Not too long ago, I began wondering about my family and where I belonged in terms of the wider society, and so I began some ‘research’. I found both positive and negative information about my family that I already knew or had heard about, however, I also discovered some interesting information about my family which I had never been aware of. The one thing that really shaped my identity was the things about my grandfather’s immediate family. My grandfather’s father, worked as a master shoemaker for German officers throughout the early stages of the Second World War.
He was assigned to a ship moving the men to an internment centre. When the Americans came heroically in they bombed the ship, so without any choice my grandfather’s father swam back to Germany. Not long after he came to get the family and escaped onto a train. Yet again there was another bombing. The family ended up going to Bengali Displaced Persons’ camp in Italy, waiting for transportation to some other safe haven; Australia or America. My grandfather’s father decided Australia because it was a “new” country. All the family had were a couple of suitcases and a great big box.
The agreement was that they worked for the Australian Government for two years. They came to Australia on the Bundy. My aunty Beate was very small and my aunty Anne was only five years old (grandfather’s sisters). When they boarded women were generally asked if they were pregnant and my grandfather’s mother declined without hesitation. That was in July; she had my grandfather John in December (1949). She hid the pregnancy as protection. At this stage of their migration they were poor and experiencing terrible conditions whilst abroad the ‘Suez Canal’.
Immediately after their arrival at Sydney they headed to Parkes (migrant accommodation) where my grandfather John was born. They didn’t settle in Parkes for too long as they then moved onto to Scheyville Holding Centre. My grandfather’s father continued to earn some money, he moved to Port Kembla for work and travelled quite often back to Scheyville and Parkes. My grandfather’s mothers’ commitment to the family never went unnoticed especially when she started to work through the night just earn cheap factory handouts.
They family later left Scheyville in 1951 and moved to Marsden Park (aunty Anne still lives in this same house, with extra, minimal renovations), at that stage in society, there were no street lights and the roads were terrible, it was absolutely black and silent (not many people resided in this area at the time), it absolutely terrified my aunty Anne that she cried herself to sleep most nights. Things in this area were extremely tough and many misfortunate strains such as sicknesses and poverty were placed on the whole family, that I still hear about even today.
When the stress started to ease, the family felt ‘at home’ like there was nowhere else they wanted to be. They started living life again like before all the tension built up they invited their nationality and identity back into their lives by continuing to speak Estonian and having many Estonian things in their home. In 2005, a reunion was held, and my aunty Anne was listening to people, a couple of women were “going on” well perhaps things were bad she thought, but to her it didn’t seem that way. To her she lived there, went to school, ate and played.
Although my grandfather’s family endured many low lights in their life, they continued to have a positive outlook and as I discovered after researching about this significant part of their life, the children (Aunty Anne, Aunty Beate and grandfather John) never really understood what was happening at the time and so all they saw of their early childhood was what happened to them alone. So, I discovered that I never wanted to be like that, I wanted to learn about world affairs and other people’s world, I then knew that I was never going to be concerned with only me!
Throughout this discovery of life I really began to understand my deeper identity, the part of my identity that no one really knows or can see displayed through my actions. After unearthing all the hardships, deprivation, lies, suffering and cruelty they were faced with, I felt lucky not only because of the fact that I was not in the same situation at such a young age, but also because of the freedom I endure every day, I have rights and I am constantly protected which allows me to feel safe and secure in my body, in my community and in ‘my’ world.