This article was originally published by MoCha, the ANU Ethnocultural Department’s new online magazine, created by Men of Colour, for Men of Colour. Click this link to view the full site: themochamagazine.com.
14 August 2016
The August of two thousand three, you and I purchased a dining table and four chairs and a fridge, and found on the streets a sofa bed and TV. The weeks preceding this purchase was: dinner on the kitchen benchtop – the surface white-on-black linoleum with peeling corners and permanent sticky oiliness. Thirteen years ago on this day – 14th of August – I took my first leap onto Australian tarmac, flat yellow landing strips, and cityscape flush against harbour and sky blue. We pushed a whole cart of luggage, which seemed enormous at the time, but contained your whole life and six thousand US dollars you had saved up to last us until you could find a job. And you did, at Intercontinental and Shangri-La, as housekeeping; you used to teach comparative literature at university.
The family above us was robbed; when the police came they shrugged and said “It’s the norm.” The neighbours helped replace that which was stolen. That too established the norm – a community of families in diaspora in short term welfare housing taking root on suburban soil. We are waiting for the bloom, for each spring to wrap us deeper in blue, for each day to ferry us closer to our own Castle.
We lived across a tall Anglican church, a park, a post office. It was affordable housing: one/two bedroom apartments stacked side by side, up and down, and linked by a common veranda. In this apartment we slept on a double bed; the extra bedroom was rented out to international students to help with the bills. We found an antique TV on the side of the road complete with antennas and particleboard panelling. It only received Channel 10 and the ABC. The tired Venetians had animal stickers on them; the family in the house across the road walked their dog past our window. Our home, with its eclectic found furniture and preloved carpet, would be the jealousy of many a hip Surry Hills cafe.
Recently I returned to the neighbourhood and the apartment blocks are gone, replaced by cream and glass town-houses. The park has shrunk to a mere green strip, the post-office a gastropub named Ruby’s, or Emerald’s, or Sapphire’s. The other precious gems I know remain: the tennis courts with inches thick dead leaves from decades gone past piling by the fence, the skate park with new graffiti, the Franklins. The playground is still here – the monkey bars from my childhood conquests and the path where we walked our lanterns during the Spring Festival. There the church stands; in front of its forest green door I breathed in the streets I no longer know, but remember.
This is the church from my childhood. It towered above the neighbourhood. You could see it from the next train station. It was my guidepost, my way home from school, if I was ever lost, or ran too far away from the aggressive Doberman who never forgot my scent. This sandstone remembers the blood from my scraped knee. The pulpit smells like my first spring in Australia; I have hayfever. The confession knows me, knows me well:
An occasional dinner let us afford wings – you told me you preferred the tips – more flavour apparently.
My clothes from Kmart – fitted like blankets, swaying on a stick thin frame; I was jubilant to finally own a hoodie.
My lunch and her idosyncracies: smells, umami, and textures. Seaweed and its unique personality. I tried my very best to convince you of the virtues within bread and bland devon sandwiches.
You rushing to my after school care from work, stopping by the library to pick up a reserved copy of Eragon. You knew I wanted to read it but you couldn’t afford the book so you reserved it the day it came out. The same week you cried at work because you lost a key to a Shangri-La suite and you knew you couldn’t afford to replace it. In the end your manager paid out of her own pocket.
This is the Australia I know. My halfway home for migrants, snug in every suburb of Sydney, in her cracked smiles across black asphalt roads, the warm embrace of fragrant eucalypt, and I didn’t understand anything until I’d already grown up.
Victor Wang is a Han-Uyghur and is currently studying a Bachelor of Philosophy (Honours – Mathematics) at the ANU.