Learning the Rules

Elisabeth Peters

It’s a steep learning curve when you migrate to another country, as we found out when we first came to Sydney. Addressing your boss by his Christian name; getting used to everyday language peppered with expletives, of which ‘bloody’ was the mildest one;  accepting that people called you ‘love’ if you were neither a relation nor a lover; all that took a bit of time.

And the business with the sticker.

Before we moved out of the Migrants’ Hostel at Villawood, Heinz bought our first Australian car, a 1960s Holden Kingswood – what else – in a fetching beige colour with a white roof. He purchased it from a second-hand dealership in Woodville Road, close to Parramatta. The sticker on the rear windscreen did not worry us; it’s what you get when you buy a pre-loved car.

Not long after, Heinz took on a job with a company in Kingsgrove, not too far from our rented flat in Greenacre. The pay was adequate and the colleagues were friendly, but something was bothering him. As he told me, other drivers often gave him dirty looks, beeped their horns at him or gave him the two-fingered salute on the way to work. This made him feel rather insecure. Had he veered too much to the right, had he failed to indicate? Was he driving too fast or too slow? Had they found out somehow that he was German (a lingering resentment dating back to the War perhaps)? He could not work it out.

Then, some weeks later, he gave one of his workmates a lift. The fellow walked around the car and read the sticker on the rear windscreen.

“Mate, you’re game, driving around this neck of the woods with that thing plastered on your car.”

To enlighten him, the colleague gave Heinz a crash course on the local footie scene, telling him that he was flaunting an advertisement for the Parramatta Eels right in the heart of St. George territory. At the time, in 1977, the two clubs were embroiled in a bitter rivalry. They had met in that year’s Grand Final which ended in a draw, and had to be replayed a week later. There had been grisly tales of teethmarks on a player’s belly and feelings were running high.

That explained it “How was I to know? I am only new here”, Heinz shrugged.

Since then, we have looked into every corner of our new home country, and found out a lot more about her people and history. Enough to know that all of us ‘whitefellas’ are only new here.