By Mo Ors, 76. Gold Coast, QLD
Contrary to the common belief that migrants in Australia mostly come from poor, uneducated economic and cultural backgrounds, I’m one of the many examples to dispel that notion. I arrived in Australia in the 1960s as a teenager with my parents who were both professional people, affluent, and well-respected in their milieu.
My parents had completely different cultural and religious backgrounds. Their kind of marriage was unique, unheard of and rather frowned upon by differing parties. We were a multicultural and multilingual family: European, Middle Eastern, African — following Jewish, Muslim, and Christian beliefs — and fluent in six to eight languages each, including English. I did not identify with the country I was born in, was subjected to quite a bit of discrimination, bullying and abuse, even though we lived a very privileged lifestyle, considered to be elite. We had servants, cooks, gardeners and cleaners who took care of our large beautiful home/mansion. My parents instilled in me from a very young age the meaning of social justice, by providing and fully funding shelter (similar to what is identified here to be a granny flat), a decent above award wage, all meals, proper continued education, medical needs, and cohesive social access, to each and every individual who provided us with their much-appreciated services. They were part of the family!
The main reason that my parents decided to come to Australia was because my elder sister had applied and was granted to come here, all unbeknown to us. She died before her wish could come true. She was just 25. My parents were devastated, so they decided to follow her wish and migrate to Australia to also provide me with a more hopeful, secure future, which may not have happened due to the political unrest in the region where we witnessed several wars and revolution. Army troops even dug trenches in our backyard to hide in. That’s how close war battles came to us!
My parents found it very hard to find work when first arriving in Australia, even though they were both very knowledgeable, highly educated, qualified and experienced professionals. All our precious antiques and valuable belongings, which were shipped over in a large shipping container, had to be sold by auction, to be able to provide for the family. There was no other financial help available after all the savings allowed to be taken out of the old country were depleted to cover for day-to-day living.
My mother’s first job was to try and sell encyclopaedias door-to-door.
Although a medical professional, my father was employed as a cleaner of sheep cages at a university research laboratory, where the professor in charge was conducting research about diabetes on sheep. My father became the professor’s right-hand man, but was never paid or recognised for his skills.
I was able to secure a very basic job in the public service almost immediately, as I was young enough to be granted full citizenship, but my overseas university studies were not taken into consideration for employment in Australia.
Only a few months after we arrived in Australia, my mother died following an operation at the hospital where she had just been offered a job as an interpreter. She was only in her mid-50s.
Not long after, my father re-married a much younger woman who was actually one of my acquaintances, which was unbearable for me. So I left home and lived on my own, which became one of the most stressful and low times of my life.
There was also a fair bit of discrimination going on back then in the 1960s, which is — frankly and admittedly — still going on, but perhaps to a lesser extent or at least not so openly, with political correctness taking over the mindset now.
This was the start of my life in Australia. It is often harder to have experienced a privileged life and then to adjust to such a different lifestyle, than to be in that situation from the outset. Regardless, I’m always very grateful for my life.
Because of my father’s experience with seeking appropriate employment when we arrived in Australia, I noticed that there were a plethora of similar situations among migrant and refugee communities. Wanting to ensure that people who came to Australia could gain work that matched their qualifications and experience, I started, founded, incorporated and obtained charitable status for an organisation to help those communities and assist migrants and refugees by developing pathways for sustainable employment, which simultaneously benefits the community.
Another blatant form of discrimination is ageism, which shamefully is rampant in many countries. My personal experience with ageism is the way I’ve been completely forgotten and disregarded by the people who are running the organisation which I founded and was a CEO of, even though I’m a lifetime member and designated life time consultant, as specified in the organisation’s constitution! Without me, the organisation would not even have existed, and none of the people running it (quite well, may I add) would not be enjoying their current positions.
Would you believe that on my 70th birthday (a few years ago), I suggested to the manager to celebrate my milestone birthday with the staff and management committee and touch base with them, but the flabbergasting response was, “Do you really want people to know how old you are?” Needless to say, I was extremely hurt and never contacted them again! I’m still hurt and feel bitter about that.
Most older people will admit to feeling disregarded and disrespected. Old people are perceived to not add any value to society, although they want to, can, and, in fact, do. We could do so much better as one of the luckiest countries on earth by learning and acknowledging that some cultures — like, for example, our First Nations and Indigenous communities — know how to respect and value their elders. How much better off would we be if we followed their example?