The Big Issue : Edition 532
THE BIG PICTURE » BY ANASTASIA SAFIOLEAS AND CHRISTINA SIMONS AUSTRALIAN STORIES AUSTRALIA IS BUILT ON MIGRATION. ALMOST ALL OF US HAVE A STORY ABOUT HOW WE, AND OUR FAMILIES, HAVE COME TO CALL AUSTRALIA HOME. CONTRIBUTING EDITOR ANASTASIA SAFIOLEAS AND PHOTOGRAPHER CHRISTINA SIMONS SPOKE TO FIVE PEOPLE WHO HAVE COME HERE IN THE PAST 50 YEARS. HERE, THEY SHARE A LITTLE OF THEIR STORIES. “We knew there was no way we could stay.” I WAS BORN in Ilorin in Nigeria into a family of 25 children. My father had five wives and two concubines. My mum had five children and she was the first wife. I knew my mum as a very sad, less confident woman because she was trying to make her marriage work but felt she was losing every time she tried. My childhood was very chaotic because we all lived under the same roof. The house had five rooms, pretty much every wife had a room to herself, and my dad juggled between rooms depending on whose week it was. But my dad made sure that one of the things we did to unify us was to have dinner together. There was love, there was hate, there was anger, there was friendship, there was everything… I started boarding school at the age of three – it was how Dad kept his sanity – and when I was six I was already in primary school and caring for my younger brother and sister. My father wrote for the New Nigeria newspaper. He was a major editor and was very well known. He had a lot of trouble with the law and was locked up so many times. When there was the dictatorship is 20 THE BIG ISSUE 10 – 23 MAR 2017 when he had the most problems – from the late 80s and until 2000. I was a very devoted Muslim. I wore the scarf and all that. But I became a Christian at the age of 17 – my family wasn’t aware until I was 19. I remember the first day I said it my brother gave me a slap. But my direct siblings are all Christians now. My mum was gravely ill – she was at the point of death – but was healed by the power of God through a pastor. So Mum became a Christian first. She started going to church and I started seeing all this brightness. Dad couldn’t contest it because he had watched her nearly die and now that she was well it was too hard for him to fight it. It was not until my Dad actually died, when I was 21, that I was able to confidently say I was a Christian. I still have family who are Muslims, and we have a very good relationship and mutual respect for each other’s religion. After I finished secondary school I started to go to Bible college and that’s how I met my husband. Until I married him I didn’t have any sense of purpose or direction. We married in 2001 and started a family. And in 2004 he started his church. It was during the time of Boko Haram and it became very unsafe for us to be in the country. There was fighting between different religions, burning churches… We knew there was no way we could stay. We came to Australia in 2008. We found a church – we were Christian and thought this would help us find a sense of community – and after the service someone handed us a voucher to have a coffee. Coffee is something I quickly understood here as something you need to engage with people and have a conversation, so I was excited. We were hoping someone would talk to us because we had coffee cups in our hands. One older lady came to us and asked where do you live. At that time it was our last week in a motel and if we didn’t move out we would be on the street. I told her this very honestly. She said, you can come and live with us. I couldn’t believe it! It was 24 December 2008 – I can’t forget [the date]. She came with her husband and two cars and we went straight to her house. When we got there she had decorated a room for my daughter – she had unlimited toys on the floor. I was crying. I couldn’t believe it.