Hass Dellal describes the first arrivals under the Turkish Australian migration agreement of 1968.
03 April 2009
source not available
My parents are of Turkish, Cypriot background, they migrated in 1948, from Cyprus, I suppose my father came here because I think he wanted to be able to improve on his own level of education. I think he wanted to follow a professional career, but that wasn’t to be so. He then got involved in business and – and what usually migrants do, buy stores and milk bars and fish and chips shops and started his career that way. But he was always very entrepreneurial and that’s one thing that he always instilled in us, that level of excitement and always look at the life as a challenge and view the world around you and the people around you as a challenge and some – and that you can learn from.
In 1962, my father felt that he really wanted to give us a greater scope and understanding of cultures and life. He really had some foresight so he uprooted the entire family and shipped us to Turkey. And it was really unusual I suppose for someone growing up in Glenroy, Broadmeadows at the age of eight and nine then, being put into this city, I mean it – just before that we spent three months in London then moved down to Turkey on the Orient Express so that whole thing was an exciting experience for a young boy and my sister coming from Glenroy.
When we arrived in Turkey, there was a – obviously a huge cultural shock for us, simply because we didn’t know the language, we understood a little bit about what we learned from – at home. And a little bit about the culture and the food and all that sort of business. But really it was quite an experience, an eye-opening experience particularly for me, in the sense that I really started to question at the age of eight or nine about my identity and who I was. I mean the fact that although I was born in Australia and my parents were of Turkish descent, I always just considered myself as an Australian. I didn’t see anything other than that being in Australia.
But suddenly I started to realise there was this other appendage, there was this other thing that was quite unique about me. And if I wanted to be part of it, I really needed to understand it. In order to understand it, I really needed to understand and learn a new language and a new culture. And for me that was quite a struggle, in the early days, because you weren’t also – you weren’t readily accepted and there was this other thing and I often tell this story, on public occasions, the people when I was enrolled in school then my parents put me into a college called Ankara College where they taught a little bit of English, just to help me sort of I suppose, the process of learning Turkish and English so that – you know, so that I wasn’t totally depressed.
And I remember, on those occasions that the students or my fellow students around me, who were all Turkish, they couldn’t quite fathom the concept of me being an Australian, or a Turk being an Australian in such an early period, I mean why would Turks be in Australia? And they didn’t really stop to think about Cypriot Turks migrating and that they were under the Commonwealth and all that sort of business, it was – they didn’t have to migrate, they just had – they could move around.
But to explain that to eight or nine year olds, is, you know, you didn’t worry about it, you never thought of it that way either. So to them, they thought, well this is really strange, this guy must be an enemy, given the fact of Gallipoli as well. So, I had – I had to wear that added burden – the fact that this was about, you know: here’s an Australian, all we know about these guys is they tried to take over our land and he claims to be a Turk, so he’s either a spy or an enemy. So one or the other. So, it was really hard to strike up these sorts of friendships and – because they didn’t really know much more, so I always remember, when I was a child, they devised a game in my honour at lunchtime and they called it, “Gallipoli.” And what they would do is put me on one side and then about 20 Turks on the other, and then what they also did was they gave me this poor bugger who was a Canadian, similarly like me, a Canadian migrant who is sort of born in Canada and then came to Australia.
And they’d throw him on my side. And he never knew why, because they were never involved in Gallipoli, they didn’t even understand what it was. Not that I knew much about it, but I knew that we were at war with the Turks and the Australians. So they would be on the top of the – you know, the beginning of the play-yard there and then they would just charge down and, “Charge! Throw the enemy into the sea!” And you’d see these 20 marauding Turks straight, headed towards – and there’d be a big pummel, you know and we’d get belted on every occasion.
And I felt, well we just – I was just always praying for the bell or a teacher to come out and stop it because, you know, it just really started to get a little bit too much. So I thought, well the only other way I could actually get around this was to start communicating and creating some interest about what is unique about Australia and the relationships and the interest? So, I used to make up stories about the animals, about the koala bears and the kangaroos. So I’d make up crap basically and say, “Look did you know that koala bears don’t breathe, they only eat gum leaves.” “How could that be?” “Well that’s unique to Australia. They just eat gum leaves, they don’t breathe, they don’t need air.”
So, all this sort of created interest and kids coming around, “Oh guess what? Guess what he said?” You know. So before we knew it, we had this conversation and there was a sort of exchanging of culture. So I got to understand a little bit about that them, they got to understand a little bit about me, and then I think we could tell the story and – which was terrific.
After about four years, my parents then decided that they would come back to Australia. And – and I think it’s at that point that it really started to hit me, I was about 12, 13 years old and I’ll never forget that when I was sitting in the classroom and the day before Anzac, the ABC used to play these stories about the Anzacs. And every time that was played or mentioned, every eye in the room would focus on me, as the Turks. Suddenly I was a Turk, I was no longer an Australian. And I thought, “Here we go again.” So at that point, I really had to say – I started to realise what I was.
I quickly said to myself, and I spoke to my parents and my father – and he was a great guide on this – and he said, “You’re an Australian of Turkish descent.” And that clicked, straight away. So at that point, when I went back to school, it was no longer my problem, I kept saying, “Well that’s your problem mate, that’s not my problem, I know who I am.”