I was lucky, I could speak English as I had learned it at school, but Frank hadn’t so I taught him.
We arrived as a newly married couple in the 1950s and moved to the Geelong area because one of Frank’s school friends had moved there a few years earlier. Those early years were not easy, things were very different to what I was used to. Basic food items had different names and tastes, I remember buying some oil to make a salad dressing and it tasted funny – when a friend checked the bottle she noticed it was castor oil! I definitely didn’t make that mistake again!
When we bought our block we felt like we were part of a community, we were all in a similar situation as migrants and we were living in either rented caravans or in shacks that we had built from timber pallets from Fords. As Frank was a qualified cabinet maker/carpenter he was able to build a larger caravan which was finished just in time as our family started to grow. I remember feeling thankful that Frank’s boss let me stay with his family when I came home from hospital with our first born as Frank’s newly built caravan had blown over! Frank started to build our house one room at a time (as we could afford it). The first room he built was a bedroom, then adding a bathroom, laundry and gradually the other rooms. Frank also made our furniture which I still use now!
I think being able to speak English was a big help as it made things so much easier – we started attending local church services almost straight away and having the services in Latin helped but it was very tiring as we still thought in our own language and had to translate all the time.
Church was a great place to meet people and connect with the community as we were all young families just starting out, our children played together and we all helped each other. Everyone was always outside, probably because our caravans and shacks were small. As our children started school I made some more friends, and I even ended up being a Girl Guides Leader which really helped to improve my self confidence.
When well enough, Frank really enjoyed going to the local Men’s Shed group and talking men things, he much preferred this to going to the day centre. A friend had introduced me to a craft group that meets regularly over coffee and I hope to go back soon bringing my patchwork. Sometimes I think the hardest thing is to take that first step, to start the conversation, but it can be as easy as being out in the front garden and just saying hello to people walking past.
Try the English classes at the migrant centre, as this is a great way to meet others, also being involved with the church was great as that gave us access to craft groups, faith groups and social groups.
Now as I get older I find that walking is difficult and I need to rely on taxis as I don’t drive. A lot of my friends are in the same boat so at times I get lonely but it’s important to never give up!