Monday, July 22, 2013


My mothers family were boat people. When they were no longer welcome in their country of birth, they were packed like sardines into unsafe and unsanitary conditions, three young children, unborn child and all. The unscrupulous people who owned the boats and took money for their transport weren't at all interested if they survived the journey, as long as they were well-paid for it.

When they arrived in this country, they depended entirely on the government to feed and house them. In addition to the children they already had, five more babies were born. They brought their culture, their religion and their odd clothes and the locals felt threatened by their strange ways.

My paternal grandfather was an illegal immigrant. He travelled here legally but stayed after he should have left. He lived beneath the radar and soon brought a bride from home to join him. They went on to start a family and expected the government to provide housing, education and medical care. They heard this was the lucky country and they wanted their share.

Are you outraged yet?

Then ponder this and consider again your reaction.

James and Mary Buckley travelled here in 1818 - convicts transported from England. They went on to help populate this land and their descendents became pioneers and settlers in NSW and beyond.

Archer Jenkins jumped ship in Adelaide in 1913. He decided life here was much more prosperous than his home in Liverpool, England. He served our country in both World Wars, in between his family did it hard in the Mallee during the Great Depression and eventually ended up as a market gardener in Noble Park. In the 1970s, Al Grasby gave him pardon for his illegal entry 60 years before.

Does their British origin change your perception? How do you feel about that?

I work in Dandenong, one of the most diverse communities in Australia. The only difference between my heritage and that of the people here around me is time and ethnicity. Each day, I see people who have come here from over 150 countries of origin. Like my family, some had no choice but to leave their home, while others seized an opportunity to make a better life away from abject poverty.

I don't see their circumstances as any different and I welcome them to join them in this wonderful place we call home.

Photo: My Grandfather Archer with his wife Grace, daughter Dot and my father Les, their son.
* Originally published in the Frankston Blogs November 2009
* Published here in July 2010 and republished now in response to recent changes to policy by the Australian Government.

1 comment:

comrade harps said...


The whole loaded argument that plays out in mainstream Australian politics is inhumane and racist.

Funny, it appears to be OK if your an "illegal immigrant" that came here via Boeing or Airbus. But not if you came here without invitation in boats - just like the First Fleet. Ironically, contrary to popular discourse, asylum seekers aren't "illegals".

It's depressing to hear the level of political debate we have on the issue. Gillard's calls for a non-politically correct debate is a dog whistle shift to the right worthy of Howard and The Monk.