|Country of Origin||Greece|
|Date of Birth||4/3/1951|
|Year of Arrival in Australia||1954|
|Submitted by||Helen Zervopoulos|
My parents decided to immigrate to Australia in 1954 in order that their children have the opportunities for a better life and a more prosperous future. Their own life had been a life of subsistence, mainly living off their families farms eeking out a meagre existence from selling their olive crops and generally living off the land.
My father who was in his early thirties at the time realised that the opportunities for employment in Greece were limited even though he did have a secondary education.
My mother had all the skills necessary for a good homemaker but as far as getting paid employment she had no real options.
The decision to migrate to another country was not made lightly as it involved leaving all our family behind with the knowledge that we would never see them again.
I was only three at the time and I remember my grandmother handing me a little white handkerchief which she had embroidered with tiny pink rosebuds and asking me to wave it out of the window and she would be watching. But as the train pulled out of the station to take us to the port of Pireaus, father shut the window so I was unable to keep my promise to my grandmother.
The journey was a long one and everything was unfamiliar. The food was unpalatable to my young and inexperienced palate, the motion of the ship made me sea sick, mother bemoaned her fate and threw up most of the time. I remember stopping at Aden but we did not go ashore much to my disappointment.
The powers that be had obviously decided that it would be a good idea to take the opportunity for the many idle hours at our disposal, to teach the migrants some English. We all gathered in a large room which had a piano and a large woman in her fifties, wearing a very stylish hat, had the daunting task of teaching everyone how to sing in English. I remember her bare fleshy arms and how her copious flabby fat wobbled and trembled while she played the piano with great gusto and flourish. She tried to teach us the song, ‘Row row row your boat gently down the street, Merrily merrily merrily merrily life is but a dream.’ Everyone joined in with great enthusiasm creating a fun festive atmosphere in the room.
Like everyone there I joined in singing at the top of my lungs,’..b.’egely begely begely begely la la la la lee.’
It was much later that I realised what song it was that we were supposed to be singing and the words
‘ begely begely begely remained a mystery for a long time.
When we finally disembarked in Port Melbourne in August 1954 it was a typical grey Melbourne day the sky felt oppressively low and the icy wind lashed about our bare legs. We were herded into buses and taken to the Bonegilla immigration camp where we were housed in a Nissan hut and mother cried inconsolably, bemoaning her fate and frightened by the prospect of living in the alien land for the rest of her life. After a couple of weeks father went to Melbourne to find work and mother continued to grieve for her lost homeland. My sister and I were very frightened as we were not allowed to leave the hut unsupervised because mother said nobody knew what sort of dangers might be lurking out there.
It was a very claustrophobic and unhappy experience for all of us. Father found a room for us in Carlton and we got a taxi with another family who were also going that way and settled into a new life in our one bedroom existence.
The house we lived in housed at least five other families and was a dilapidated single fronted double storied balconied terrace in Drummond St. It had a long narrow back yard and it was good for mother to have other Greek people to talk to.
Eventually like all the migrants before us, mother and father both found work and gradually settled into the routine of working to provide for their family and look to the future of their childrens’ education and success.