This week we recognise National Refugee Week with the theme “Unity – The way forward”. Over the years as principal I have come to know the Governor of South Australia, His Excellency the Honourable Hieu Van Le AC and his wife Lan. Our Governor has, on many occasions, told the story of how he and his wife were raised in Vietnam and fled the communist regime. They arrived on a boat in Darwin in the 1970s together with 40 other people. After arriving in Australia he attended the University of Adelaide and began a career as an accountant and businessperson. He served in the role of Lieutenant Governor before being appointed to the highest office of Governor of SA in 2014. Our Governor also talks proudly of his sons who were born and educated in Adelaide and have forged great careers. For our Governor and his wife Lan, they sought a better life in Australia and the community welcomed them as refugees.
This story is told a hundredfold with many examples in our own community of families who came to Australia as refugees and have been able to call this place home. Australia is the lucky country and provides an abundance of opportunity for those who seek it. Whilst my story is not one of being a refugee, my parents made the decision to emigrate to Australia in the late 1960s to seek that better life of freedom, opportunity and an amazing lifestyle. My father left a well-paid job as a government official and became a welder as that was the skillset that was needed at the time. He worked at Chrysler, later to be known as Mitsubishi, and then Hills Hoist at O’Sullivan’s Beach. He worked 12-hour shifts and it was hard work in the foundry especially during the summer. My mother worked at Ensign Laundry services before she took ill and unfortunately died at a young age from breast cancer. As for the siblings, including yours truly, we were able to flourish and make the most of our opportunities, education and forge our careers – two teachers and two nurses.
The common story is one of sacrifice, struggle and seeking opportunity for family and to contribute to the life of this nation in a meaningful and productive way.
There are many challenges for refugees as they begin their journey in this lucky country. Apart from employment and finding suitable accommodation, the challenge of being displaced from your country-of-origin plays heavily on the minds of those who come here as refugees. Often, family remains in the home country and are generally at risk in terms of safety and welfare. The challenge of belonging and being accepted is a real struggle for many as they encounter discrimination and at times racial abuse.
I was only recently listening to Leon Byner on 5AA talk back radio, when a male rang in to offer his advice regarding Australians returning from overseas. When Leon said that we had an obligation to return Australians home from COVID infected countries as they are Australians, he replied that they were not real Australians as many were not born in Australia. I believe that this attitude is still present in our society and it is incumbent on us to speak up just like Leon did at that time.
Let us celebrate National Refugee Week and be grateful for the richness that our diverse community brings to our lives each day.