How did you carry the grief of having to leave home, of losing the warm embrace of your mothers and your homeland forever. I feel such a sadness for you. That when your parents passed away, the sea still stood between you.
How did you endure enough struggles for a thousand lifetimes, childhood dreams never realised and your potential never seen without it breaking and beating you both. It would have destroyed me.
Somehow you found within you the strength to raise Nola and I so that we could dream that we could touch the sky and be anything, a dream that you were only allowed to have as small children.
By 12 you were both working the fields—Dad, you had to start at nine to raise a dowry for your three sisters. I remember you telling me how you dreamed of being a lawyer.
You have given us the earth by crossing the sea, we are nothing without you.
Speaking only the language of hope and holding only a suitcase of sacrifices, you somehow found a way through the darkness.
There was no welcome when you arrived; I remember you telling me the stories of being racially abused, threatened and told to go back to where you came from. Of being exploited in factories and farms, treated like animals, until your bodies couldn’t take it any more and we had to beg you to stop working. Of never feeling like you belonged in this country but that it was too late to go home.
Every day you did the jobs that most people would see as beneath them—4am starts, 15-hour days on farms, helping build this country. Dad, I can still see your hands blistered, scarred and so coarse from a lifetime of struggle and courage. Yet there wasn’t a night when you came home from work where you didn’t stop to bring me back some chocolate no matter how tired you were.
Mum, when I asked you how you could face another day on a farm or in a factory being treated like you were less than human, I remember you telling me “it’s so that no one can ever do this to you and your sister. You can be anything. We do so this so you will never have to struggle.”
When Australia’s Minister of Immigration Peter Dutton spoke of migrants and refugees as a burden, it filled me with such hurt. He was dishonouring you and all you had given this country; this from a man not worthy of standing even in your shadows. Parents who with nothing—no English, no savings—raised two human rights lawyers, with eight degrees and an Order of Australia between them. More importantly, you had taught us how to be caring people, to think of community, to take pride in giving back and hard work.
Dad, when you suddenly died at 63, all I wanted was for the earth to swallow me whole. Why couldn’t the world just stop? You had only just retired after five decades of working to support your family. This was meant to be your time to dream, your time to taste the freedoms and life you had given me and Nola.
Each day, when I work with refugees, I think of how today this country wouldn’t have let you in and how much poorer it would have been for it. In a different time, you could have been the ones at sea seeking safety only to have the door to freedom closed on you. What a lottery it is when and where you were born and how the world treats you.
Now, the best Nola and I can do is honour you, so your sacrifices count, so that people who come here seeking freedom are welcomed and safe.
I hope we make you proud with the work we do helping refugees and others. It’s your faces I see in each of them. I see the community like you saw our family, that those in need should be cared for and protected. I see the power of love, compassion and standing up for what is right. I will share this message with all who will listen, that we are one family, who should protect, sacrifice and care for each other in times of need. That’s what family does.
This blog post is sponsored by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. However, this is content we genuinely believe is interesting for our community. We’ll never publish content that isn’t.