Arriving ‘down under’

A first hand account of the difficulties Migrants faced arriving in Australia in the early 60's by Lucia Bokulic.

1962 was the most important year of my life. My husband, aged 20, me aged 19 and our 18 month-old son migrated to Australia. Leaving my homeland, parents, siblings and friends behind, I looked forward to a bright new future in that land on the very bottom of the earth. The term “down under” was not invented then. I came prepared to work hard so I could make a good life for my family. I was young, strong and ready for anything that life can dish out. But there were the little things I was not prepared for.

We had Christmas in Vienna, Austria and on the 29th of December we where standing at Vienna Airport ready for a great adventure. It was minus 26 degrees. Brrr… the coldest winter for 50 Years. Just before midnight the plane took off and 24 hours later we arrived at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport. The temperature was 97 Fahrenheit. I was not quite sure how much that is in Celsius, but I can tell you it was very hot. We must have made a great picture, getting off that plane wearing our winter clothes. We had not heard of layered dressing where you could peel one layer after the other off to adjust to the temperature. After all in the old country it was either hot or freezing.

I did not have big expectations. All I knew about Australia was that it was where kangaroos lived anda it was hot. And hot it sure was, so I was sure that I would also see a a kangaroo sooner or later. And I had learned a little English in the old country, but I found that did not help me at all. They spoke another language here, and no one had bothered to tell me.

After travelling over-night by train to Bonegilla, a big Migration Hostel near Albury -Wodonga, the first question they asked me was: “did you come here todie?(today)” I did not get the chance to answer, a man behind me said “ no they arrived yesterdie (yesterday)”.

There where other little things to learn. When someone was putting the bite on you, it did not mean that he wanted to sink his teeth into you, just borrow something. If they asked’ 'do you need a quit' they did not mean you to stop, instead they offered money. The colour blue meant to have a fight. There were some others too and by now I was really confused. It was then that someone explained to me that 'Aussie English' was a 'living' language. New meanings were being found for old words, new phrases developed, new words being adopted or invented. Some fell by the wayside, but some of them became part of the 'Aussie' language

And there were more

Going to my first party I was asked to 'bring a plate'. I felt really sorry for the people. They did not have enough crockery. So to be a Good Samaritan I brought two. But no-one had explained that there was supposed to be food on it. In the old country that would have been an insult.

In 1962 food was also something that needed getting used too. I had never eaten Mutton before. A 'Deli' was still an endangered species'. The 'Paragon” Café' and the 'Chinese” Restaurant' were'adventure' eateries. But we newcomers quickly adjusted to that and made the things we where used to. A whole new industry was established.

My next adjustment was to the 'dunny'. Coming from a large European city where town water was the norm, this sure was different. The first place we rented had the 'dunny' all the way down the back of the yard. My first visit was an experience. Then it had to be emptied.I remember one occasion when the truck that picked the buckets up went a little too fast around a corner in Crown Street, Wollongong and it tipped over into a used car lot. Lucky they were used cars.

I decided the names 'down under and the country on the “bottom of the earth” were not only a geographical statement, there were other reasons for that. You drive on the wrong side of the road. You turn the tap on the wrong way around. When you turn the light on, in the old country I would be turning it off. Not only that, even when there was a rrealr toilet the bowl was built back to front.

And there was all that name calling going on. I am sure it still is. In my time the 'Ities' were the Italians, the 'Dagoes' were Greeks. And the term 'Dago
Bastard' was actually an endearment. A 'Pommy' was a person coming from Britain. I think that started with the first fleet when the prisoners had the letters P.O.H.M (Prisoner of His Majesty) on their clothing. And we must not forget that all too familiar term 'WOG'. It originated in India under the British rule, used for the first Indian males that dressed in Western Style Clothing, they were called 'Western Oriented Gentleman'.

But I have found an entirely different use for this term. When I hear it and see the horror in the faces, particularly of Australian born people, I ask if they know what it actually means. Usually there are different interpretations. I then explain to them that to me it means 'woman Of greatness' and I don’t’ mind at all if that is what they would like to call me. It usually breaks the ice and puts a smile on faces. Just in case soeone gets to ask what we call new Australian males, the answer is MOG’s.

This year is the 40th anniversary of my arrival in this country. Looking back at my life, I am glad that I chose Australia as my home. I still have an accent, but I don’t mind and I am not ashamed of it. I like being an individual and consider myself a Dinkum Aussie that got a fair go.