It’s the peak heat of summer. Cars zoom past. Beeping horns, the rumble of trucks. Tall trees, a type I’ve never seen before, provide patches of shade like a linear chessboard along the cracked concrete footpath. The brilliant sun is hot against my face and sweat runs down my jaw as I put one foot in front of another in my heavy wintry clothes. Where is this place? Why did we leave home? I don’t know, but a sense of wonder and adventure lurks in my chest. My cousin is walking beside me. She’s the same age as I am – four years old. We are behind my mother and father, my uncle and aunty, my two older sisters and my baby cousin. I pull on my cousin’s hand. ’What is the place called again?’ She looks up from the footpath. ‘Avustralya’. Avustralya – Yes! That sounds like magical place.
This is my first memory of coming to Australia. It was December 1981. I don’t remember the plane ride, or how we got from the airport to our destination or why we were all walking along Springvale road. We had a house rented in the south eastern suburbs. The walk seemed to last forever, but not in a bad way. It was so alien, but also so fascinating for me. Later, when I was a teenager, looking back on my first memory, I used to cringe at what people must have thought seeing us. Nine Assyrian Orthodox immigrants from Turkey, wearing heavy coats in forty degrees. Of course, my perspective has changed a great deal since then, but I still wonder if people driving by looked out and thought … bloody wogs? I guess I’ll never know. I’m older now, but I still tend to approach the world with a sense of adventure lurking in my chest. Throughout my life, my cultural background, my family, my traditions, the norms and expectations of my community have shaped me. So has the world outside of my community. My Australian self. My experiences at school, at work, in life, in relationships, as a person, a mother and a writer. Not too long ago my mother passed away. It’s the first time anyone close to me has died. It was not an easy passing for her, or for anyone in our family. We have all dealt with it differently. I realised after she passed away that I didn’t know her very well. In a way, her death catapulted me to my past. I needed to know her better, if not in life, then posthumously.Its my way of trying to understand my mother, my life, and ultimately, myself. And so, here I start with my first memory of coming to Australia. If we look back far enough, we all came from somewhere else, and we’ve all chosen to be here and share this beautiful country together.
Tip o’ The Fez to you.