I was born in Trivandrum and lived for many years in Madras, in the south of India. My husband was in the army and, just after I met him, he went to Japan for two years. I didnít know if he would return to marry me or if he would find a Geisha girl. Of course he did come back and we had four beautiful children.
We decided to leave India for the sake of the children in the early 1970s. We spoke only English at home and as the children got older it was becoming more and more difficult because they were forced to do exams in Hindi and Tamil. It was also getting harder for them to get work once they left school.
Indians were not allowed to come to Australia during the White Australia Policy but after Australia opened up to migration, many Indians thought this country was a good place to come while others migrated to Canada and England. We came to Australia as a family in 1972 and are not sorry we came. All four children are settled, married and have lovely children. God has been very good to us. We have also been able to sponsor some of my nieces and nephews to migrate to Australia and each one is doing very well and is not a burden to the government.
It was easy for us to find work when we arrived in the 1970s because we had decided to work at anything we were offered. My daughters had all finished secretarial courses in India and found good jobs on the third day after we arrived in Australia. In India my husband had worked as assistant manager for a motor vehicle manufacturer but when we came to Australia the poor man had to work in a sheet metal factory. I felt sorry for him because he was used to sitting in an office not coming home with metal splinter in his fingers. Later he did get a clerical job and stayed there until he retired.
I got work as a teacher at Sacred Heart College in Oakleigh. Many Indian teachers didnít teach after they arrived in Australia because they found it hard to adjust. Australian children are so different from Indian children. In India I taught classes of 57 children. As soon as they heard my heels clicking down the corridor they all got in their places and there was pin-drop silence. But when I came into the classroom in Australia it often took the next five or ten minutes for the children to sit in their places, to be quiet and get their books ready.
Many of the children at Sacred Heart were migrants from Greece and Italy. Often the Australian children left school early to work in banks and other places but many of the migrant children stayed until final year. Greek and Italian parents would say to me, ďTeacher, I donít care what you do with my child but she must pass her high school. I donít want her to work in a factory as I am doingĒ. To their credit, a lot of those children are now working as lawyers and doctors.
Many things seemed different when we first arrived in Australia. I was particularly shocked that people dressed in such scanty clothing. In summer, I saw girls dressed in bikini tops and people going to church wearing short little pants, which looked like bits of rag. But you get used to things and now I can look at someone with no bikini at all and think nothing of it.
Another thing that struck me was how quiet people were in public places. Travelling by train in the morning everyone hid behind a book or newspaper. I felt bad whispering to my friends because I thought everybody could hear me. We also noticed the silence in Melbourne restaurants in the 1970s. Now I go to restaurants and people are talking and shouting and donít give a hang. I think we naughty migrants have taught Australians how to shout together in restaurants.
Menial jobs were looked down on in India as only meant for the servant classes. In Melbourne, many Indian boys got jobs in the railways and were expected to pick up the broom and sweep. I used to laugh because when these boys saw another Indian coming they dropped the broom and pretended they were doing another job. Weíve changed, though, and we now know that there is dignity in labour. It doesnít matter what you do.
In India it was a mark of respect to a call your superiors by their title and surname. I found it very difficult to get used to calling people at work by their first name but now I think that itís quite nice.
Many people have asked me over the years if, because we are a different colour, we have been accepted in Australia. I have always felt accepted and as a teacher at Sacred Heart College, in Oakleigh, I didnít experience any discrimination at all.
Article Cat. Blended Voices
Article Ref. 168