Australia day means something different for everyone, and those of us lucky enough to be living down under have much to be thankful for.
The devastation bushfires have put a lot of things into perspective in recent times, one of which is just how similar everyone’s needs are, regardless of our differences and cultural backgrounds.
Over the years Australia opened its arms to people from all over the globe and now almost one in four people living in this country were actually born overseas.
This mix of ethnicities, belief systems, and traditions, has resulted in the current-day melting pot of creativity, vibrancy, and culturally infused flavour, that is weaved throughout the DNA of all of the major cities and suburbs of our great nation.
Many of those who arrived on Australian shores were seeking nothing more than a safer existence and employment opportunities, and a large percentage of these people are now seniors.
As part of HelloCare’s Australia Day celebrations, we decided to talk with seniors from different cultural backgrounds and find out why they made the decision to come to Australia and what they love most about the land down under.
John Murray, 93, Ireland
John Murray is a famous face that many Melburnian commuters will recognise.
At 93-years of age, John claims to be Australia’s oldest living republican and he spends his days out and about on the streets of Melbourne advocating for Australia to become a republic.
“I was a representative of the republican party in Balaclava when Sir Robert Menzies was our acting Prime Minister in the 1960s,” said John.
John was born in Ireland and came to Australia after an opportunity arose while he was working in Uganda, but his reasons for making the move may not be exactly what you think.
“I just wanted to get as far away as I could from the Queen,” said John.
John lives in Cheltenham, and he is also advocating for a change of date for Australia Day, but his reasons for this are also rather unique.
“I want Australia day changed to the 11th of February because the greatest thing that ever happened to Australia happened on the 11th of February- that was the day I arrived,” said John.
John is extremely quick-witted and seemed to have a one-liner for almost every question we asked, but when asked what he loves about Australia his answer was short and sweet.
“What I like about Australia is that I have a lot more than I lack.”
John says that he plans to spend his Australia Day calling on as many people as he can to share his hopes for a republic of Australia, and he is sure that he will be doing so for many years to come.
“I will be around for a long time because God doesn’t want me, and the devil doesn’t want me either,” said John.
Georgia, 81, Greece
With so much diversity in Australia, there is a growing need for cultural-specific aged care services to help breakdown communication barriers for seniors who don’t have English as their first language.
There is a growing number of aged care providers that now cater to people from a specific culture, and one of the most well-respected providers in this space is Greek-themed care specialists Fronditha Care.
Although many of the residents from Fronditha share a similar background, everyone’s experience is unique to them, and we were lucky enough to hear some of their stories.
Georgia Kostantopoulou, 81, moved to Australia from a small village in Gargalianoi, Greece, where she spent her days working in the fields with her family.
Georgia arrived on Australian shores at the age of 22 with the hopes of finding a less tiring job that would allow her to help raise her family.
“I love everything about this country,” said Georgia.
“I managed to raise a beautiful family, buy my own house, and give opportunities to my children that they would never have in Greece.”
Georgia says that moving to Australia was the best decision that she has ever made and she is thankful for all the opportunity that this country has provided her family with.
“Australia gives a lot of opportunities to immigrants like me, to progress and evolve,” said Georgia.
“My children love Australia, and I feel grateful for all the assistance and I still believe that regardless of which country you are from, you can build a safe future here”.
Stavros Cambell, 90, Egypt
Although he was born in Egypt, Stavros has the ability to speak five languages including Greek, and he is actually a resident of the Fronditha Care home in Clayton alongside Georgia.
Stavros was born in Cairo but his parents were both from Asia Minor.
The prosecution of Christians by President Gamal Abdel Nasser in the ‘50s forced thousands to move out of Egypt, and Stavros was among them.
Stavros arrived in Australia at the age of 26 and his decision to move was born out of a desire to provide a better future for those he cared about.
“My priority was my children, and I knew that they would have many more opportunities if they were schooled in Australia,” said Stavros.
Stavros was an accountant throughout his working life and the things that he has always cherished the most about Australia are similar to many who were forced to endure oppression.
“There is a sense of freedom that you rarely find in other places,” said Stavros.
“You can be who you want to be, believe in whatever you like, wear and behave in whatever way pleases you, and you are not discriminated against.”
“Of course you have to follow laws, but Australia is a country where everyone is welcome”.
Brian, 70, Serbia
World War II was the catalyst for a lot of migration throughout the late 1940s and ’50s, and many Serbians found refuge in Australia alongside many other cultures from the Balkan region of Europe.
Brian Todorovic arrived on Australian shores in 1949 where he was forced to spend the first three years of his childhood living in Bonagilla migrant camp.
After living in Benalla for many years, Brian went to school in Williamstown and was extremely thankful for the sacrifices that his parents made to get him to Australia.
“I was very proud and lucky to have the opportunity to live in this great country after knowing what my parents went through in Europe,” said Brian.
The schoolyard can be a trying environment for any child, and Brian was doing everything he could to try and fit in with the rest of the kids.
“One of my funniest memories is always asking my mother to make sandwiches like Aussies,” said Brian.
“I asked for white bread with vegemite and butter with the crust taken-off, because at the time my sandwiches were thick bread with salami and no butter.”
Mekong Vietnamese Aged Care
Over the years there have been numerous countries affected by the horrors of oppression and war, and one of those countries was Vietnam.
The ten year period following the war (1975-1985) saw an influx of Vietnamese refugees head to Australian shores looking for peace and opportunity, and Mekong Vietnamese Aged Care is a place that a large group of Vietnamese speaking seniors call home.
The vast majority of residents and Mekong came to Australia to flee from the war or to reunite with family members who had already escaped.
When asked what they liked most about Australia, the overwhelming response from residents were centered around freedom and security.
Having the opportunity to raise a family and live in a manner free from persecution is something that many of us have grown so accustomed to that we don’t feel the need to celebrate it.
But knowing that Australia continues to provide freedom to people who weren’t previously afforded that opportunity is something that all of us should celebrate together.