, we stayed in the Westall Migrant Hostel for about a year. It was a secure, stable environment. This stability helped my parents as they tried to find work and establish a new life.

After leaving the hostel we continued to reside in the Westall area. My parents wanted to stay in a familiar area close to their relatives and friends. Their aim was to work as hard as possible to give their children a better life. For a short time we rented a house in Clayton South with my aunties, uncles, their families and my grandparents. There were at least 14 of us in a three-bedroom home. One day the landlord caught us and we were evicted. This was heartbreaking for my parents who had found a degree of stability and normality.

I studied at Westall Primary School and Westall Secondary College. These years would have to be my happiest and most memorable. Our house was situated near The Grange heathland where my friends and I acted out remakes of Rambo. Now when I recall my childhood days I am able to smile and be overwhelmed by feelings of completion and satisfaction. These happy times are what childhood memories should be.

The City of Kingston has been my home for the last 20 years and Iím sure Iíll be here for many decades to come. The diversity of the races within the Kingston area is a true sign that multiculturalism in Australia does work and is a good thing. If I wasnít living in Clayton South I would never have met the great people that played such an important role in my life. One can only wish that other parts of Australia could have the opportunity to experience what we have here and what we treasure so dearly.

Throughout my years in Australia Iíve experienced a certain degree of discrimination and racism. This onslaught of discriminative behaviour is caused by individual peopleís arrogance and narrow-mindedness. Our way of thinking is dictated by our past experience, our culture and our personality. People do things differently because they were brought up that way.

If these people had to go through some of the things our family experienced, they would realise and understand that life is too short to hate and be narrow-minded.

I canít speak fluent Khmer and neither can my brother or sister because we were so young when we came to Australia. I communicate with my parents in broken Khmer and if I get stuck with a word then I use an English word, which they usually understand.

I donít know enough of the Khmer language to interact with the Cambodian community. Although I look Cambodian, was born in Cambodia and speak a bit of the language, I feel like an outsider. I donít know enough Khmer to be able to speak politely and with respect, as I do in English, and I am worried I will be rude.

All the kids in my family are now working in good jobs. Iím studying at TAFE but I have other plans too. When I am older I want to go back to Cambodia and help out. I would like to help orphans and assist with the rebuilding of the country. Iíve promised my ancestors, my grandfather and my dead brother and sister that Iíll do that.

My parents went back to Cambodia a few years ago to visit the family and friends they left behind. They even went to the village they lived in many years ago. They have so many memories of Cambodia - most are beautiful stories of love and happiness but then there are the haunting stories of the killing fields too.

Unfortunately I have very few memories of Cambodia. I donít even remember what my brother and sister looked like or if I said goodbye to them before they died. This haunts me every time I think about them and I still shed a few tears for them.

Article Cat. Blended Voices
Article Ref. 166

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