Looking back at 50 years in Australia

Australia was a little different when a young couple landed here in 1972

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At the end of next month, I will be reaching a new milestone – in fact, a third milestone, in the last five years. The first one was a few years ago when I turned 80. It was mostly a spiritual event. The next in 2020, was the golden jubilee of our wedding, a mix of spirits and spirituality. The forthcoming milestone marks 50 years of residence in Australia. It promises to be ‘spirits-full’.

I have many interesting incidents in our early days and would like share a few.

Unlike now when a plane-load of Indians arrive every week, we were just two of four Indians among a score of  Asians on a Qantas flight from Singapore in October 1972.

Our immigration application had to pass through several hoops – a series of medical check-ups all sent to  Canberra for clearance, including palm-size chest x-rays. The whole process took nearly two years despite the fact that my doctor wife had a job offer, with her skill in short supply. Since the male partner’s employment potential was the deciding factor, my journalist qualifications and experience did not matter much, causing delay.

There were a few hurdles on the Indian side too, like Income Tax clearance to prove we were not skipping the country without paying our dues. No Mallya or Choksi to consult then. Another one was a Reserve Bank certificate for carrying with us two small silver lamps and cups, our wedding presents. And importantly, an application for foreign exchange; back then RBI regulations allowed only US $ 7.50 each as emigrants.

Source: supplied

READ MORE: Indian migrants in Australia: Census 2021

And so both of us left well-paid jobs with India’s premier employer – Tatas – with US $15 in hand, and arrived in Melbourne with three dollars less. After a couple days’ stay in Singapore with a relative, we came to the airport for our flight. An Australian couple ahead of us at the check-in were short of funds for their airport tax – prevalent then – and I offered them in the fond hope of gaining some goodwill in our future homeland.  I gave my Whyalla friend’s address for them to refund. Still waiting to hear from them, I’m wondering if there’s any chance of them reading this article!

Even worse was his comment to a fellow passenger: “Because of this bloke we are on this flight.” Unaware that ‘bloke’ is normal Australian lingo, I felt offended. Now it is part of my regular vocabulary, as a fair dinkum Aussie!

Our Qantas flight arrived quite late; we missed our connecting flight to Adelaide. That being the last plane to leave Tullamarine, it looked desolate. Somehow we  managed to find there was a hotel (Travelodge, I reckon) opposite the airport and checked in. I lost another dollar by tipping the porter, unaware that this is a no-tipping zone.

Next morning too we would have missed our flight as we didn’t know the clock was put one hour ahead for daylight saving. We skipped breakfast and rushed to check out. We were five dollars short of our room tariff.  I explained our situation and promised to send it upon reaching Whyalla. We were hugely relieved as we boarded the flight to Adelaide. If the Melbourne couple’s episode was a disappointing start to our life in a new land, that hotel staff’s trust was a soul lifter.

In the current zooming cost of living scenario, I am tempted to recall the prices of some essential items – Milk 11 c a bottle, bread 12 c a loaf, a tankful of petrol $2.40, GP consultation $3.80 etc.

Average weekly wage was $70. My journalist salary at The Advertiser was $83 a week. A month after our arrival, we made a round trip to Sydney by coach taking 48 plus hours to buy Indian grocery from Eze Moses in Bondi as there was none in Adelaide.

Every migrant has some help in their settlement, and we had our share. I fondly remember many kind souls that helped us establish ourselves, leading to where we are today. I would like to personally thank each one of them but have no idea where they are now. Some of them are no more.

Without seeming like a name-dropping exercise, I mention Don Winton, former editor of Whyalla News, a co-participant in a journalism course in the UK in 1967, and pivotal to our migration;  Des Colquhon, editor of The Advertiser for giving my first job in the Business section; Peggy Oliver, Chief Librarian at Elizabeth, offering a position there; David Wormald, Manager of Munno Para Council, for picking me as Chief Librarian of their library where, in my 25 years, I had several proud achievements including a PR Award from the Australian Library Promotion Council;  Peter Duncan, Attorney-General in Don Dunstan government, ever ready to help; Pam O’Grady, who helped to find my feet in the library arena;  Jagan and Maya Mazumdar for their moral support, and Rajni Luthra for rekindling my interest in writing and giving me space in the Indian Link for the past 12 years. I owe you all a great debt of gratitude.

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