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  • Writer's pictureEbru Sak

In The Beginning

The 1960s in Turkey saw many of its people migrate to neighbouring countries in the hope of a better life, away from political and social unrest in their own country.

Mum & Dad living at the basement of an apartment

Those who fled their villages and settled in cities, found the weak social welfare system could not cope with high unemployment and widespread poverty. This forced men to leave their families and search for work and citizenship in neighbouring countries to escape a poverty-stricken life passed down from generations.

My dad was such a man. He left behind a newly born baby girl—me—a four-year-old son, and a young wife. He worked hard in Germany for one year on road construction.

Acquiring citizenship was a long and difficult process. Immigrants could only find work doing odd jobs; washing dishes in restaurants, or like my dad, working night shift breathing toxic tar until daybreak.

Isolation, loneliness, and waiting for citizenship, led some immigrants to alcohol addiction, drug abuse, extramarital affairs, and some gave up hope and returned home.

Dad was lonely and homesick, and returned to Turkey, never to pursue life in Germany. He secured a job at the Australian Consulate in Ankara and was required to stand at the building entrance and hand out application forms to people who wanted to emigrate to Australia.

The Australian prime minister at the time was Harold Holt, who held office from January1966 until his death in December 1967. He drowned in front of friends during a leisurely swim at Portsea, Victoria. Rumour has it that Holt’s death was not accidental, but that he chose to end his own life because of depression and mental instability. The police report ruled out suicide, as there was nothing out of the ordinary with his life before his disappearance.

Harold Holt is remembered with respect by my parents, as he opened doors of opportunity for immigrants.

Handing out application forms day in and day out was not the most exciting work for my dad, but he was much happier than pouring and scraping asphalt in the streets of Germany. One day, one of the applicants commented why my dad never filled out an application himself, and so he did.

The initial application was accepted and a follow-up interview scheduled. Although this was great news for my parents and offered hope for a new life, the reality was that it would be a miracle to be granted an entry visa to Australia because my mother is illiterate. She never had the opportunity to go to school because she was a girl, and girls did not need to go to school.

As they waited for the interview the days dragged on and dad would lose hope in ever teaching mum to read and write. So frustrated he would take it out on mum physically and verbally.

My mother still recalls the moment in the interview room at the Australian Consulate saying it was God's hand and her constant prayers that distracted the interviewer when she was asked to read a paragraph from a book as proof of literacy.

They were granted a visa and embarked on a long journey to Australia, filled with hopes and dreams. The plan was to work hard, save money, return to their homeland, buy a house or two, and perhaps have enough money to start a little milk bar business.

With one suitcase, two kids, and $20 in cash, we arrived in Melbourne and were transported from the airport to the army barracks in Camp Road, Broadmeadows, with a large group of other immigrants.

Once in the general community, the immigrants initially stuck together and supported each other, whether looking for work, caring for each other’s children, and even sharing homes. This changed over time as families wanted privacy.

My parents set out on their five year plan to save as much money as they could and go back to their native country. So they worked in factories, day shift, afternoon shift, night shift, overtime and whatever it took they were going to make it.

Back and forth from the land of opportunities to our homeland meant unrest and a compromised education for my brother and I.

Back to their homeland after the first five years, their savings would only last so long so they would come back again to Melbourne to work and save some more. And this pattern continued.

I can honestly say frequent relocation of the family home is just as disruptive to young childrens confidence as it is to their education. This is indeed made more intense when the relocation is between countries with very different cultural, religious and social backgrounds.


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